Joining Forces Blog

  • Small Businesses: Uncle Sam’s Calling On You

    Ed. note: The full text of the op-ed by Dr. Jill Biden is printed below. The piece is published today on The Huffington Post. The full text of the op-ed is printed below and the original can be found here

    During National Small Business Week it's important to recognize that small businesses are the backbone of the economy - they employ half the people in America and create 2 out of every 3 new jobs. Small businesses play a critical role in helping our economy, but to stay competitive they need access to a motivated, flexible and skilled workforce.

    Over the past five years I've had the privilege of meeting veterans across the country and abroad. These are men and women who have led troops in battle, worked in high pressure situations and who can bring unique skills to our workforce. But, veterans and military spouses often struggle to find jobs.

    Through initiatives like Joining Forces, First Lady Michelle Obama and I are working to bring together public-private partnerships to support America's veterans. Last year we kicked off a private sector challenge: hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. We were so proud that businesses answered the call - in fact last month we announced that businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses.

    But there's still more work to be done and that's where great small business owners like John Stonecipher make a big difference. John is President and CEO of Guidance Aviation, a helicopter pilot training facility in Prescott, Arizona. Guidance Aviation currently employs 55 people... and nearly 50 percent of them are veterans. In 1998, John started with one helicopter and one employee. By 2009 he grew to 34 employees, six of whom were veterans. And by 2012, he had 55 employees and 24 were veterans.

    John's dedication to our veterans goes beyond employment. John noticed a large demand for vocational training by veterans returning to civilian life. He worked with Yavapai College, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Federal Aviation Administration, to create an Associate of Applied Science Professional Helicopter Pilot Degree Program; 85 percent of his students are veterans.

    John's found a niche as a business owner: he's using his expertise and love of flying to create a growing company, but his reliance on and commitment to the veteran community has become a business best practice. I'm proud to say that because of this, John Stoneceipher is 2013's National Small Business Owner of the Year! Congratulations!

    Whether you have one employee or 100, small business owners across the country can follow John's lead by turning to veterans to help them grow and serve their customers.

  • Secretary of Defense Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses experts within the brain injury community on Traumatic Brain Injury

    Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses experts within the brain injury community on Traumatic Brain Injury during the 2013 Secretary of Defense Symposium on Traumatic brain injury held at The Pentagon, Washington D.C. June 11, 2013.

    Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an increasingly common injury suffered by our nation's men and women in uniform. Concussions, head injuries, and blast exposures from IED attacks are now recognized as some of the most common, dangerous, and difficult to treat of injuries that have emerged from over a decade of war. We are only beginning to understand the complex nexus between TBI and the heightened incidents of suicide, severe post-traumatic stress, and depression we have seen among our troops. Last year the U.S. military lost more service members to suicide than to combat. This startling statistic represents but a small fraction of the truly pressing mental health needs of America’s veterans.

    To raise awareness and galvanize the efforts of the military and medical communities to address traumatic brain injury, earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hosted the first Secretary of Defense Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury. During this day long symposium, the foremost experts from the brain injury community shared the latest advancements in neuroscience research and clinical care with military and civilian leaders with the aim of synchronizing efforts and fostering innovative solutions. Senior leaders from the Department of Defense and private corporations including the Nation Football League, General Electric, and One Mind for Research participated in this important event  Chaired by Anand Veeravagu, a neurosurgeon, 2013 White House Fellow, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, the goal of this symposium was to raise awareness, accelerate military and civilian cooperation, and foster innovative approaches to prevention, research, and the treatment of traumatic brain injury and mental health issues.

  • Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall Speaks at Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium

    Last week, the White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control Liz Sherwood-Randall addressed over 700 women at the Sea Service Leadership Association’s (SSLA) 26th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium (JWLS) at National Harbor, MD. The JWLS is one way that the SSLA encourages women’s professional development across the Services.

    Liz is responsible for coordinating U.S. government policies and initiatives aimed at ensuring the American military is fully prepared to face our current adversaries, as well as be prepared for challenges down the road.  She also leads the White House’s Health of the Force Coordinating Group (HFCG), which is currently focused on the problem of sexual assault in the military.

    Liz opened by saying that the 2013 JWLS theme of “Stronger self, stronger service” was great because it is consistent with the example set by the Commander in Chief and the First Lady – who not only “talk the talk”, but “walk the walk” in demonstrating what it means to be strong in mind, body, and spirit.

    Describing the President’s commitment to our military, she said he is determined to ensure “that you have the training, equipment and support that you need when you are deployed, and the care that your families need and deserve at home.”  She also emphasized the importance of supporting wounded warriors, mental health, and military family members.  

  • National Conference on Mental Health: Members Focus on Community Support for Veterans and Families

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    On Monday, June 3rd, President Obama and Vice President Biden hosted a National Conference on Mental Health at the White House. The Conference was a key part of the Administration’s effort to launch a national conversation to increase understanding and awareness about mental health. During his opening remarks, President Obama discussed the expansion of mental health coverage in general, the President also addressed the impact stigma has on individuals in need of care.

    As the President stated:

    “…there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love.  We've got to get rid of that embarrassment; we've got to get rid of that stigma.  Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.”

