Education, employment, and health: these are the three main pillars of Dr. Jill Biden’s renewed Joining Forces initiative, which the first lady formally announced at the White House on Wednesday morning.
The program is meant not only to support veterans or those currently serving in the military, but their family members and communities as well, Dr. Biden emphasized during her address.
"Military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors may not wear a uniform, but you serve and sacrifice for us all,” she said, speaking to a group of virtually-assembled military families. “You are the rudder that steers our military, and supporting your physical, social and emotional health is a national security imperative."
The first lady’s connection to the armed forces is one near and dear to her heart: Dr. Biden’s father, Donald Jacobs, served in the Navy during World War II; President Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden, who she raised, served in both the United States Army and the Delaware Army National Guard before his death from brain cancer in 2015.
The program’s first pillar — employment and entrepreneurship — will aim to increase economic opportunities for military spouses, in part by creating remote job opportunities that allow for the frequent moves required of military families.
Military child education will be the program’s second primary focus. Joining Forces will “advance programming to support military-connected children in their classrooms, and help ease the burdens created by the highly mobile military lifestyle,” per a release from the White House.
And finally, with the first lady calling it a “national security imperative,” Joining Forces will offer support for the mental, physical, social, and emotional health for those in the military, and those with loved ones serving their country. Noting that the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the isolation felt by some military families, Dr. Biden asked: “How can we hope to keep our military strong if we don’t give our families, survivors, and caregivers what they need to thrive?”
“So far, we already have commitments from the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Education,” for the Joining Forces effort, she added. “And this is just the beginning. Our effort will take all of our government working together, and we expect every agency to step up and be a part of it.”
Joining Forces began in 2011 under President Barack Obama's administration and was led by Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, when Joe Biden was vice president. The mission was to encourage the public and private sectors to support service members, veterans, their families and their caregivers. The program focused on education, employment and wellness.
“During the Obama-Biden Administration, we made a lot of progress. And most of all, I am proud that we helped lift up the stories like the ones I heard from those on the screens behind me,” Dr. Biden said Wednesday. “Now we’re ready to do more.”
The renewed program comes after the first lady spent her opening weeks in Biden’s White House conducting listening sessions with the spouses of senior Defense Department officials and military leaders, military family advocates and military children.
In one of her first official events as first lady, Dr. Biden met with high school members of the Military Children Education Coalition’s (MCEC) Student 2 Student peer mentoring program via Zoom, offering support to children of service members who might be struggling amid the pandemic.
The Student 2 Student high school program offers military children a safe place as they frequently move schools, and intends to “create a positive environment, support academic excellence, and ease transitions,” per its website.
“The foundation of Joining Forces has always been guided by the experience of military families,” Dr. Biden said at the time. “You are our North Star, so welcome to the White House. I wish you could be with me right here, together in person.”
“As a member of MCEC’s Student 2 Student program, you are demonstrating what our military community does best: service and sacrifice for others. Using your own challenges to make it easier for someone else,” she continued, adding: “The president and I are grateful for the generosity and the kindness that you demonstrate every day.”
Last month, she toured U.S. military bases in Washington state and California.