First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden announced this week that the Department of Defense will be launching a program designed to help military caregivers connect and relate with one another.
In an op-ed published on Military Spouse Magazine's website, the first ladies described the program's main objectives, at the core of which is the concept of caregiver peer forums. Once implemented, the forums will provide in-person caregiver support at every military installation serving wounded service members worldwide.
Specifically, these forums are geared toward providing a network of support for caregivers, whose physical and mental health can suffer as their relationships often become strained, putting them at higher risk for depression. In addition to physical and mental setbacks, caregivers are often plagued with financial burdens, as many are forced to quit their jobs to become full-time at-home caregivers, resulting in a significant loss of income.
"The burden that these women and men bear for our country is real -- and they shouldn't have to shoulder it all alone", the First Ladies wrote in their op-ed, in support of the in-person forums. For caregivers who are unable to attend an in-person forum, online forums will also be made available.
To provide readers with a real-life example of caregiving, the First Ladies focused their op-ed on Linda Mills, whose husband, Army Staff Sergeant Andrew Mills, was seriously injured during an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2012. Mills quit her job to be her husband's full-time caregiver as he underwent over 30 surgeries. Her main caregiver responsibilities are: helping with physical therapy, assisting with daily personal care and hygiene, and managing the family's legal and financial responsibilities.
The op-ed refers to Mills as more than a military spouse – calling her a nurse, an advocate, a scheduler and a coach – before pointing out that she is more of the rule than an exception, estimating that there are currently 5.5 million military caregivers in the US.
In execution of this project, the First Ladies have enlisted help from Senator Elizabeth Dole, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Military Officer's Association of America, the American Bar Association, Easter Seals, and the Chamber of Commerce, among other national organizations.
The First Ladies closed their op-ed with a thank you note:
"[W]e want all of our military spouses and caregivers -- like Linda Mills and millions of others -- to know how awed we are by their strength, determination and service to this country. We're going to do everything we can to keep rallying people all across this country to step up in ways that make a real difference for them and them families. And we're going to keep working until we have served them as well as they have served us."