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Opinion: Support for military families cannot end when wars are over

Apr. 30, 2014 - 10:06AM   |  
MIchelle Obama, Jill Biden
First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are announcing pledges in excess of $150 million from foundations and corporations to help veterans and their families get the services they need in the places where they live as the country adjusts to a post-war footing. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
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We’ve all seen those wonderful surprise videos from when one of our troops comes home from a long deployment — the father bear-hugging his family at mid-court at a basketball game or the little boy with tears in his eyes sprinting into his mother’s arms at the front of his classroom.

These scenes make us feel good. They tug at our heartstrings and often move us to tears. And they remind us of the sacrifices our military families are making for our country every single day.

And for most of us, it’s easy to assume that surprise homecoming — that feel-good moment — is the happy ending to the story. But in so many ways, for so many of our troops, veterans and their families, it’s really just the beginning.

After the cameras are turned off, will that father find a job once he leaves the service — a job that allows him to support his family? Will he have the support he needs to deal with any mental or physical challenges that he may face? And what about the families — will that spouse finally be able to pursue his or her own career when the family is transferred across the country again? How are the kids going to adjust to yet another new home, another new school, and another new set of friends?

These questions come at a pivotal moment for our military families — and for our country. By the end of this year, after 13 long years, our war in Afghanistan will finally be over. More and more of our newest veterans — the 9/11 generation — will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning to civilian life.

So in the years ahead, that will mean fewer news stories and homecoming videos about our military families. And without these celebrations and reminders, it would be easy for us to forget the burden they’ve shouldered after more than a decade of war.

We can’t allow that to happen. We’ve got to show these families we’re there for them — now and long after they come home. That’s why we are thrilled to announce that the Council on Foundations is bringing together benefactors from all across the country to create a stronger, national funding structure for efforts that support our military families.

It’s called the Veterans Philanthropy Exchange, and it will allow these groups to share best practices, create new resources and recruit even more donors to support our military families in the years ahead.

Many of these philanthropies have been supporting these causes for years. To date, they have already committed $62 million to military families by 2019. And now, they’re announcing that they are going to more than double that existing commitment — they’re pledging $102 million in new funding for our military families over the next five years.

This is a huge step on behalf of our military families. And it’s exactly the kind of support the two of us were hoping for when we started Joining Forces three years ago. Our goal was to rally all Americans to honor and support our troops, veterans and military families. And throughout April, we’ve been celebrating our third anniversary with a series of events to mark the overwhelming outpouring of support we’ve seen from across the country.

American businesses have hired and trained more than half a million veterans and military spouses. Associations of medical schools, social workers, and nurses are training their providers to better diagnose and treat issues like post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. People from all across the country have volunteered more than 22 million hours in their communities to honor our military families. And so many more organizations, foundations, and citizens have stepped up in ways large and small.

We’ve come a long way in just three years. But this anniversary isn’t just a celebration; it’s a call to action. Because it’s going to take all of us to truly create a permanent network of love and support for our military families. It’s going to take more nonprofit organizations doing the work on the ground. It’s going to take more philanthropies supporting their efforts. It’s going to take government and business and all of us as neighbors and co-workers reaching out to the military families who live in our communities.

So as more and more of our troops come home and have those incredible, emotional homecomings with their loved ones, we’ve got to turn the honor and respect we feel for these families into real, concrete action that they can feel in their daily lives. And if we do that, then together, we can serve these heroes as well as they’ve served this country.

Michelle Obama is the first lady of the United States. Dr. Jill Biden is the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

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