Dr. Jill Biden is a woman on a mission. On a cold day in January, she took time from her husband’s campaign in Iowa to talk to Woman’s Day about a group of people she wants every American to honor: our men and women in uniform, and the people behind them who make their service possible.
Working with military families is a cause close to her heart. Dr. Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, was in the Delaware Army National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, and she was active in Delaware Boots on the Ground, an organization that supports military families in her home state. In 2011, she launched Joining Forces with former first lady Michelle Obama, an initiative focused on developing education, employment and wellness programs for military families. Today, crisscrossing the US campaigning for her husband, Joe Biden, she urges Americans to double down on their commitment. She says bluntly, “We need to lift up our veterans and their service, and remind Americans of just who they are.”
So what can you do to help? One way to support military families is by volunteering with Blue Star Families, which gives active duty and veteran families access to a variety of programs, from passes to parks and museums to career initiatives for military spouses and outlets for caregivers. The organization also offers an easy way for civilians to build connections with families. Starbucks offers Coffee Chats/Connects meetups (free coffee!) in participating stores, and the six-week START Reading Book Club puts civilians and military families together at local libraries to share a meal and discuss a good read.
This kind of fellowship can make a huge difference in the lives of military families. Allyson Harasimowicz, whose husband was in the Air Force for 25 years, saw this first hand when her young son was diagnosed with cancer while they were in the middle of one of the family’s 10 moves. Harasimowicz, Blue Star Families’ NYC chapter director, says, “through it all, and being away from extended family, if it wasn't for the support we had with military and community families we met along the way, I don't know how we could have gotten through it.”
One group in particular need of support are military caregivers. According to the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, some 5.5 million people in the US care for ill, wounded or injured military service members and veterans every day. They manage medications, schedule doctor’s visits, coordinate healthcare paperwork, and sometimes do the down-and-dirty work of bathing, feeding and dressing their loved ones, often while holding down a job and raising children. “I don’t think people realize how the physical and emotional effects of war continue year after year to affect our service members,” says Dr. Biden. “It’s a tremendous burden on caregivers.”
Colleen Johnson is one of them. Her husband, Thomas, returned from his last deployment in Afghanistan in 2013 with debilitating migraines and symptoms of PTSD. “As a caregiver, I wish people understood our complex role in the healing of our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured warriors,” Colleen says. “I became a caregiver in a moment with no fanfare, no training, though huge expectations.”
With a burden this complex, caregivers need support too. A Biden administration would offer a $5,000 tax credit for informal caregivers, who often have to give up their jobs to be there for loved ones, and make sure that they receive professional and peer support, including mental health services. On a more personal level, Dr. Biden urges people to reach out to military families in church, school and in the community and help however you can. Johnson adds, “Friends, family, and neighbors can best support military families by giving their time in what they love to do. For some, it’s a telephone call, for others, it’s a meal, and yet another it’s a task. I have found that when people give me what they love, it makes both of our hearts happy.”
Reaching out, no matter how, is key. Says Dr. Biden, “Our one sacred obligation is to take care of our military when they come home. We cannot forget. We still have to keep pushing that all Americans commit to honoring and helping our military families.”
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