First Ladies Obama and Bush Urge Next President to Prioritize Veterans

"Keep the pressure on the next administration," Obama said.

ByABC News
September 16, 2016, 3:14 PM

— -- With the Obama Administration nearing its end and a transition of power soon approaching, First Lady Michelle Obama says veterans must remain a top priority for the next president of the United States and that he or she shouldn’t "pop off" about going to war.

“I would hope that any commander-in-chief that would have the privilege of serving would understand that these are real lives and real families that are impacted,” Obama said.

The withdrawal of overseas troops and ending of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was a top campaign promise made by her husband, President Barack Obama, when he ran for president in 2008, and then again in 2012.

“That’s something a commander-in-chief thinks about before they ‘pop off’ about going to war,” First Lady Obama said today during a discussion at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., moderated by veteran journalist and war correspondent Bob Woodruff of ABC News. “When you've spent time on a base and you know these men and women and you know their families, you don’t just talk about war like there are no implications. It's serious business. And lives are changed forever.”

Sitting to her right was the wife of the former president who started those combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, First Lady Laura Bush. The two first ladies are working together to highlight the initiatives they’ve both created to support the veterans and military families in this country.

Bush said her nights in the White House were often filled with thoughts of troops when her husband was in office.

“You think about them every single night when you get in bed,” she said. “And there, where you're in the lap of luxury, a really beautiful house where your sheets are changed every single day, it really couldn't be more luxurious, and you think when you get in bed about our troops [who] are lying down on the ground somewhere,” she said.

First Ladies Bush and Obama’s initiatives both address issues including veteran employment and education, the challenges military family members face, and the awareness of invisible wounds like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But there is good news: “There are fewer of our men and women who are being injured in war, and that feels good,” Obama said.

“That’s the power of our platform -- if Laura or I ask for help, people are receptive,” she added. “The thing I’ve been most pleased about with Joining Forces [an initiative Obama launched together with Dr. Jill Biden in 2011] is that it’s been a call to partnership with all sectors.”

Joining Forces has had significant success in veteran employment, with over 1.2 million veterans and military spouses hired or trained since its creation, as well as legislation passed in all 50 states making it easier for military spouses to receive licensing in new states when their spouse is deployed.

With a new administration on the way into the White House and fewer numbers of active military personnel being deployed, the transition from combat to civilian will continue to be an important focal point for the next presidency.

“Keep the pressure on the next administration, hold them accountable and ask the same important questions that you have asked these presidencies,” Obama urged the audience. “I would hope that this responsibility comes with the house, and every administration will try and top the next one in what they do for these men and women.”

ABC News' Mariam Khan contributed to this story.

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