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First Lady, Austin Applaud Military, Veterans’ Caregiving Kids in White House Event

Nov. 10, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

It's time for the nation to recognize veterans' and military service members' caregiving children and give them the support they deserve, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden said today in a White House Joining Forces event.

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The first lady, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole took part in the ceremony to honor caregiving children who help take care of their parents who were wounded while serving in the military. The Joining Forces initiative supports military and veterans' families, caregivers and survivors.

"[From] a young age, hidden helpers learn the cost of our wars up close," Biden said, adding that children of those with hidden and unhidden wounds see how difficult the road to recovery can be. "You know the reality of changing bandages or long stays in hospital rooms. You get tired of having to be brave. And there's no way to stop you from feeling sad sometimes," she said to those children.

"No, we can't shield our caregiving kids from the reality of war or its aftermath, but we can recognize that the costs last long after our troops come home — and that injuries can be felt throughout generations," the first lady said.
 
"We can celebrate caregiver kids' strength and resilience," she said. "We can — and we must — give our military and veteran caregiving families everything they need to care for their wounded warrior with compassion, dignity and love."
 
Biden said as a nation, we must bring these hidden helpers' service out of the shadows, let their light shine and give them the support they need to thrive.

"Supporting our caregivers is critical to our national security. Our troops and their families need to know that if they ever face injuries, illnesses or wounds, we will have your back," she said.

"We're here to celebrate you. Your bravery. Your kindness. Your compassion and hard work," the first lady said to the children of the wounded.
 
"We're here to thank you for everything you do to help out at home — all the extra chores you take on, or the times you watch your brothers and sisters. We know you need a break sometimes — and that you need to be around kids and teachers who understand what you’re going through, without needing it explained."
 
Biden said today's ceremony honors the sacrifices caregiving children have made — the time they've missed with friends or moments they feel lonely because their family is different. And, most of all, she said, "we’re here to tell you that you aren't 'hidden' any more."

Our military families make us a stronger, healthier and a more ready force. So, we have to make sure that our phenomenal military families cannot only survive the hard times, but they can actually thrive throughout their service.''
Lloyd J. Austin, Secretary of Defense

 
"But not only do we see you, we stand with you,'' the first lady said. "And we are going to work to live up to the example of courage and duty that you set every day."

"Our military families serve every bit as much as our service members do," Austin said. "We often talk about the hardships, the frequent moves, the sleepless nights and the stress. But their contributions run even deeper than that. Our military families make us a stronger, healthier and a more ready force. So, we have to make sure that our phenomenal military families cannot only survive the hard times, but they can actually thrive throughout their service."

One of the defense secretary's top priorities is making sure families have world-class health care to treat all wounds — those that can be seen and those that cannot.

"And you've heard me say this before, and I'll say it again: Mental health is 'health,' period. We've all got to continue to break down the stigmas that can prevent people from reaching out for help — help that they need and deserve. And that's especially true for children in the military and veteran caregiving homes," Austin said.

Addressing the caregiving children in the White House audience, the secretary noted, "We know that you sometimes worry about your mom and dad. We know how much you miss them when they're not at home. And we know that you take on bigger responsibilities for your family. So, the grownups in the room today are going to be there to support you, because your love and your strength helps keep our country strong, and because when a parent in uniform thinks about why they need to work so hard to keep our country safe, it's your face that they see."

Jorge Rodriguez served as a fleet Marine corpsman, Austin pointed out. During a deployment to Iraq, two improvised explosive devices left him with hearing loss, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. "That's a lot to handle. And when he got back home, it was hard for him to remember routine tasks, like when to report to work or when to eat," the secretary said.

But his young children, Gabby, 9, and Ava, 6, stepped up to help their mom, Jessica, take care of him, Austin said.

"They remind their dad to eat. And they pitch in on countless household tasks. Gabby rides horses through a therapeutic program that helps veteran caregivers and kids like her because … it can be pretty stressful to have to grow up faster than most," the secretary said. "Thanks to these brave hidden helpers, they're coping with the challenges, the frustrations and the joys of healing as a family. And they're all walking the road together."