Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Joining Forces Event at the Department of Labor

January 30, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Good morning, everyone. Please -- thank you so much. Please be seated.

Well, this is good stuff, right? I want to start by thanking Secretary Solis for her outstanding leadership here at the Department of Labor. I also want to thank all of the DOL employees here today for all of your hard work and all of your dedication. I have had some wonderful visits here with all of you, and this is another great visit.

The fact is that without all of you, there wouldn't be days like this. And my husband and I are so grateful for every single thing that you do. Congratulations on your work.

Today is a big day for our troops, our veterans, and for their families. And we have quite a group assembled here today to help celebrate. It just warms my heart, but it also shows just how important this issue is.

We have the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, and his wife, Patty; the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter; the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force are here today. We have Representative Gwen Moore, I believe, who is here today. We have General Marty Dempsey, and all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are here today. We have my dear friends, their spouses, the women who keep me up -- and keep them up and keep them focused. They are all here.

And I'd like to give a special thanks to Deanie Dempsey for all of her leadership on behalf of military families. But all of these women do a great job, and they have been terrific partners.

We've got some of the nation's businesses and nonprofit leaders here today, and we also have many of our troops, our veterans and our military families. And of course, we have brave, courageous caregivers like RyAnne, who is here today.

I want to thank you all for being here. And I also want to thank RyAnne for sharing her story. And although she was too modest to admit it, the degree she earned while caring for her husband was a PhD. (Laughter.) So that's pretty amazing. (Applause.)

Over the past few years, one of my greatest privileges as First Lady has been spending time with families just like RyAnne's all across the country. I've met wounded warriors who are facing challenges that none of us could even begin to imagine. Their lives have been flipped upside down. They've dealt with surgery after surgery, month after month of pain. Yet their spirits are always up, and that's something that I say -- I mean, if each of us could spend a moment with a wounded warrior, we would never complain about our own plight.

Their minds are always set on their goals for the months and years ahead. That's something very special about them. Even in the toughest time, they're focused on what they're going to do next. They tell me about how they can't wait to get back home, how they're determined to make it to a daughter's piano recital, or how they're not just going to walk again, but how they're planning to run, and how they're going to run marathons.

This is what you see consistently. It's the spirit that makes our military so unique. And their families are just as inspiring. These are men and women and children who will do anything for their loved ones, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, no matter the consequences.

They are spouses who put their lives and careers on hold. They are moms and dads who spring into action the minute they get that phone call. And of course, they are children who put on a brave face and do everything they need to do to make things better. They are the reasons all of us are here today.

We're here because we want to recognize the extraordinary dedication, sacrifice and service of our nation's caregivers, not simply with words, but with deeds. And that's what today's announcement from Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor is all about.

The rules they've proposed under the Family Medical Leave Act will help more military family members take the time they need to care for their loved ones. Now, this means that more caregivers can now provide support at a hospital for days or weeks at a time. They can help their loved ones make that transition back home. And they can do it all without worrying about whether they will lose their job. And we all know the kind of difference that can make for our wounded warriors and for their families.

Another example: Sandy Cuddihy. She's a Marine mother from Bellevue, Illinois. Last summer, her son lost his lower legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. As he rehabilitated in both Bethesda and San Diego, Sandy, his mom, was there. She did whatever was needed, like RyAnne -- feeding him meals, working with doctors and nurses to control his pain, sleeping by his bedside night after night.

And after it all, this is what she said; she said, "All I cared about was knowing that he's alive. I knew we could figure the rest out." And because she qualified for the Family and Medical Leave Act, Sandy had the flexibility to figure it out, without having to choose between keeping her job or caring for her son.

And that's exactly why we're all so excited about today. Because these new rules will give even more families the type of support and flexibility that Sandy had.

You see, these new rules now also include veterans. If you've served in the past five years and you're still dealing with a serious injury, a qualifying member of your family can now take time off from work to care for you. And as Secretary Solis mentioned, the protections don't just benefit our wounded servicemembers and veterans. They also help families of all our armed forces personnel deal with the unpredictability of military life.

