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A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have! - Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Michelle Obama Meets with Military Spouses at Roundtable Event in Norfolk, Virginia

Michelle Obama, wife of Senator Barack Obama, visited with Virginia military spouses Wednesday afternoon to hear about their unique challenges of balancing work, family and regular relocations while coping with their loved ones serving in the military far from home. Mrs. Obama has held military spouse roundtables in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Hopkinsville, Kentucky and hopes to continue focusing national attention on the needs of military families in an Obama White House.

Mrs. Obama unveiled Barack Obama’s campaign “Plan to Support Virginia Military Families” outlining policies he would implement in the White House and the available resources dedicated to assisting military families in Virginia; she plans on introducing similar state-oriented military family resource guides to the areas she visits in the future. She also launched “Blue Star Families for Obama,” a grassroots organization of military families who are supporting Barack Obama because of his pro-military, veterans, and military families policies.

Michelle began a series of roundtable discussions early in the primary season to hear firsthand the concerns of women about the challenges of balancing work and family particularly in a troubled economy, and to help communicate Senator Obama’s vision to support America’s families. In recent months Michelle Obama has focused her efforts on military spouses because of their additional challenges of maintaining their family life when their spouse is serving in the military.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these roundtables, it’s that when our military goes to war or deploys at sea – their families go with them. They become everything at home while their spouse is away. They’re Mom, they’re Dad; they’re the disciplinarian. They’re making dinner and doing homework; and when the bills keep piling up, and that list of chores seems endless, they find themselves with yet another job: worrying late into the night,” said Michelle Obama.
Out of these roundtable discussions came the unique stories of military spouses struggling to find good paying jobs, mortgages and educational opportunities they can afford to provide for their families. Not only are these military spouses enduring the steep economic downturn that has forced all Americans to deal with high gas prices, food and health care costs, but they also deal with the continuous demand of relocating which requires major adjustments and child care necessities when their spouse is deployed, which requires flexible work hours. They often bear a deeper impact from the housing crisis by facing difficulty in building equity and home ownership with their frequent moves. They also face financial obstacles in pursuing their education, such as out-of-state tuition and problems transferring credits.

“I hear these stories everywhere I go, from women doing everything that’s asked of them and more. I’ve heard from mothers struggling to make ends meet because their salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of groceries. But if they take a second job, they can’t afford the additional cost of childcare. And they don’t just struggle with the economic downturn like everyone else; it’s often more difficult for you to find jobs. And I am amazed at how military spouses do it all,” continued Mrs. Obama.

“If Barack has the distinct honor of serving as your President, and I have the privilege of serving as your First Lady, I’m going to keep taking your stories to him. Because the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t just need to know how to lead the military; he needs to understand what war does to military families, and what he can do to make their lives better.

At today’s roundtable in Norfolk, Michelle was introduced by Claudia Kennedy, a retired lieutenant general in the United States Army. Kennedy was the first women ever in the U.S. Army to hold a three-star rank, she is also a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame – to honor soldiers and civilians who have made exceptional contributions to Military Intelligence.
Former President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and decorated Vietnam War veteran Paul Bucha participated in the program where he shared with Virginians why Barack Obama has the judgment to be Commander in Chief.

Six local military wives also joined Michelle at the roundtable discussion and spoke about their concerns: Amanda McBreenAmanda is 47 year old military wife who has been married to her husband for 16 years. Their military life started with the first Gulf War and they have been through six formal and two non-formal deployments. They have three children, two of which who are gifted. Amanda worked as a volunteer, coordinator position for military spouse groups on the base especially in Parris Island where her husband trained men and women at the boot camp. She is currently working but had to accept a job for far less pay than she was making before so that she could take time to care for her children.

As a mother, she is concerned about her children’s education which has been a patchwork process since they move very often. Her children require special educational programs that local school systems do not always provide so she provides their education through home schooling which places an added burden on her and does not allow her to work and provide monetarily for their family.

Beth Robinson Beth is a 33-year-old active duty military spouse, college graduate, and a stay-at-home mother of an 18-month-old toddler with another child on the way. She is also living with the disabling disease, Multiple Sclerosis. Beth and her husband Matt are high school sweethearts and have been married for 12 years. Matt proudly serves as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and has done so for over 13 years. His family is committed to a lifetime of service with the Marine Corps. In fact, at the pivotal halfway point in his career he renewed his commitment to serving his country and the USMC family. He hopes that his commitment to the USMC will guarantee job security, retirement benefits and health care coverage for his entire family. Matt served on a MEU deployment in 2001; in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003; and has returned to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once since 2006 in addition to other national and international assignments as part of his current job in Norfolk. Within the next year he will likely be deployed to the Middle East again. Beth is concerned about the uncertainties and availability of military heath care in the future; the impact of the housing market’s decline on future relocations; adequate housing, pay and military benefits for all military service members, veterans, retirees and their families; and raising a family as a single parent while her husband is deployed.

