WASHINGTON, July 17, 2014 – First Lady Michelle Obama today praised Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for taking on the challenge of assisting transitioning veterans through employment and support resources.
Speaking at the Unite for Veterans summit in Los Angeles, Obama said Garcetti’s initiative involves commitments from 150 businesses and public sector organizations that aim to hire 10,000 veterans by 2017, giving veterans a chance not only in finding work, but also in keeping it.
“The idea that any of our veterans are spending months, or even years, struggling to find a job is unacceptable,” Obama said over applause. “The image of even one of these heroes sleeping out in the cold huddled up next to an overpass, … that should horrify all of us, because that’s not who we are.”
But whether in business, government or in communities, simple steps can make a difference, the first lady said.
On employment, she explained, the Obama administration began new programs to help veterans get civilian licenses for jobs they held in the military.
“Through our Joining Forces initiative, we have rallied businesses to hire and train more than half a million veterans and military spouses,” she said. “When it comes to veteran homelessness, my husband vowed not just to address this issue, but to end it once and for all.”
As a result, the administration is cutting red tape across agencies, with the launch of new programs and strengthening of existing ones to expedite putting veterans in homes, the first lady noted.
“Over the past few years, these efforts have brought tens of thousands of veterans out of homelessness,” she said. “They have helped prevent over 100,000 more from falling into homelessness in the first place.” And despite challenging economic times, Obama added, the rate of homeless veterans in the United States has fallen by 24 percent.
Still, she acknowledged that though more than 10 percent of homeless veterans in America live in Los Angeles, a grassroots approach to tackling the problem makes it “eminently solvable.”
In conjunction with the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles has united public and private partners to launch Home for Good, which has housed more than 9,000 veterans since 2011, the first lady said. She applauded voters and legislators in California for voting to authorize $600 million toward housing for veteran families, the largest state-funded effort in the country.
But the personal stories of veterans, service members and their families, she added, have had the greatest impact on her.
“I’ve been blown away by their courage and dedication and their unwavering commitment to excellence,” she said.
She noted that she sat next to Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, a severely-wounded veteran Army Ranger and Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient, during the president’s State of the Union address in January.
“I remember the young man who had nearly been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan but fought back to speak again, stand again and walk again.” But, she added, she also knows well the everyday stories of talent and skill that veterans display each day.
“They are mastering cutting-edge technologies,” Obama said, noting that they’re leading dozens of their peers in some of the most dangerous missions on the planet. “They’re doing everything from handing out humanitarian aid, responding to incoming fire, building relationships with local leaders – sometimes all in one day,” she said.
The first lady said that expertise is in action at the White House, where veterans hold such staff positions as policy team members, military aides and Navy mess staff.
“They are some of the sharpest, most dynamic and most effective people I have ever had the pleasure of working with,” Obama said. “So when these men and women come home, they have got the skills that any company in America should want.”
And though veterans by and large are well-prepared to succeed in career or educational environments, she said, too often the transition back to civilian life presents a litany of challenges.
“The friends who’ve been by your side every minute are suddenly spread out across the country. The missions that drove you every day are gone,” Obama said. “The skills you’ve spent years developing are not valued or understood in the civilian world.”
The first lady emphasized that while the majority of returning veterans transition back into good health, good spirits and successful careers, no veteran’s circumstance should go overlooked.
“All we have to do is show just a fraction of the courage and commitment that our veterans have shown all of us,” she said. “We just have to keep veterans in mind when we’re hiring for that next open spot. We just have to make sure they have a place to call home.”