The end of January and beginning of February was a busy time for the First Lady’s Joining Forces initiative, starting with a cold and snowy visit to Fort Drum, New York on January 30th.
First Lady Jill Biden was joined by Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks. During the visit, Dr. Biden heard directly from military families stationed at Fort Drum during a lunch hosted by the USO. Much of Joining Forces’ work is guided by interactions like this, where families share candidly about their experiences with military life.
After lunch, Dr. Biden hosted a roundtable discussion with the Deputy Secretary focused on military spouse employment. Military spouses, local service providers, and a local employer participated in a lively discussion on the state of military spouse employment at Fort Drum. Military spouse employment is a constant challenge, and resources to assist spouses are critical, particularly in a remote location like upstate New York.
During the roundtable, participants described support from community partners including the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Networks and the USO Pathfinders Transition Program, as well as Employment Readiness Programs provided at Fort Drum. Amanda Root, a supportive employer with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, made the business case for hiring military spouses, speaking to the diverse experiences and skillsets they bring to the workplace. Noting that military spouses are agile and ready to get to work, Ms. Root explained that military spouses are an untapped talent pipeline for employers. As part of her work with Joining Forces, Dr. Biden is focused on raising awareness of high-quality resources like those supported through the Department of Defense’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities office that increase military spouse employment rates.
Military Spouse Employment Resources
- Military OneSource: Spouse Education and Career Opportunities
- Military Spouse Career Accelerator Pilot
- Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network
- USO Pathfinder Transition Program
Traveling to a clime that could not be more different than Fort Drum, Dr. Biden touched down in sunny San Diego on February 10th, where she delivered pizza and visited with the crew standing watch on the USS Gabrielle Giffords. As the ship’s sponsor, Dr. Biden shares a special relationship with the ship and its crew. During her time on board, she was able to talk with sailors in the crew mess and visited the bridge of the littoral combat ship. After departing the ship, she joined a meal with the remainder of the crew and families hosted by the San Diego Armed Services YMCA. Dr. Biden delivered remarks about her work with the Joining Forces initiative and served dessert to the Giffords’ families.
The next day, Dr. Biden hosted a discussion with military family members, Cohen Veteran Network clinical providers, Camp Pendleton behavioral health providers, and local military leadership to highlight the need for partnerships and innovation to address the mental health needs of service members, veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors. The conversation, which was held at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego – Oceanside, delved into both the personal experiences of military family members and veterans who sought support for their mental health as well as the strategic thinking of clinical leaders who are working hard to create additional capacity for mental healthcare. Steven Cohen, a Connecticut philanthropist and the father of a U.S. Marine who deployed to Afghanistan, created the Cohen Veterans Network to improve the quality of life for recently-returned veterans and their families. The network of 23 community clinics works to strengthen mental health outcomes and complement support provided within the Department of Defense and local community. During previous trips around the country, Dr. Biden has also visited VA Vet Centers and Home Base to highlight them as available resources for military families seeking mental health support.
As part of her work with Joining Forces, Dr. Biden recognizes that supporting the overall physical, social, and emotional health of military families is a national security imperative and is focusing on lifting up resources and best practices for mental health care in the military-connected community.