Elaine GuishardElaine is a 46 year old military spouse and mother of teenagers. Her husband was prior enlisted and recently became a commissioned offer in U.S. Navy active duty. Elaine is a breast cancer survivor – she was diagnosed two years ago and worries that if her husband retires, she will not have proper health care insurance available for her full recovery process.
Sandra StockardSandra is a 43 year old military wife and a mother of two children ages 8 and 20. Her 20 year old daughter is serving in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, stationed in Annapolis. Her husband has retired from the Navy where he served for 22 years. He now works for the Coast Guard.

Sandra works at the Naval Station in Norfolk in support role at Personnel Support Activity Detachment. When she was traveling with her husband to Navy bases she came to value the community of military wives that helped her adjust to her new situations.

Stephanie MarushiaStephanie is a 31 year old military wife and a veteran. Her husband and she have a four year old son. Her husband served in the Air Force as a military police officer, he has since retired from the Force as a Staff Sergeant. Stephanie comes from a military family where both of her parents served in the Army.

Stephanie served in the US Army. While training for the Army bomb squad she suffered a minor injury during exercises, which was not properly diagnosed. Due to the misdiagnosis, she suffered systemic damage to her nervous system. She is disabled and was medically retired from the Army. Because of the overcrowding and lack of availability at local military treatment facilities, Stephanie has had to pay 25 percent of her medical costs to use civilian care.

Tammy LintonTammy is a 34 year old military wife and veteran whose husband is an Air Force maintenance officer, stationed at Air Combat Command Headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. He served in Iraq from January -June 2005; has also gone on deployment to United Arab Emirates, Sept 2006- Jan 2007. They have two boys, ages 2 and 8.

Tammy served in the Air Force for four years as an Operating Room Technician, she now works as an Operating Room Nurse. She understands the difficulty of managing the home front while her husband is away. One of her chief concerns has been finding adequate daycare for her young children.

Mrs. Obama announced the creation of the “Blue Star Families for Obama” organization of military families who will expand their efforts to connect with military families through local events and volunteering opportunities. The use of a blue star by a military family is to signal that they have a family member serving in the U.S. military. Military families interested in joining can visit this website: http://my.barackobama.com/page/group/BlueStarsForObama.

Michelle Obama released the Obama campaign’s “Plan to Support Virginia Military Families”, a pamphlet that includes local resources that can be useful for our military and veteran families in Virginia. It also lays out Barack Obama’s commitment and plan to support the health care, employment and other needs of active duty, Guard and Reserve and veterans families. To name a few, Obama’s plan will:

Support Family Readiness Groups: One of the most inspirational aspects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is how military spouses have stepped up to care for each other in volunteer Family Readiness Groups. These are networks whose jobs range from day care to counseling to legal help to instruction in military basics, household finance, and counseling for stress. In 2005 alone, volunteers with Army family programs logged 632,897 hours of service. As president, Obama will provide better support for these networks, including services and training that are more realistic for the challenges spouses face, and paid support staff to help volunteers support one another.

Work to Bring Pay Parity: Early in his first term, President Ronald Reagan increased military pay by double-digit percentages. Since then, military pay has lagged behind civilian wages. As president, Barack Obama will make military pay more in line with that of the private sector, as measured by the employment cost index (ECI).

Help Military Spouses Cope with Deployments: When a Guardsman or reservist is called away for active duty, their spouses have to make a tremendous transition and often struggle to balance work and family obligations. Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act requires employers to give their workers six months of unpaid leave if an employee has a new child, has a serious medical condition, or has a severely ill family member. Barack Obama would extend job protection for Guard and Reserve spouses who are facing mobilization. This will allow workers whose spouse is called to active duty to take time off work and get their affairs in order.

Let Our Reservists Train and Rest Between Deployments: Since September 2001, more than 580,000 reservists have been mobilized in numbers not seen since World War II. These uncertain and repeated deployments have strained Guard and Reserve families. Barack Obama would ease this deployment tempo by beginning an immediate redeployment of American troops from Iraq. Barack Obama supports plans to increase the end strength of the Army and Marines, including the reserves. Increasing our end strength will allow units to retrain and re-equip properly between deployments and decrease the strain on military families.

Fully Fund VA Medical Care: As president, Barack Obama will fully fund VA healthcare so that the VA has all the resources it needs to serve the veterans who need it, when they need it. The current administration did not adequately plan for the true costs of this war. It has consistently underinvested in health care for our heroic veterans. Currently, veterans face delays and long wait times in seeking VA health care appointments. Without assured funding year after year, our veterans are forced to make do with the VA they have rather than the VA they deserve.
Reduce the Claims Backlog: There are currently over 840,000 claims pending at the VA, including both initial claims and appeals. VA error rates have also grown unacceptably high: more than 100,000 cases each year contain significant errors. As president, Obama will hire additional claims workers and convene our nation’s leading veterans groups, employees, and managers to develop an updated training and management model that will ensure that VA benefit decisions are rated fairly and consistently and result from adequate training and accountability for each claims adjudicator.

Remarks of Michelle Obama
Roundtable Discussion with Virginia Military Spouses Norfolk, VA
August 6, 2008

As prepared for delivery

“Well, it’s not every day I’m introduced by a three-star general. Thank you, Claudia Kennedy, for those generous words. We are all so grateful for your service.

“And I’m joined up here by a true American hero – Medal of Honor winner, and my friend, Bud Bucha. He’s been advising my husband, and he’ll be actively participating in our discussion today.

“I’m so glad to be here in Norfolk. I knew it was big; I knew hundreds of thousands of military personnel and family lived and worked here; but I wasn’t prepared for just how big it is. It goes on forever!

“I wanted to come here because one of the things I’ve enjoyed and found so important over the course of this campaign is traveling from city to city and holding these roundtables with women, sharing our stories, and listening to their concerns. So my job here today is easy – I’m going to be doing a lot of listening.

“I’m humbled to be joined up here by six remarkable military spouses, some of whom served as well. They each have their own deeply personal idea of the way things should be – a VA system or TRICARE without red tape, a better education for their children, or improved resources for returning servicemen. But they all know what it’s like to balance a career and raising children while having their husbands away much of the time. And they are all united in their vision for a system that does more to support its families when a spouse is deployed – and long after he or she returns.

“I’m honored to be here with all of you. We are so grateful – Barack and I and all Americans – for the sacrifices you make as you serve this country that has given us so much.

“In my life, I know I’ve been blessed by all I’ve been given. This is a country that allowed my father to provide for his family on a single salary as a shift worker on the South Side of Chicago, and still send my brother and me to college. This is a country that allowed my husband to be raised by a single mom of meager means, and still grow up with the chance to run for President.

“And that’s why we’ve tried to serve people the best ways we can. Early in my career, I left my job as an attorney because I wanted to give back to my community – to ensure that people like my father received the opportunities they deserved, and young people enjoyed the same opportunities I did.

“That same desire to give back led Barack to enter public service more than two decades ago – to turn down more lucrative jobs so he could work for a group of churches on the South Side of Chicago to give job training to the jobless and hope to the hopeless after local steel plants closed down and jobs dried up.

“But few sacrifice more to serve their country than you. And I know that too often, it seems like you’re doing it on your own. I’ve heard stories all over this country of families trying to hold it together with insufficient support.

“I’ve heard from mothers struggling to make ends meet because their salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of groceries. But if they take a second job, they can’t afford the additional cost of childcare. Moms who are nervous about taking time from their jobs to care for a sick child. Moms-to-be who are scared of getting fired if the boss finds out they’re pregnant. Women who work hard every day doing the same jobs as men, but earning less.

“And I am amazed at how you do it. You struggle with all this and more. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these roundtables, it’s that when our military goes to war or deploys at sea – their families go with them.

“You become everything at home while your spouse is away. You’re running the checkbook. You’re Mom, you’re Dad; you’re the disciplinarian. You’re making dinner and doing homework; and when the bills keep piling up, and that list of chores seems endless, you find yourself with yet another job: worrying late into the night.

“And you don’t just struggle with the economic downturn like everyone else; it’s often more difficult for you to find jobs. I’ve heard from military wives who enter the job market with solid resumes, but find themselves fighting for jobs that pay seven dollars an hour. Employers look at your resume and wonder why you can’t keep a steady job – even though it’s only because you’re already doing your job as a military spouse by moving from base to base.

