Joining Forces Blog

  • Military Spouse Employment Partnership and Hiring Our Heroes: Expanding Career Opportunities for Military Spouses

    As a service member, my job is where the military sends me. It’s quite a different story for military spouses. Frequent moves are often a barrier to finding and maintaining a rewarding career. I know that those of us in uniform share the belief that our spouses deserve every opportunity to choose and pursue a career that is personally and professionally rewarding. That’s why I am proud of the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

    The Military Spouse Employment Partnership, or MSEP, expands career opportunities for military spouses among companies that are eager to hire them. It provides companies direct access to military spouses seeking career opportunities and connects spouses to employers who are actively recruiting. MSEP currently has more than 200 partners who have hired more than 55,000 military spouses.

    MSEP also formed the Spouse Ambassador Network, to raise awareness about the challenges related to employment, increase career opportunities and assist in developing career paths that follow military spouses as they relocate.

    MSEP is based on the premise that hiring military spouses is good business. Spouses bring hard-to-find values and skills to a wide range of fields, including education and training, health care and financial services. They are tech-savvy, adaptable, resilient, strong leaders, team players and effective under pressure.

    MSEP is part of DoD’s broader Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) program, which seeks to strengthen education and career opportunities for military spouses. The Chamber of Commerce Foundation partners with DoD in support of SECO. The Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program helps veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses find meaningful employment.

    Hiring Our Heroes holds hiring fairs specifically designed for military spouses in communities across the United States. These events allow military spouses to meet with employers who are committed to hiring them. Hiring Our Heroes also arranges networking receptions for military spouses across the country to better connect them with local military, community and business leaders.

    During the month of January, while we are setting goals for 2014, I hope that military spouses will take time to explore the opportunities available to help them meet their education and career planning goals. Spouse Education and Career Opportunities, in conjunction with the MySECO website, can provide them with wide-ranging resources and tools to help them explore careers, find education and training, prepare for employment and make career-enhancing connections.

    Colonel Rich Morales is the Executive Director for Joining Forces

  • Serving Up STEM at Aberdeen High

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the Office of Science and Technology blog. See the original post here.

    Today, OSTP’s Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Patricia Falcone and Joining Forces Executive Director, Colonel Rich Morales, are visiting Aberdeen High School in Aberdeen, MD, celebrating that school’s designation by the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) as NMSI’s “School of the Year.”
    Aberdeen High is one of the Nation’s many schools with a high proportion of students whose parents are in the military—in this case, serving at the U.S. Army base at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG). These children often face unique academic challenges, in part because their parents tend to move so frequently. That’s why, in 2010, OSTP and the White House Joining Forces initiative worked with NMSI to bring NMSI’s Comprehensive Advanced Placement (AP) Program to schools that serve large numbers of military families. The Program provides enhanced teacher training and mentorship, extra time on-task for students, Saturday study sessions, and incentives for students and teachers, all aimed at boosting success in AP courses—which can give students a significant advantage as they head to college.
    NMSI’s Aberdeen program launched in the 2012-2013 school year and made an immediate, impressive impact. The average increase in passing scores on AP math, science, and English exams was 137 percent—19 times the average increase nationally—and helped earn the school NMSI’s coveted  “School of the Year” award.

  • Honoring Those Who Continue to Serve on MLK Day

    DC Central Kitchen Service Day

    President Barack Obama talks with daughter Sasha, as they along with First Lady Michelle Obama, and daughter Malia prepare burritos while volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C., on Martin Luther King Day January 20, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we honor Dr. King, who believed in a nation of freedom and justice for all, by encouraging all citizens to make the effort to serve their community through volunteering.

    The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems. To honor Dr. King’s legacy and those that continue to serve, the First Family participated today in a service project at the DC Central Kitchen, where they prepared meals for distribution to local shelters. They served alongside veterans who have continued to serve in their communities through programs and organizations such as DC Central Kitchen, AmeriCorps VISTA, The Mission Continues, Team Rubicon, Teach for America, and Team RWB. Joining Forces is proud to recognize DC Central Kitchen and the following veterans who continue to serve.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary today, DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) is the nation’s first and leading community kitchen. DCCK turns local produce and leftover food into 5,000 daily meals for struggling individuals and families. A portion of the meals are prepared by unemployed, severely at-risk men and women enrolled in the landmark Culinary Job Training program (CJT). CJT enrolls unemployed adults overcoming homelessness, addiction, and incarceration in a 14-week professional education program and prepares them for success in the kitchen and in life. DCCK has helped veterans with CJT, which has led to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for them.

    Aaron Parlier is a United States Army veteran who has continued his service through AmeriCorps. His optimism, determination, and passion for the outdoors has resulted in the first State Park bouldering and multi-use trail in Virginia. After serving in the United States Army as a paratrooper, Aaron joined the Virginia State Parks Interpretive Project AmeriCorps program while at Virginia Tech.

    Yolanda Adams joined the United States Navy as a Fleet Marine Force Hospital Corpsman and served 24 years in the military. Yolanda earned a Mission Continues fellowship with The Bridge to Freedom Foundation, a young nonprofit that focuses on helping survivors of modern day slavery become self-sufficient and transition from slavery to freedom.

    Anthony Bari, Jr is a United States Marine Corps veteran who has continued to serve both through a Mission Continues Fellowship and as a volunteer with Team Rubicon. Anthony earned a Mission Continues fellowship with The United Way Campaign, where he works with middle school students as a tutor and mentor. In November 2013, Anthony joined Team Rubicon’s Operation: Seabird to provide disaster relief in the Philippines following Super Typhoon Haiyan.

