WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama Monday unveiled a governmentwide plan to strengthen military family support, offering a glimpse at a few of the new programs and cooperative efforts being launched in the coming months to improve quality of life and well-being for military families.
"Today, I'm proud to announce that for the first time ever, supporting the well-being of our military families will be a priority not just for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all across the federal government," Obama said.
Speaking from the White House's East Room, Obama unveiled this "unprecedented commitment" to military families with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, at his side. Top government and Defense Department officials also were on hand, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the service chiefs, and their spouses.
Spotlighting the importance of military family support, Obama recalled his trip to Afghanistan last month, where he spoke to troops and asked them what he could do to better support them.
"Without missing a beat, they looked me in the eye and they gave me their answer," the president said. "It wasn't about more equipment. It wasn't about more resources on the battlefield. In fact, it wasn't about them.
"They said, to a man: 'Sir, take care of our families,'" he said. "'If we know our families are all right back home, then we can do our jobs.'"
Service members and their families have done everything the nation has asked of them in this decade of war, and the nation now must serve them with the same unfailing support, Obama said. That's exactly why he directed a governmentwide review of military family support, he added, calling for "innovative new partnerships" to better serve military families worldwide.
Earlier today, the White House released the results of this nearly yearlong review of military family support. From child care to health care to spouse employment, the report -- titled "Strengthening our Military Families: Meeting America's Commitment" -- identifies the key issues military families face and presents programs and resources government agencies plan to launch in the coming months to address them.
The report outlines four key areas the whole-of-government effort plans to address: enhancing military families' well-being and psychological health, developing military spouse career and education opportunities, increasing child care availability and quality, and ensuring excellence in military children's education and development.
Improving quality of life is a priority, Obama noted, offering a glimpse at some programs that will focus in the coming months on families' well-being. The Defense and Health and Human Services departments, for example, are working together to improve community mental health services and to prevent suicides, he said. And a new office in the Treasury Department will help to protect military families from financial pitfalls, such as predatory lending.
"And we are going to remain relentless -- not just at VA, but at [the Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services departments] and across the government -- in our fight to end homelessness among our veterans," the president said.
"We have to have zero tolerance for homelessness among our veterans," he added, a statement that was met by thunderous applause.
Another priority, Obama said, is the education and development of military children, many of whom attend public schools. He praised the efforts of agencies such as the Education and Interior departments. The Education Department will give military families priority in some of its grant programs, and the Interior Department plans to create more opportunities for military children.
The government also will "redouble" its effort to help military spouses attain education goals and careers, Obama said.
"We're going to help spouses to get that degree, find that job or start that new business," he said. "We want every company in America to know our military spouses and veterans have the skills and the dedication, and our nation is more competitive when we tap their incredible talents."
Finally, the government is going to expand child care options for military parents. "Working together, we believe we can find new child care options for tens of thousands of military children," the president said.
In total, Obama said, his administration is making nearly 50 specific commitments to military families today. But the government can't accomplish this mission alone, he added.
"Government has its responsibilities," Obama said. "One percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but a hundred percent of Americans need to be supporting our troops and their families -- a hundred percent."