    The President directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to hold mental health summits at 152 VA health care centers across the United States, from Hawaii to Maine. These mental health summits will provide an opportunity for VA facilities to establish and enhance positive working relationships with their community partners.  Furthermore, these summits will help encourage community engagement in order to better address and understand the broad mental healthcare needs of veterans and their families.

  • Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)

    Memorial Day is quickly approaching, and for most of us this a time of reflection. I have the honor to work with our amazing military, veterans, and their loved ones every day.  Our nation takes a deep breath every year, to remember those brave service men and women who have given their lives in defense of our Nation.  Since 9/11 thousands have died fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom.  Many of our fallen are still unaccounted across generations of war, for some their passing is defined by a place and time in history.  For the friends, families, and loved ones of these men and women, Memorial Day is a moment of remembrance. One incredible group is a beacon to families, children and loved ones of our lost heroes.

    The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) was established to provide ongoing peer-based emotional support to anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces.  TAPS was founded in 1994 by Bonnie Carroll two years after she lost her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll and 7 soldiers in a C-12 crash in Alaska.  This is a community of Survivors who are brought together to share comfort, healing, and hope.  TAPS consists of peer mentoring network, online live chat program, and online confidential support groups.  There are also TAPS grief seminars for adults and TAPS Good Grief Camps for children. 

    TAPS will be hosting the 19th Annual National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors this weekend here in Washington D.C.  These events, specifically the camps for children, are extremely helpful in breaking the isolation they feel when losing a parent or loved one.  Children grieve very deeply, but this can be hard to recognize because they do not sustain strong emotions like adults do.  Typically children turn to avoidance, focusing on play or schoolwork.  The Good Grief Camps allow children to connect to other kids who share similar experiences and help to address some of the hidden emotions they feel.

    Over the years TAPS has worked with more than 40,000 surviving family members, casualty assistance officers, chaplains, and others who are supporting bereaved military families.  Since 9/11 alone, TAPS has helped more than 27,000 people.  Along with peer-based support, TAPS also provides grief and trauma resources, survivor resource guides, a quarterly TAPS magazine, casework assistance to help families resolve difficult issues, connect families to local counseling and support groups, and offer a 24/7 helpline.

    For every active duty military loss there are on average 10 people significantly impacted by their death.  This includes mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, fiancés, battle buddies, and other family friends and relatives.  Experts claim it takes on average 5-7 years for people who have experienced the death of a loved one to reach their “new normal” making long term support and care very important for Survivors. 

    In 2012, TAPS took in 4,807 new Survivors who were grieving the death of a service member or recent veteran.  On average TAPS will intake 13 new people per day, this is a 46% increase since 2011.  TAPS does not limit support just to Survivors whose loved ones were killed in combat; they support family and friends of Service members who died from suicide as well.  There are more than 3,000 suicide Survivors currently connected to TAPS.  To ensure support and contact, TAPS will make on average 162 phone calls per day to military survivors and in a single year TAPS has 32 contacts with each Survivor.

    TAPS has demonstrated the success of connecting people to each other to help heal and bring hope in spite of tragedy.  On this Memorial Day, remember the ultimate sacrifice service men and women have given our Nation.  Share the stories of these incredible individuals and support the friends and family who carry on without them here.    

    For more information please visit

    Rosye B. Cloud is the Director for Veterans, Wounded Warriors & Military Families, NSS

  • This Memorial Day: A Simple Act of Kindness

    Ed. note: The full text of the op-ed by Dr. Jill Biden is printed below. The piece is published today on The Huffington Post, and can be found here.

    The year my son Beau was deployed to Iraq with the Delaware Army National Guard, my family learned how much simple acts of kindness could lift our spirits.  From the notice in the church bulletin to the neighbor who shoveled my daughter-in-law’s driveway during a snow storm, these gestures meant the world to us. 

    This Memorial Day, I hope you will take a moment to offer your own gesture of thanks to our men and women serving abroad and at home, as well as their families, and reflect on the service men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

    Over the past four years, First Lady Michelle Obama and I have had the privilege of meeting with military service members and their families all around the world. We’ve heard their concerns about school and career issues; we’ve shared their joy when service members returned from deployment, and we’ve tried to offer solace when they face difficult times.  These stories and experiences – and our desire to say ‘thank you’ - inspired us to start the Joining Forces initiative, a nationwide effort to rally all Americans to support our veterans and military families.

    Joining Forces brings together public and private resources to help with the employment, education and wellness of our returning servicemen and women and their families. Through the Veterans Job Bank and Veterans Recruiting Services, we’re connecting unemployed veterans with job openings.  We’re working hard to encourage states to make it easier for military spouses – often teachers and nurses - to transfer their certifications across state lines.  And we’re proud to have so many private sector partners committed to increasing the number of veterans they hire.

    From a big initiative to a small gesture, Memorial Day is the perfect time to offer a simple act of kindness to our veterans and military families.  You can send a message of thanks to our troops or a military family. Or pledge hours of service. Or even start your own volunteer project.  And afterwards, please share your story - we want to hear about it!