Joining Forces Blog

  • Honoring America’s Heroes at America’s Pastime

    Last night, at the 84th Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game, the First Lady and Dr. Biden introduced a special group of America’s heroes. MLB and PEOPLE Magazine, through their “Tribute for Heroes” campaign, assembled a list of 90 incredible veterans that were then voted on by the American public. The list was refined to 30 whose stories were chosen to garner the national spotlight. Represented in the 30 are men and women from the four branches of service; they include wounded warriors, Paralympic record-holders, and Navajo code talkers, with compelling narratives of service from WWII to Afghanistan.

    The All-Star weekend provided VIP treatment to each of the honorees: guided tours of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, admission to both the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby, and a reception aboard the USS Intrepid. In the video airing at the All-Star game, the First Lady and Dr. Biden encouraged fans to find ways to give back to those who have given so much. As Dr. Biden stated, “It’s our turn to step up and serve them as well as they have served our country.”

    Colonel Rich Morales is Executive Director of Joining Forces

  • Veterans and Military Family Mental Health Conference

    Yesterday, at the White House, we hosted the first-ever Veterans and Military Family Mental Health Conference, bringing together Administration leaders, Veteran Service Organizations, military service organizations, nonprofit and nongovernment organizations along with mental health professionals, and leaders from the Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs. This event served as a precursor to the 152 Department of Veterans Affairs’ Mental Health Summits convening across the country in an effort to continue this conversation at a local level. 

    The Administration is committed to raising awareness and improving care for Veterans and military family members in need. Last summer, President Obama signed an Executive Order focused on military and veteran mental health, calling upon the government to increase awareness, build treatment capacity, invest in research, and significantly increase access to mental health care.

    In 2012, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health care from the VA. Based on this growing need, the VA is continuing to hire more mental health professionals and expand the use of innovative technology to serve Veterans in both urban and in rural or underserved areas.  For instance, the Department of Defense’s Military Family Life Consultant program provides over 6 million counseling sessions per year to service members and their families throughout the deployment cycle.  As a former battalion commander, I know first-hand the value that this special group of providers brings to our military.  Similarly, the Veterans Crisis Line, highlighted at yesterday’s event, continues to be a life-saving resource for our nation’s veterans.

  • Joining Forces Welcomes Colonel Rich Morales

    Joining Forces is pleased to welcome its new Executive Director, United States Army Colonel Rich Morales.   Leading Joining Forces resonates strongly with Rich. His 20-year military career as a Colonel, husband and dad provides not only insights into the challenges of serving in hostile fire zones, but also an awareness of how families and communities support service members, and one another, on the home-front.

    Over the course of his career, Colonel Morales has served in cavalry, armor and infantry units in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. He was a platoon leader in the Gulf War, company commander in Germany, and led a United Nations peacekeeping force in the Balkans.  Rich served multiple year-long tours in Iraq as a Battalion Executive Officer, Brigade Operations Officer, and as the commander of an 800 soldier Combined Arms Battalion, Task Force Knight, in Iraq’s Mada ‘In and Diyala provinces and later across 1/3 of Baghdad, Iraq.

    Colonel Morales is a graduate of parachute, air assault, reconnaissance, and United States Air Force air-ground operations schools and recently completed the Defense Strategy Course.  He has earned meritorious and valorous unit awards and medals for merit that include Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.

    U.S. Army Colonel Rich Morales

    U.S. Army Colonel Rich Morales.


    Rich earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering at West Point, a Master of Business Administration from the Yale School of Management, and masters degrees from the Naval College of Command and Staff (Mahan Scholar) and the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy.  He also studied systems analysis, organizational learning, and military innovation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University and is currently a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Strategy and Performance at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. 

  • Recognizing the Extraordinary Contribution of Filipino Veterans

    In 1941, more than 260,000 Filipino soldiers responded to President Roosevelt’s call-to-arms and fought under the American flag during World War II.  Many made the ultimate sacrifice as both soldiers in the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East, and as recognized guerrilla fighters during the Imperial Japanese occupation of the Philippines.  Later, many of these brave individuals became proud United States citizens.  However, because of the Rescission Acts of 1946, most Filipino World War II Veterans did not receive compensation on par with United States veterans for their service to the United States.  

    President Obama recognizes the extraordinary contribution made by Filipino veterans. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which the President signed into law, included a provision creating the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. Eligible veterans who are U.S. citizens receive a one-time payment of $15,000; eligible veterans who are not U.S. citizens receive a one-time payment of $9,000.  

    To date, we are pleased that over 18,000 claims have been approved. However, many Filipino Veterans still believe that their claims were improperly denied, or that they did not receive a satisfactory explanation as to why their claims were denied.  To address these concerns, in October 2012, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, in collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council, created the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund Interagency Working Group (IWG) comprised of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the National Archives and Record Administration.  The IWG was tasked with analyzing the process faced by these Filipino veterans in demonstrating eligibility for compensation in order to ensure that all applications receive thorough and fair review.  

  • Military Spousal Employment Critical in “Readiness”

    As a Nation we recognize the enormous sacrifices our military make on a daily basis in order to maintain a strong and ready force. Sustaining strong military readiness involves the entire family. Often, spouses choose to delay formal training and education in order to support the needs of the nation and their warrior partner. Spouses often mention to me that their life feels nomadic, moves taking place every 2-3 years. It’s important to note however that spouses are also vital for the economic stability of military families. It is estimated that approximately 83% of those entering military service depart the military prior to retirement. Most of our current military families will be competing in the job market and contributing to our economy for many more years outside of service than the time they served in the military. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics having a Bachelor’s degree nearly doubles the median annual wage an individual would earn. Currently, 84% of spouses have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, and 10% have an advanced degree. Facilitating the opportunity to pursue higher education not only helps to support self-esteem and personal actualization, it can also strengthen financial stability for their families. 

    Over the last two years Joining Forces has committed to working with state legislatures and Governors to cut the red tape for military spouse credentialing and licensing portability. To date, there are 36 states that have enacted legislation with 9 more considering legislation this year. Credentialing and licensing portability are critical for military spouse employment, but prior to employment it is crucial for military spouses to be able to pursue the higher education needed to secure these qualifications. 

    Securing funding for school is vital for military spouses who are likely to move at least once if not more while attaining their degree or certifications. In 2009, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was created to allow service members to transfer their unused benefits to their spouse or dependent(s). Depending on the unused benefits this could provide up to 36 months of tuition assistance for spouses and dependents.

  • Operation Family Caregiver

    Deployment can be a life-changing experience; not just for the service member, but also for the service member’s family. To help families adjust, The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving grants personalized, free, and confidential support through Operation Family Caregiver to all post-9/11 veterans and their families. At any time after deployment, a veteran and their family can begin the 4-6 month program which offers the services of a trained caregiver coach to provide information and personalized tools designed to make the adjustment to post-deployment life more manageable. The program is completely confidential, and no medical records are accessed or shared with others.

    To reach more families in need, the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving is now offering Operation Family Caregiver in-home, via telephone, and by Skype. Many service members return home from deployment and live with Traumatic Brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress, and physical disabilities. Their spouses, parents, and other relatives and friends may be struggling, trying to balance caring for their loved ones with the demands of daily life and work. Guidance from a professional caregiver can vastly improve the life of a family coping with a number of common post-deployment issues.

    Above all, the institute wants all veterans and their family members to know that they are not alone. Support is available.

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    Lieutenant Colonel Archie Bates, US Army, is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady