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WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are getting a dose of high-profile support for their nationwide effort to help military families.
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter and former Sen. Elizabeth Dole are joining Mrs. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s wife at the White House on Friday to help call attention to the millions of people who care for ill or wounded service members and veterans.
A RAND Corp. report commissioned by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and released last week estimates that there are 5.5 million military caregivers in the U.S., including more than 1 million who look after veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Besides military caregivers, the report classifies nearly 17 million other people as civilian caregivers.
Together, these family members and friends often care for loved ones at significant emotional, physical and financial sacrifice, and the burden is only expected to deepen as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close and people continue to live longer.
Little is known about military caregivers. The RAND Corp. study was commissioned to get a handle on the extent of military caregiving and to identify gaps in the web of programs, policies and initiatives that exist to support these individuals.
To that end, the first lady and Jill Biden are expected Friday to announce new public and private sector commitments to improve the support network for military caregivers. Some have been invited to the event in the White House East Room.
Dole has firsthand knowledge of the caregiver issue. Her husband, former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, a Republican who lost the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1996, was gravely wounded during Army combat in World War II. He lost the use of his right arm.
Carter, the wife of former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, is a longtime advocate of family caregiving and mental health.
“As baby boomers age, as troops return home from the battlefield, as more people live with chronic illnesses, the number of caregivers among us is only going to increase, and we need to find more and more effective ways to support caregivers and their efforts,” Jill Biden said in a recent speech in which she recalled how she and her husband cared for their parents in their final years.
Mrs. Obama participated in a private, round-table discussion with military caregivers during a visit to Fort Belvoir in Virginia on last year’s 9/11 anniversary.
Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden launched the Joining Forces initiative in 2011 to encourage Americans to support military families any way they can, even by doing something as simple as volunteering to mow their lawns.
The program also encourages the private sector to hire military veterans and their spouses. Unemployment among veterans who have served since 2001 has declined, but remains significantly higher than the national average for civilians.
In an opinion piece earlier this year, Mrs. Obama said nearly 400,000 veterans and their spouses have been hired under Joining Forces, including by such household names as Disney, Starbucks, UPS and Walmart.
The construction industry recently pledged to hire more than 100,000 veterans by early 2019.