    Tyler Wright served as a Hospital Corpsman in the United States Navy and is an AmeriCorps VISTA member assigned to Student Veterans of America (SVA) through the American Legion Auxiliary Call to Service Corps. In his assignment as a Student Veteran Success Corps and Outreach Coordinator, Tyler provides support to SVA’s new employment initiative, Student Veteran Success Corps, through chapter and company outreach while also assisting in chapter development and recruitment.

    We encourage every American to follow the example of these veterans and organizations and find ways to serve their community. From volunteering at a local charity, to creating care packages for our overseas deployed service members, or working at a non-profit, there are many ways to serve.

    To learn more about getting involved in your local community, visit  

    Commander Cara LaPointe, US Navy, is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady

  • Separated Military Families come together with United Through Reading

    As part of our Family Friday Blog series, I’d like to highlight the United Through Reading Organization, which allows separated military service members to connect with their children or relatives through recorded stories.

    United Through Reading gives deployed service members the opportunity to be video-recorded while reading a story to their children or other relatives. This contact creates emotional connections which helps to reduce the stress of deployment. Service members are able to record their readings at nearly 200 stations worldwide, which can be found here.

    Since its beginning in 1989, over 1.5 million children, parents, and other caring adults have participated in United Through Reading, which has helped make the lives of separated military families a little easier. Organizations like United Through Reading are very appreciated in the military community and help increase military and family readiness.

    For more information on the United Through Reading Organization, please visit their website at

    Colonel Rich Morales is the Executive Director for Joining Forces




  • How You Can Access eBenefits

    Knowing what VA benefits are available to you isn’t always clear when you’re a newly separated military service member or even one that has been separated for a while. Lucky for us, VA benefits can be viewed and managed at  With this online platform, veterans and their families can apply for and monitor their benefits, and obtain important documents like their DD-214. This website contains a lot of valuable information and every veteran should create an account so they can stay up-to-date on their VA military benefits.

    VA military benefits increase the health and wellness of our veterans and their families. Learning how to access them is an important step to helping our veterans and their families reach optimal health and wellness.

    Please watch this video to see how eBenefits can help you navigate your benefits:

    For even more information, please go to

    Rory Brosius is the Deputy Director for Joining Forces.

  • Veteran Unemployment Continues to Decline, Lowest Rate in Five Years

    Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Veteran unemployment data for the month of December.
    The unemployment rate for all Veterans was 5.5 percent last month—a decrease from 6.7 percent in November and more than a point below the national average of 6.7 percent. This is the lowest Veteran unemployment has been in five years.
    For post-9/11 Veterans, the rate dropped to 7.3 percent in December, compared to 9.9 percent in November – but a when compared to 10.8 percent in December 2012 it’s even more significant.
    In short, more Veterans are getting hired  due to a national focus on hiring Veterans. That is good news, but there is still much more to do to ensure Veterans continue to find meaningful employment. We often send out information on Twitter or Facebook highlighting programs or opportunities for Veteran employment, and as a Veteran I find it gratifying to see the country working to help get our Vets back on their feet in so many ways. From the tech industry, to Red Cross-hosted job fairs, to training in the food service industry, Operation Good Jobs to the National Cemetery Administration’s training program for homeless Veterans, the efforts to combat Veteran unemployment continue to put our Vets to work.
    Included below are graphs to illustrate the unemployment rate for all Veterans and post 9-11-Veterans. Below, you can see the monthly unemployment rate for all Veterans since January 2010. The long-term trend shows a clear decrease.
    Unemployment Rate, All Veterans Jan 10-Dec 13

    Because chunks of data are often better indicators of real movement, another way to view the trend is by looking at the moving (or rolling) average. The chart below captures 12-month averages for the periods ending each month since January 2010. What it shows is a modest decline in the unemployment rate of Veterans over the long term. The current 12-month average unemployment rate for all Veterans stands at 6.57 percent—a modest drop since November and the lowest 12-month average unemployment rate since 2009.
    Unemployment Rate All veterans, Jan 10-Dec 13 (Moving 12 month average)

    This matters because the moving 12-month average is a far more conservative measure than the month-to-month data. When we see movement in the rolling average, we are confident that there is real movement in the unemployment rate.
    For post-9/11 (or Gulf War II-era) Veterans, the monthly unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent in December from 9.9 percent in November. The chart below shows the rates since January 2010.
    Unemployment Rate of Gulf War II-era Veterans, 18 Years and Over, Jan 10-Dec 13 (Moving 12 month average)

    Because the month-to-month figures for this demographic are volatile, the longer term trend is a more reliable measure that continues to show a consistent decline for over three years. The 12-month moving average slightly dropped from 9.23 to 8.94 percent, and in the below graph, you can see the overall decline in the rate since January 2010.
    Unemployment Rate of Gulf War II-era Veterans (moving 12-month average) Jan 10-Dec 13 (Moving 12 month average)

    These stats are encouraging. Even though in certain demographic groups we still see a higher unemployment rate than the national average, there is a clear overall decline in unemployment. That being said, we know there’s still more work to be done. VA is working daily to help remedy that through collaboration with the White House and the Chamber of Commerce “Hiring our Heroes” program, and in encouraging businesses to consider hiring veterans.
    Efforts in this area also tie into our focus on increasing access to Veteran benefits and combating Veteran homelessness. By making Veterans aware of their benefits – in this case the educational and training benefits – we’re increasing access and helping to put Veterans on the path towards meaningful employment and a successful career. And Veterans who are trained and employed have the resources to get off the streets.
    I know the value of these programs, training and the importance of employment to one’s self-confidence. My coworkers – many of them Veterans themselves – also know this, and VA’s entire team is committed to helping those who have served us. Our work will continue to help our Veterans.
    Yvonne Levardi serves on the Digital Media Engagement team at the Department of Veterans Affairs.