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Remarks by Mrs. Laura Bush at Stand-To: A National Veterans Convening

June 23, 2017
Remarks from June 23, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Thank you. Thank you all for the warm welcome. 

Thanks to Eric Eversole and Tom Donohue – thank you for hosting us at the US Chamber of Commerce today. 

A special thanks to Walmart and the Boeing Company – thank you for your generous support of the veteran community, and thank you for sponsoring the Bush Institute’s Stand-To. 

And to all the veterans and active military here today – thank you for your selfless service to our country.   

As many of the servicemen and women gathered here today know, you aren’t the only members of your family who serve -  your spouses serve as well. While our servicemen and women are deployed, their spouses are the ones taking care of everything at home. 

They care for the children, they manage family finances, and they pray that their husbands or wives in uniform return home safely. 

Master Sergeant Roque [Rocky] Rodriguez-Urena and his wife Marlene joined us at our ranch in 2013 and 2014 for the Bush Center’s annual Warrior 100K bike ride. 

When Marlene talked about Roque’s years of service in the Air Force she said: 

“We. I say We served 25 years. I lived every deployment with Roque. Every trial and tribulation. So the day that I said yes to him, I really did not realize the impact it was going to have on me.” 

And that’s why it is so important to make sure that, while our servicemen and women receive the support they need when they come home, that we care for their spouses and families, too. 

Today, we are discussing ways to improve veterans’ transition to civilian life – in the areas of Wellness, Education, and Employment. 

While there are over 4 million post-9/11 veterans, there are 8-10 million family members who would also benefit from those transition services.

So, we must consider how we can improve family and caregiver life in those areas as well. 

All any caregiver wants is for his or her family to be in good physical and mental health. 

But as veterans transition to civilian life, they deal with the stresses of uncertainty and finding new meaning in their lives. 

Visible wounds, post-traumatic stress and the lack of stability makes veterans more susceptible to issues like depression, addiction, homelessness, and even suicide. 

And of course, when one family member is suffering, the entire family suffers, leading to an increase in the risk of behavioral issues, anxiety and depression in military children, too. 

Just as veterans need good health care when they return home, caregivers need access to quality care for themselves and for their children. 

66% of military families say they have difficulty finding good and affordable childcare. And this is one of the reasons why military families are 27% less likely to have dual incomes. And why 21% of military spouses who want or need to work are unemployed. 

15% of military caregivers spend 40 hours a week caring for their veteran, and often spend even more time caring for their children when childcare is unavailable. 

In order to ensure that our caregivers have the opportunity to find meaningful work and contribute financially to their household, we need to ensure that caregivers and family members are eligible for the same transition services that are offered to veterans through the Government and the non-profit community. 

Steven Schwab is here today representing the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s mission is to create an America where military caregivers are empowered, appreciated, and recognized for their service to our nation.  

Through their Hidden Heroes Caregiving Community, caregivers around the country can access a digital forum where they can find emotional support for themselves and their families, where they can learn from other caregivers, and where that can discover resources and programs available in their own communities. 

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is a terrific example of a support group directed at improving the wellbeing of  our service members and the Bush Institute applauds their work. 

Veterans and caregivers want their children to be properly educated. But the average military family will move 6 to 9 times during a school career - an average of three times more frequently than non-military families. 

States and local school districts need to make sure that military children have equal opportunities for academic success. 

This means having teachers and school administrators who understand the challenges of relocating to a new school – the differences in achievement standards and course offerings, high school graduation requirements, extracurricular activities, and how difficult it is for students to create a new life in a new school.    

While there are plenty of organizations committed to supporting military children, few programs exist to assist with school transition and academic support. It is our responsibility to make sure that students are not at a disadvantage because they have a military parent. We need to place our military children on a path to success, preparing them for a bright future in college and beyond.   

Just like their spouses, studies show that caregivers’ primary concern when transitioning to civilian life is employment -- their own employment.

Military spouses often spend their marriage moving their family around the country, and around the world. On average, military families move to a community every 2-3 years, making it hard to keep a job.  This displacement causes periods of unemployment, and a weak professional network. 

Most military families need two incomes — too many are forced to live paycheck to paycheck — and 80% of military spouses say that their job search has caused stress within their marriage. 

Some companies already recognize that hiring military spouses isn’t only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. La Quinta Inns is one of those companies. As a member of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, they are helping military spouses find jobs and they are providing the training to help them enter a new career field. 

And just this week, Starbucks committed to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018, and 25,000 hires by 2025. 

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation, La Quinta Inns and Starbucks are just a few organizations that have identified themselves as leaders in helping our veteran caregivers and families in the transition to civilian life.  And I am grateful for their example. 

I also want to thank other 70 plus organizations represented here today – government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, academia and philanthropy. Thank you for your commitment to our veterans. And as you work to improve veterans’ transition, I ask that you also consider how you can support the hidden heroes – the spouses, fathers, mothers, the children, and loved ones who serve our country too.

Military families are American families. They have the same priorities – to create a nurturing home, to take care of their loved ones, to find a strong education for their children, and to be financially secure.  And they do so with more difficulties and more obstacles.

I’m reminded of the old line that the dancer Ginger Rogers did, she said she did everything that the great Fred Astaire did — except that she did it backwards and in high heels.  Military families are Ginger Rogers times ten.

Our military is the strength of our nation, our service members are the strength of our military, and our caregivers are the strength of our veterans and wounded warriors.  Their devotion to our men and women in uniform, and their commitment to their marriage, their family, and to our country is an inspiration to us all.

Thank you and God bless you.