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First Lady discusses military spouse employment and childcare at Fort Drum

Photo: Lucy Grindon
First Lady Jill Biden meets with children making Valentines at the South Riva Ridge Child Development Center at Fort Drum.

First Lady Jill Biden visited Fort Drum today to discuss her Joining Forces initiative, which aims to support military families, and to hear firsthand about challenges they face.

She gave a short speech at a luncheon at the Fort Drum USO, then went from table to table talking with individuals.

Photo: Lucy Grindon
Jill Biden meets with military families at the Fort Drum USO.

Afterward, she brought up some of the conversations she'd had in a brief panel discussion at the Fort Drum Family Resource Center.

"Spousal employment came up again and again," she said. "It is one of those issues that I really do understand as a working spouse." Dr. Biden is a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.

Photo: Lucy Grindon
Jill Biden speaks on a panel at the Fort Drum Family Resource Center. To her left is Chantee Collins, a Transition Specialist for the Fort Drum USO, who provides employment readiness support to service members and their spouses. Collins is a military spouse and the mother of four children, one of whom is a service member.

She said military spouse employment is one of the main focuses of Joining Forces. Currently, about 22% of military spouses are unemployed. Most families relocate at least once every three years, which creates a host of employment problems.

One woman Dr. Biden met, a teacher, said she hasn't been able to take advantage of the retirement savings options offered by her employers over the years because she's had to move too frequently.

"She was saying how part of her paycheck every month, of course, as a teacher, goes into her retirement fund. But she never vests, 'cause she's never there long enough. So she loses all that money. She gives it up. That makes no sense to me," Dr. Biden said. "You can [be] sure that tonight, when I go home, I'm going to say, 'Joe, this makes no sense.'"

After the luncheon and the panel discussion, the first lady met with four-year-olds at the South Riva Ridge Child Development Center, who were working on Valentine's Day crafts to be displayed at the White House.

Photo: Lucy Grindon
A child shows Dr. Biden the Valentine she's just made at the South Riva Ridge Child Development Center. The crafts will be displayed at the White House for the upcoming holiday.

Service member parents at the base said waiting lists to get kids into a childcare center can be months long. Dr. Biden said childcare is another main focus of the Joining forces Initiative, along with families' health and wellbeing.