WASHINGTON -- Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are offering relief to millions of people who care for wounded service members and veterans.
At the White House on Friday, the first lady and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden are announcing new steps by private and public sector organizations to help ease the heavy burden on what many say is a vital but largely invisible workforce.
They are being joined by former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Carter has a longstanding interest in family caregiving. Dole's husband, Republican former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, lives with lasting wounds from World War II.
Three groups -- the Military Officers Association of America, USAA Bank and the American Bar Association -- are working on a website to provide caregivers with legal and financial assistance. Easter Seals is expanding its caregiver training program. The Chamber of Commerce will help caregivers get more flexibility in the workplace so they can better balance the demands at work and at home.
"All of these new commitments are a big deal, but they're really just the tip of the iceberg," Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden wrote in an opinion article published Friday on the website for Military Spouse Magazine.
They also said the Defense Department will create in-person caregiver forums at every U.S. military installation around the world that serves wounded service members and their caregivers, along with online tools for those who cannot attend the sessions.
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and other organizations also are promising to train 10,000 caregiving mentors to work with their peers.
The announcement comes as Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden mark the third anniversary of Joining Forces, their nationwide initiative to boost public support for active-duty service members, military families and veterans in the areas of employment, education and wellness.
There are an estimated 5.5. million military caregivers in the U.S., including 1.1 million who support the nation's newest generation of veterans, those who served on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a RAND Corp. study commission by Dole's foundation and released last week.
These "hidden heroes," as Dole describes them, often care for loved ones at significant emotional, physical and financial sacrifice that takes a toll over time, according to the report. Many see their own health worsen because they put so much into caring for others. Income is lost because of time spent providing care and relationships become strained.
The burden is only expected to deepen as thousands of troops return home when the U.S. ends its combat role in Afghanistan.
In the op-ed piece, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden encouraged caregivers to take advantage of available benefits and search for other resources by visiting www.caregiver.VA.gov and www.MilitaryOneSource.mil.
"In the end, that's really what Joining Forces is all about, connecting military families with the resources available to them, and rallying our country to do even more," they said.