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Leaders Praise New Approach to Military Family Support

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 – Leaders from the top echelons of the Defense Department and other government agencies have stepped forward to voice their unanimous approval of a groundbreaking new effort to support and strengthen military families.

President Barack Obama unveiled yesterday a new, whole-of-government approach to military family support, with agencies uniting to create new resources and support programs for military families worldwide.

From health care to child care to spouse employment, Obama announced the government has made nearly 50 commitments to improving families’ quality of life and well-being, with numerous agencies -- ranging from the Veterans Affairs Department to the Education Department -- involved in the effort.

“Through this effort, you now have the entire Cabinet and other agencies literally saying, ‘This is one of our top priorities,’” Sarah Farnsworth, deputy assistant secretary of defense for community outreach, told American Forces Press Service today. “This is not a political discussion. … We all have a responsibility to our military families and our troops.”

This effort opens doors for agencies with a longstanding desire to help, Farnsworth noted. “Some agencies that may not have previously realized they could help make a difference now have a way to get involved,” she said. And in turn, she added, DOD and VA have access to resources they may not otherwise have been able to tap.

“By having military families elevated in some of the other Cabinet agencies, it brings more federal resources to the table,” she said.

While the announcement was made at the government level, Farnsworth emphasized the community-based nature of many of the upcoming support efforts, noting plans for a greater outreach to mayors, business communities and chambers of commerce.

“It’s more about reaching out and empowering communities that may not have understood or had the resources to help support military members and their families,” she explained. “It’s the kind of effort where there’s room at the table for everybody. Military families are part of all of our lives, no matter where you sit across the agency or country.”

VA officials also stepped forward to voice their approval of the family support effort. Tammy Duckworth, VA’s assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, reiterated in a blog yesterday the department’s longstanding commitment to families.

“War takes a toll on families,” she wrote. “Therefore, to ensure the families of service members and veterans have programs that meet their needs, the Department of Veterans Affairs has joined the White House and other federal agencies to strengthen services for family members.”

VA plans to roll out several new programs and cooperative efforts in the coming months, many of which are outlined in the White House Report, titled: “Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment.”

For example, VA plans to develop and expand family caregiver support programs, expand and enhance services to combat suicide in the veteran population, and, working with DOD, implement a multiyear mental health strategy to promote early recognition of mental health conditions.

Additionally, VA will continue working with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Housing and Urban Development Department to reduce the number of homeless veterans to 59,000 by June 2012, and to end homelessness completely by its goal year of 2015.

This governmentwide effort is “something in which we’re very excited to participate,” Duckworth wrote.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan pledged to continue expanding educational opportunities for military families yesterday in a news release.

“The men and women who serve in our nation's armed forces place a high value on education and the availability of quality educational opportunities for their children,” Duncan said. “The U.S. Department of Education is committed to providing children of military families the support and education they need to thrive, as well as expanding educational opportunities for military spouses and veterans.”

The Education Department will focus its efforts on educational opportunities for military children, particularly during deployments and times of transition, a department news release said. The department also will work to simplify the financial aid application process for military families.

Agriculture Department officials also reiterated their commitment to military families and highlighted some upcoming efforts on behalf of military families.

“Military families face many challenges as a result of their commitment to our country, and I believe USDA’s programs can play a significant role in helping and supporting these families through their sacrifice,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said in a news release yesterday. “We are committed to further strengthening our 25-year relationship with the Defense Department and using the resources of the Cooperative Extension Service to serve the entire military community.”

The 4-H National Headquarters plans to enhance its relationship with active, Guard and Reserve services to support 4-H clubs and activities for military youth, the release said. And, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will work with the Defense, Health and Human Services and Education departments to increase child care availability across the nation.

Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior, outlined some of the Interior Department’s planned initiatives while expressing his full support of the effort in a statement issued yesterday.

“We must honor the remarkable service and sacrifices of our military families by doing all we can to provide them the support and quality of life they deserve,” he said. “As stewards of America’s great natural, cultural and historic treasures, the Department of the Interior can help provide our service members, their families, and our veterans with unique opportunities for recreation, rehabilitation and solitude.”

The department plans to work with DOD to offer military families use of Interior lands and recreational facilities for recovery, the statement said, particularly wounded warriors “in their efforts to regain psychological health, reintegrate with family and rehabilitate.”

Also, the department will work with the DOD to expand employment opportunities for military families in conservation, the release said.

“Under President Obama’s leadership and on behalf of a grateful nation, I look forward to working across the federal family to expand opportunities for military families and to honor their commitment to our country,” Salazar said.

Related Sites:
Special Report: Strengthening Our Military Families
White House Report

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