Joining Forces Blog

  • Phoenix Reduces its Population of Chronically Homeless Veterans to Zero

    Last week, Phoenix, Arizona became the first city to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans living in the city to zero. There is more work to be done to eliminate overall veteran homelessness, but this achievement is a significant milestone for the nationwide push to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.

    In 2009, President Obama, along with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, made it a top priority to support veterans who lack safe, secure housing. With the help of supporters and cities across the country, they have reduced veteran homelessness by 24 percent since 2010 and are on track to hit their overall goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015. 

    Joining Forces congratulates Phoenix, Arizona and Mayor Stanton for their accelerated efforts and for their investments in ending chronic homelessness.  As other cities, such as Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, accelerate toward eradicating veteran homelessness, we hope that mayors and cities across the country will follow the outstanding example set by Phoenix and join in on this important effort.

    As the First Lady has said, “We need to uphold the dignity and rights of every veteran. And that starts by keeping up our campaign to end homelessness among veterans.”

    From the national level to each individual citizen, we can all do something to meet the needs of our veterans. They stepped up to defend and protect our freedoms, now it’s our turn serve them.

    Click here to learn about getting involved in the fight to end veteran homelessness. 

    Commander Cara LaPointeis a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady.  

  • Top Five Ways to Honor Our Military Communities this Holiday Season

    1. Volunteer in your local community

    First Lady at Toys for Tots Event

    First Lady Michelle Obama sorts toys after she delivers toys and gifts donated by White House staff to the Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Campaign at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Volunteering in your local community in honor of our military service members, veterans and their families is a great way to show your support and appreciation. There are many ways to get involved in your local community; you can volunteer with a local organization or start a volunteer project.

    2. Pledge hours of community service for Blue Star Families

    Take a moment to pledge hours of community service for Blue Star Families in honor of our military communities.

    3. Lay a wreath to honor the fallen

    Download Video: mp4 (55MB) | mp3 (5MB)

    Pay respect and honor to those who fought to protect our freedoms by laying a wreath on the tomb of a fallen soldier.

    4. Send a message of thanks 

    A message written by First Lady is seen on a U.S. Marine Corps flag

    A message written by First Lady is seen on a U.S. Marine Corps flag at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., April 4, 2012.

    As we gather with our loved ones, take a moment to our military service members, veterans and their families are appreciated by sending a message of thanks through the USO.   

    5. A simple thank you

    President Barack Obama greets Richard Overton, with Earlene Love-Karo, in the Blue Room of the White House.

    President Barack Obama greets Richard Overton, with Earlene Love-Karo, in the Blue Room of the White House, Nov. 11, 2013. Mr. Overton,107 years old and the oldest living World War II veteran, attended the Veteran's Day Breakfast at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    When you see a veteran or any military personnel, shake their hand and simply say "thank you."  If you know a military family, pick up the phone to let them know they are appreciated. This simple act of kindness will brighten up their day and make them feel appreciated.

    Col. Rich Morales is Executive Director of Joining Forces  

  • First Lady Michelle Obama and Toys for Tots Team Up for the Holidays

    First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the sorting of toys

    First Lady Michelle Obama participates in the sorting of toys during a Toys for Tots service project at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Toys for Tots Distribution Center in Washington, D.C., December 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. to deliver hundreds of toys that Executive Office of the President staff donated to the United States Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign, an annual holiday toy drive. 

    While there, Mrs. Obama welcomed home a  group of Marines that just returned from Afghanistan:

    I hear that there are four Marines at this base that just returned home from Afghanistan last week, right in time for the holidays.  So I just want to take a moment to say on behalf of myself and my husband, your Commander-In-Chief, welcome home. 

    Then Mrs. Obama thanked military families for all they do throughout the year, while still finding time to run programs like Toys for Tots.  

    Most people don’t understand that you do all of this service on top of all of the challenges that you face as service members and as military families. And that’s the example that I think the rest of the country needs to see -- that even in the midst of your challenges, you find a way to give back to those less fortunate. 

    And that’s what makes me proud. That’s what makes me want to step up and do whatever I can to support this effort and to support you all as men and women, and as young men and women -- young heroes, our military kids, who do so much sacrificing. And I really don’t know how you all do it....But I am grateful that you are who you are, and that you make those sacrifices. 

  • Military OneSource Assists Service Members and their Families with Maintaining their Health and Wellness

    Ed. note: This is part of a series of blogs about wellness issues for Military Families, Veterans, and Service members. Check back for more Wellness Wednesday blogs, where we will cover topics relevant to the holistic health of the military and veteran communities.

    I know that at my home, and probably yours, the last few weeks of the year can be a busy and sometimes overwhelming time. Amidst the holiday craziness, making sure we pay attention to our health and wellness is more important than ever. Listening to our bodies, finding time to rest our minds and releasing our stress are critical aspects of achieving and maintaining wellness.

    As a military spouse, I understand the abundance of energy our military members and their families expend in service to our country. With the stresses that accompany both everyday life and military life, it’s important to have access to high-quality health and wellness resources to retain a sense of balance. A great wellness resource that active-duty, National Guard or reserve service members and their families have access to is Military OneSource

  • Operation Gratitude Assembles Its One Millionth Care Package

    During my time as a Task Force Commander in Baghdad, one of the organizations that I remember fondly is Operation Gratitude. They sent care packages to every one of my nearly one thousand soldiers arrayed across some of the most dangerous parts of Baghdad. The impact on our morale was immediate and it was nice to be reminded that we have a grateful country standing behind our efforts.

    Years after receiving those packages, I am excited to share that Operation Gratitude assembled its one millionth package over the weekend. Thousands of volunteers and supporters gathered at the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California to celebrate this landmark achievement in supporting our nation’s heroes.

    Through Operation Gratitude, more than 100,000 military service members deployed in hostile regions, veterans, caregivers and first-responders receive a care package annually. Each package is addressed to a specific individual and is filled with snacks, hygiene products, entertainment items and handwritten letters of appreciation.

    Receiving one of these care packages means so much to our deployed service members – and especially to those men and women who don’t receive packages from home. My soldiers were always so grateful for these care packages from Operation Gratitude.

    On behalf of the First Lady and Dr. Biden, I want to congratulate Operation Gratitude on their landmark achievement. Their efforts have touched the lives of a million individuals – that’s incredible. 

    Col. Rich Morales is the Executive Director of Joining Forces

  • Assisting Military Families with Special Medical and Educational Needs

    For our Family Friday blog series, Joining Forces would like to highlight the Exceptional Family Member Program, which supports military families with special medical or educational needs. 

    For those of us in the military community, we know that military life with its deployments and frequent moves, brings a multitude of challenges. We have two exceptional family members in our small family of three, so I know that locating and navigating formal programs and services can often be daunting — but thanks to Exceptional Family Member Program there is help. The program helps expedite a family’s connection to community services, education and outreach, and information regarding local school and early intervention services as well as non-clinical case management.

    In addition connecting families with special needs to resources and other support, the Exceptional Family Member program also helps connect families to one another. Installations frequently host events, such as resource fairs, training, and support groups for program participants and their family members. These events offer the chance for families to take part in fun activities, connect with others enrolled in the program, and build a community of mutual support.

    We all serve our country proudly and our families deserve the very best.  The Department of Defense provides critical support for those families who may have members with special needs, and as a result, we can remain mission-ready to meet the many challenges of military life.

    For more information on the Exceptional Family Member Program, please visit Military OneSource at

    Colonel Rich Morales is the Executive Director for Joining Forces