First Lady: New Initiatives Boost Military Caregiver Support

By Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service
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WASHINGTON, Apr. 11, 2014 - First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden today announced several new initiatives designed to strengthen support for military caregivers.

On the third anniversary of the Joining Forces launch, Obama and Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, were joined by former first lady Rosalynn Carter, former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, military caregivers, and business, labor and military leaders at the White House-hosted event.

"I'm thrilled to announce that the Department of Defense is going to recreate that success story for all of our military caregivers," Obama said. "[DOD is] committing to form in-person peer forums at every military installation that serves wounded warriors and their caregivers around the world."

DOD will also create online tools and webinars for caregivers who aren't able to attend an in-person forum, so they, too, can connect with their peers, she said.

Additionally, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and many other organizations are committing to training 10,000 caregiving peer mentors, Obama said.

"[It's] a commitment that will reach 50,000 caregivers nationwide," she added, "and together, these commitments mean tens of thousands of our brave caregivers will have the added support they need -- the support of a friend and mentor who understands what they're going through."

Obama said those initiative are just the tip of the iceberg.

"Everything we're talking about today -- from the peer forums to all the new resources that Sen. Dole mentioned, is a supplement to the tremendous caregiver support offered by the military and by the [Department of Veterans Affairs]," she said.

Obama called military and veteran caregivers some of the nation's unsung heroes.

"You have incredible strength," she told caregivers in the audience. "You have sacrificed so much, and so much of what you do go unnoticed. To have [Biden, Carter and Dole] on stage here is just a reflection of our respect and admiration for your sacrifice."

Obama noted the first meeting ever conducted for caregiver support last September at Fort Belvoir's Intrepid Spirit One, a facility she described as designed to "help wounded warriors and families deal with the unseen wounds of war," such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries.

"[The caregivers] were dealing with daily challenges that would knock most people to their knees -- everything from helping their spouses bathe to adjusting their new prosthetics to battling depression, anxiety, recurring panic attacks," she said of the initial networking session.

Following the well-received response for caregivers, the Defense Department has made a commitment to establish such groups around the globe, Obama said.

"To our caregivers, the men and women in this room, I want to thank you ... for showing us what bravery, courage and sacrifice really mean," Obama said. "And I want you all to know that we are not going to quit until we serve you as well as you've served us."