Our sacred obligation to the troops

For most Americans, the wars our Nation is fighting comes into their lives perhaps a few times a day when they read a headline in the newspaper or watch a report on the evening news.  But for the families of our service members war is part of every moment of their lives as they pray for loved ones deployed and care for family members here at home. 

We join our husbands in reaffirming that it is our sacred obligation as Americans to take care of the men, women and families who protect and serve this country. And supporting military families and veterans must be a top priority for our government, for our communities, and for each of us as individuals.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve been working to raise awareness of the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and their families and to help forge an  enduring national commitment to supporting them. We’ve met with troops and their family members and shared their concerns, ideas and perspectives with leaders in government and communities.  We’ve explored the issues faced by our service members and their families – while they are deployed and when they return home – and how we can all work together to help address the unique challenges they face. 

We have been overwhelmed by the courage of our men and women in uniform and inspired by the dignity, patriotism, and commitment to service they exhibit every day.

We know that the strength of our military relies on the strength of our military families. And those families are strong, resilient, and proud of their service to the nation. They support one another  while facing the tremendous challenges their own families are going through - managing a household, building a career, raising children, staying connected to a loved one who is deployed, caring for a wounded warrior at home, or honoring the memory of one of our fallen heroes.

Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama-Biden administration has worked to follow through on its deeply held commitment to improve quality of life for military families.  Working with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, the administration has increased pay and benefits.  And in the stimulus act, the administration has dramatically increased investments in military housing and child care for spouses and expanded access to health care and counseling, while increasing investments in our veterans.

Earlier this month the President signed into law bipartisan legislation providing unprecedented support to full-time caregivers of severely wounded service members.  This new law will expand much-needed benefits for those who make sacrifices to care for our wounded warriors every day. 

It will provide those caregivers with a stipend and other assistance, including lodging while traveling to be with a loved one undergoing treatment, training to provide specialized services, counseling, and health insurance.  And it will provide critically-needed respite care so these dedicated individuals can rest and regroup.

And to ensure that we are drawing on all of our government agencies, the President issued a directive to federal agencies to conduct an extensive review with the National Security Staff and others on developing a government-wide strategy for supporting and engaging military families.   It will identify key military family concerns and challenges; identify the most promising support programs; pinpoint ways federal agencies can integrate military family policy support into their priorities; examine ways to expand state and local efforts to support military families; and highlight ways military families support one another and their surrounding civilian communities.

These are some of the steps our Administration is taking to improve the lives of military families. But the truth is, government can only do so much.  We need a truly national commitment to support and engage military families where everyone plays a role and each of us assumes our responsibility as citizens to support those who protect us. That’s why we are asking all Americans and every sector of society to take action and participate in a national commitment to support and engage our military families.  One percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but we need 100 percent of Americans to support them and their families. 

The private sector can offer services pro bono, help military spouses and veterans develop meaningful careers, and combat abusive practices such as predatory lending.  Community-based organizations also have an important role to play, but they do not need to become military experts. They can keep doing what they do best, but ensure that their work is connected to the priorities of military families.  And citizens in every community can use their influence to ensure military families and veterans feel fully appreciated, engaged and supported. 

If we all play our part, mobilizing every segment of our society, working together, and holding ourselves to the same standard of excellence that our military families live by every day, we can create an America where every military family and veteran can see the results of our actions honoring them in their daily lives now and for decades to come.

Michelle Obama is the first lady of the United States.  Dr. Jill Biden is the second lady of the United States.