Joining Forces Blog

  • 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.

  • 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