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Obama unveils strategy to help military families

The effort focuses on mental and physical health, education, career opportunities and child care for families of the country's 2.2 million service members.

January 24, 2011|By Katherine Skiba, Washington Bureau
  • President Obama unveils his plan for more agencies to cooperate to help military families. First Lady Michelle Obama, center, and Vice President Joe Bidens wife, Jill, left, have leading roles in the effort.
President Obama unveils his plan for more agencies to cooperate to help… (Alex Wong, Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — Calling it a moral obligation and matter of national security, President Obama unveiled an ambitious government effort Monday to increase support for military families.

The push is aimed at using the full force of the federal government to aid the families of the country's more than 2.2 million service members.

Four areas are being emphasized: the mental and physical health of military families; the education of their children; the educational and career opportunities afforded spouses; and the availability and quality of child care within the armed services.

Obama, speaking from the White House's East Room with Cabinet members, top military brass and their spouses, said "100% of Americans need to be supporting" the 1% who are fighting U.S. wars.

Recalling his December trip to Afghanistan, Obama said that whenever he asked battle-hardened troops what they needed, they gave the same answer: "Sir, take care of our families."

The effort to help troops and their families includes nearly 50 initiatives, among them:

• The Department of Housing and Urban Development will work with other agencies to try to wipe out homelessness among veterans.

• The Health and Human Services Department will work with the Pentagon on suicide prevention.

• The Treasury Department will work to protect military families from predatory lending and other harmful consumer practices.

• The Agriculture Department will assist in outreach to military families in rural America.

• The Interior Department will use national parks to help wounded warriors recover from injuries and create summer jobs for young people from military families.

Obama singled out two women behind his administration's effort: First Lady Michelle Obama and the vice president's wife, Jill Biden. They have met with military spouses here and overseas and made helping them a priority.

"You should know — and I know Joe Biden would agree with this — when they speak, the president and vice president listen," Obama said.

The Bidens' son, Beau, who is Delaware's attorney general, is a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard and has deployed to Iraq.

Michelle Obama plans to launch a national campaign in March, when she will renew her call for Americans to honor and serve military families.

She said that through her travels she had met military family members whose lives exemplify "service, strength and sacrifice."

"They're a reminder of the love that keeps us together — the love of family, the love of country," she said.

The first lady cited a new nurse who quit her job after two months to care for her brother, a soldier wounded by a makeshift bomb; a 15-year-old girl acting as a "third parent" and helping with meals and her siblings' homework as their mother cared for their wounded father; and a military wife who raised a daughter, volunteered helping fellow military spouses and worked as a community developer "all while living in seven different states over 17 years."

The Obamas spoke at the release of a 23-page report, "Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment."

The agencies' responses were triggered by a presidential directive by Obama in May. It instructed agencies to come up with a coordinated, comprehensive approach to improve federal support for military families.

kskiba@tribune.com

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