They allow folks who qualify to take time off to care for their kids when a spouse is deployed unexpectedly. If a family member needs a few hours during the afternoon to talk to someone about finances, they can do that. And if there's a spouse on a home break, you can take time off to be with them before they head back out.

So these new rules will make a real difference for our military families in so many ways. And remember, these protections are simply a few of the many steps this administration has already taken on behalf of our caregivers.

My husband signed landmark legislation to help caregivers receive stipends, training, counseling, and other assistance that they've earned. And under the direction of Secretaries Shinseki, Panetta, and Gates, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor have strengthened their support for caregivers as well.

Their teams have worked together to support caregivers whose loved ones are dealing with the signature wounds of our most recent conflicts, and that is traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

And the VA has helped caregivers receive health insurance to connect them with support coordinators who can direct them to the resources that they need.

So there has been a lot of really good and important progress made here. But I also want to be clear that America's commitments to our troops and veterans don't end with our government.

When our troops answer the call and take that oath, these men and women in uniform protect every last one of us in this country. They keep every one of us safe. So even if we're not part of a military family, we're all a part of the American family, and we all have an obligation to serve our troops and veterans as well as they've served us.

And that's why Jill Biden and I started Joining Forces, a national campaign to rally all Americans to recognize, honor and support our men and women in uniform and their families. And I have to tell you -- and I say this every time I am doing an event with military families -- the response to Joining Forces has been overwhelming. It has been overwhelming. And it's important for our troops and families to understand that.

People are stepping up. People across the country have been finding ways to show their love and support for our wounded warriors and their families in all kinds of inspiring new ways.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the USO, and Hire Heroes USA have worked together on an exciting program called Career Opportunity Day. Now, these events are small, comfortable gatherings just for wounded warriors and their spouses and caregivers where these folks can interact with employers, learn about job and career opportunities that suit their talents, and even sharpen their interviewing skills with mock interviews.

And today, we're announcing 14 new events like this at locations around the country. And right here in D.C., the Chamber's Military Spouse Business Alliance is announcing that in May, they're hosting a hiring fair exclusively for wounded warriors and caregivers at Walter Reed. And I'd like to give a special thanks to Mary Winnefeld, Admiral Sandy Winnefeld's wife, for her leadership in creating this event. She has been terrific to work with.

But you don't have to be in the military or part of a nationwide coalition to make an impact on this issue. Every single one of us can help in some way. And here are just some of the few things people can think about doing.

There are two incredible organizations –- Operation Homefront and the Semper Fi Fund. They've added volunteer opportunities to JoiningForces.gov so that more Americans can help support our military caregivers. So people can go on to that website.

It can be something as simple as providing childcare or lawn care for a wounded warrior's family. People can think about volunteering at one of these many community events. Or, if you have the skills, helping a veteran's organization update its website or apply for a grant.

The thing is to be creative, and to find the thing that you can do best, and find out how to apply it on behalf of the many organizations around the country that are working on behalf of our troops, veterans, caregivers and families. Whatever skills and time that you have to offer, there is any number of opportunities to serve.

So I hope that everyone in this country will ask themselves one simple question: "What can I do to support these brave military families who have given us all so much?" That's the one question that we all need to ask.

And that's really what today is all about. It's about showing our respect. It's about showing our gratitude for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for this country.

So to all the troops and veterans here today and in communities across the country, I hope that you can feel the love and support of your country. The one thing I ask when I talk to military leaders is, we want to make sure these efforts are felt on the ground. It's one thing to talk about them here and to have wonderful press conferences, but the goal is that these men and women serving in bases and in regular communities across the country, that they feel this.

And the message that I have to troops and their families and our veterans is that, if you haven't yet felt it, I promise you that it's coming. That I promise you. We are going to work every day until every last one of you feels the pride and the honor that this entire country feels. Every day, people are stepping up. Every day, people are doing their part to show their appreciation.

So I have no doubt that as long as we keep working together, as long as we all just keep joining forces to support these amazing families, we will be able to serve all of you as well as you've served us.

So I want to again congratulate everyone here. I want to thank our troops and their families.

God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Joining Forces Event at the Department of Labor Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320354

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