“One spouse, former military herself, told me she gave up looking and went back to school to become a nurse – but now faces staggering student loans and $500 in monthly child care costs. Others have children stuck on base waiting lists, or face rules that don’t allow them to use on-base child care.

“And I know your marriages face unique challenges. Your husbands or wives may be deployed for months at a time, working 16 hour days or more, in the toughest conditions imaginable. They sometimes come home with problems you’re simply not equipped to deal with, and there can be a stigma attached to asking for help. Or they come home, life is good, but it’s a readjustment period – and as soon as you get back to where you were before he or she left, the bags are packed for another deployment.

“One woman told me, ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in health…but it is tough sometimes.’ Another said that during the day, she puts on her pretty clothes and her bold face and holds her head high and holds the fort down. But at night, she lies in bed and cries.
“You end up taking care of each other on base – from babysitting to delivering bad news – but you’re rarely trained or prepared for any of it.

“I hear these stories everywhere I go, from women doing everything that’s asked of them and more. These women aren’t asking for much. They’re not asking for government to solve all their problems. They’re just asking for a Washington that understands what’s happening to our military families, and the variety of challenges they face as part of their extraordinary commitment to our country.

“My husband deeply understands that commitment – and the commitment America must make to our military families. Because without that commitment, he might not be here today.

“His grandfather enlisted after Pearl Harbor and went on to march in Patton's Army. His grandmother worked on a bomber assembly line while he was gone, and his mother was born at Fort Leavenworth.

“When his grandfather returned, it was to a country that gave him the opportunity to go to college on the GI Bill; to buy his first home with a loan from the Federal Housing Administration; to move his family west, all the way to Hawaii, where he and Barack’s grandmother helped raise him.

“And so Barack is determined to see that America makes the same commitment to today’s military families that it made to his grandfather’s generation.

“That’s why when he arrived in the Senate, he sought out a seat on the Veterans Affairs Committee – so he could fight to serve our returning heroes as well as they have served us. He led a bipartisan effort to improve facilities at Walter Reed, because recovering servicemen should go to the front of the line – and they shouldn't have to fight to get there. He helped pass laws that give family members health care and a year of job protection – so they never have to choose between caring for a loved one and keeping a job.

“But he knows there’s more we must do. Washington talks a lot about family values, but he believes it’s time we had policies that value families – and especially our military families. That’s why today, I’ve brought along copies of a new brochure containing my husband’s plan to support our military families. It’s also a resource guide of the services currently available to you here in Virginia -- to help you find a job, get the health care you need, or the family support you deserve. I’m sure we’ll get to a lot of it in our discussion, but I encourage each of you to read through it and share it with others.

“Barack’s plan will ensure predictable deployments, so that units have proper time to retrain and re-equip, and families have time to reconnect. It creates healthier families, healthier troops, and a healthier military. And Barack will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act so that it covers reserve families – so that when a reservist is called up, the spouse can take time off work to get their family’s affairs in order.

“He’ll expand the Vet Centers that provide critical services like counseling, mental health care, and employment assistance. And he’ll create a 21st century VA that offers world-class care and rejects the idea that we should only treat combat injuries instead of those sustained in training or on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

“And when our loved ones return home, we will offer them the same opportunity Barack’s grandparents had under the GI Bill – the guarantee of a real chance to afford a college education. That’s why Barack was such a strong supporter of our friend Jim Webb’s 21st Century GI Bill – legislation that allows servicemembers to share their benefits with their families and achieve the American Dream.

“After all, that’s the very idea that’s at the core of my husband’s campaign – that we are all in this together. And what has touched me, what has inspired me so deeply at these roundtables, is seeing these amazing support networks you’ve created while your loved ones are deployed. You’re helping one another – with finances, with day care, with counseling, with babysitting – you’re taking care of one another. That’s what America’s story has always been about.

“At one of these roundtables, a woman talked of her struggles to make it all work. As she finished, another woman stood up and said, “I don’t know her. But when she leaves here, she will have my phone number. And she will be able to call me anytime. She’s got the support of this friend right here.”

“That is the America we believe in. That’s the America we are working to restore.

“And if Barack has the distinct honor of serving as your President, and I have the privilege of serving as your First Lady, I’m going to keep taking your stories to him. Because the Commander-in-Chief doesn’t just need to know how to lead the military; he needs to understand what war does to military families, and what he can do to make their lives better.

“So we’re going to keep having these conversations about what we need to do as a society to make sure our military families aren’t just surviving – they’re thriving. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I’ll keep doing this.

“And with that, I thank you – and I want to turn it over to all of you.”

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