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First Lady: Actions, Not Words, Are What Count on Vets Issues

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2015 — Words are not enough when it comes to veterans -- action is, said first lady Michelle Obama at a Joining Forces luncheon for women veterans here today.

Obama spoke at the Vice President’s house with Dr. Jill Biden. The lunch highlighted the contributions of women veterans and the unique problems they face. The lunch also focused on the A&E television production "Women of Honor," a documentary drawing attention to today’s vets.

Obama and Biden founded Joining Forces, and both stressed the organization is about action. "It’s about making real, concrete changes that you and your families can feel every day in your lives,” Obama said. "When we first met to talk about Joining Forces, we said, we don’t just want show, we want something that’s going to move the needle.”

Part of that is educating America about what it means to be a woman in uniform or a member of a military family. Women of Honor does that, the first lady said. "We’re so grateful to these women for their courage, their willingness to tell their stories -- because their stories represent the stories of countless women all across this country,” she said. "They represent the stories of women who wear the uniform during the day, and then still find time to run the PTA meeting at night, to sew that Halloween costume, to go over homework.”

Balancing the Challenges of Service

The documentary also features the stories of women who care for wounded warriors, for their kids, and for aging parents. "They are the stories of women who endure those constant moves from base to base, those constant deployments, all while somehow managing to continue their careers and to keep their education first and foremost on their priority list,” Obama said.

There are more than 2 million female veterans in the United States. Women are serving at the highest levels of the military, but some citizens still do not understand the crucial role women play in the military, the first lady said.

"And many folks still don’t know that countless military spouses and caregivers are serving and sacrificing without putting on a uniform,” she said.

As Joining Forces gained steam, people have stepped up, Obama said. "Governors and state legislatures across this country have stepped up, and they’ve changed laws to make it easier for military spouses to get jobs when your families move from state to state,” she said. "Doctors and nurses, hospitals and medical organizations have stepped up to improve health care for you and your families. Mayors have stepped up to work to end veterans’ homelessness in our cities.

"And since 2011, companies across America have stepped up by hiring or training more than 850,000 veterans and military spouses,” the first lady continued. "We are nowhere near satisfied, and we are nowhere near finished. Because as long as a single veteran in this country has no place to call home, or a single military spouse struggles to care for their family or continue their career, or a single military family can’t get the health care they need, then we still have work to do.”

Featured Women

The Lifetime hourlong program aired beginning November 9 in the United States and on AFN Spectrum. In addition to the first lady and Dr. Biden, it features Army Capt. Rolona Brown, who speaks about her military journey from an enlisted soldier to a company commander.

The show also highlights Kathleen Causey. She was finishing her degree in 2011, when her husband Aaron was catastrophically injured while attempting to disarm a bomb in Afghanistan. Causey details what life is like for a young caregiver spouse.

Finally, the show interviewed Jennifer Madden, who enlisted at 17 and whose first day in the Army was September 11, 2001. She deployed to Afghanistan and saw the horrors of war up close. She experienced post-traumatic stress and began self-medicating with drugs to cope. She speaks about her journey to rebuild a successful life, culminating in her current job as a licensed nurse practitioner and becoming a mother.