White House Aims to Help Military Families

Administration unveils government effort to support military families.

January 24, 2011, 1:43 PM

Jan. 24, 2011 -- President Obama has unveiled a list of 50 specific commitments his administration will undertake to improve the support for U.S. military families through a coordinated effort by all the cabinet agencies.

The commitments address a whole range of issues from homelessness to mental health to employment opportunities for young adults. The government-wide effort will give military families "a seat at the table, not just at the White House or at the Pentagon or at the VA [Veterans Affairs]," Obama said.

The president said he asked U.S. servicemembers on his recent visit to Afghanistan what more could be done for them. He said that instead of asking for more equipment or more resources, "they said, to a man, "Sir, take care of our families. Take care of our families. If we know our families are all right back home, then we can do our jobs.

"I want every servicemember who's deployed to know that when you're over there taking care of the country that you love, your country is back here taking care of the families that you love," Obama said.

"This is not just a moral obligation, this is a matter of national security, with millions of military spouses, parents and children sacrificing as well, the readiness of our armed forces depends on the readiness of our military families."

The 50 commitments are the result of a presidential study directive ordered by Obama last year. The president said the directives are government-wide efforts reserved for "some of the most important and complex national security challenges" and that he has only authorized a dozen since taking office.

He said the directives' results will ensure that for the first time ever supporting the well-being of U.S. military families will be a priority for all of the federal government and not just the Defense Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The commitments showed his administration was "upping our game" to help military families as 16 cabinet secretaries pledged to better coordinate on providing their resources, he said.

Quality of Life for Military Families

The commitments will focus on four areas: emphasizing the quality of life for military families, a new focus on the education of the children of military servicemembers, boosting efforts to help military spouses pursue their educations and careers, and increasing child care for military moms and dads with young children.

In emphasizing the quality of life for military families, Obama noted a new office at the Treasury Department to protect military families from predatory lenders and their financial scams. Holly Petraeus, wife of Gen. David Petraeus, was named to head that newly created office a month ago after being a longtime advocate in raising awareness about the impact of predatory lending on military families.

In an example of how different agencies will work together in the education of children from military families, the Education Department will make military families a priority for some of its grant programs and the Interior Department will create additional summer jobs specifically for military children.

Obama said one of the most important commitments will be to end homelessness among veterans. "We have to have zero tolerance for homelessness among our veterans," he said.

Joining Obama in the White House East Room for the announcement today were first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, who have made helping military families their signature issue.

In introducing the president, the first lady said, "Today isn't the end of this process; not by a long shot. Don't think for one minute that Jill and I will not keep pushing and advocating and fighting for you, because we will.

"And we're not going to stop until every part of our society -- every part, both inside and outside of government -- is fully mobilized to support our troops and their families."

To help launch the effort, the president said, the first lady Obama will appear on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" this week, "to urge every American to join a new national campaign to support our military families. That's a pretty good plug."

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