First Lady Joins Maryland Governor at Veterans’ Bill Signing

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Story by Amaani Lyle, American Forces Press Service

First Lady Michelle Obama watches Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, seated, third from left, sign the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013 during a ceremony at the State House in Annapolis, Md., April 17, 2013. Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, far left, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., second from left, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, right, joined O'Malley. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

First Lady Michelle Obama watches Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, seated, third from left, sign the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013 during a ceremony at the State House in Annapolis, Md., April 17, 2013. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy

First Lady Michelle Obama joined Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at the State House in Annapolis on April 17, 2013, as he signed into law the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013.

The Defense Department collaborated in development of Maryland’s comprehensive bill, designed to streamline credentialing and licensing procedures for service members, veterans and their spouses.

“We have asked them to risk their lives in combat, manage dozens of peers, operate complicated machinery, oversee millions of dollars of assets and save lives on the battlefield,” Obama said. “And then, when they come home, we’re also asking them to repeat months of training for skills they’ve already mastered. So we have to ask ourselves: how does this make sense?”

The first lady said enacting the bill represents more than merely “eliminating a few bureaucratic headaches” for veterans and their spouses.

“This is about improving the financial security for thousands of military families,” Obama said. “It’s about giving veterans and their spouses an opportunity to build their careers and create a better future for their children.”

As part of their Joining Forces initiative, in February, the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, addressed the National Governor’s Association as part of a call to action to bring millions of veterans into the civilian workforce.

“With the Iraq war over [and] the war in Afghanistan winding down, more than a million service members are going to be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning back to civilian life,” Obama said. “And that comes on top of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses already out there looking for work.”

While the first lady noted much progress in veterans’ employment over the past few years, she acknowledged that there is still more work to do. As of March 2013, roughly 783,000 veterans were unemployed and looking for work, including 207,000 post-9/11 veterans.

“We need more businesses to make big, bold commitments to hire and train our veterans and military spouses,” Obama said. “We need more hospitals … colleges and employers from every sector to recognize our veterans’ and military spouses’ unique skills and experiences and give them a fair shot at a job.”

Prior to the bill-signing, Obama visited the U.S. Naval Academy, where she ate lunch with midshipmen and met with a number of health care professionals who have served the country for years and mastered highly technical, high-demand skills.

Introducing the first lady at the State House was 23-year Navy veteran and former Senior Chief Petty Officer Andrew Hite, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while on active duty. Hite said he experienced anxiety about pursuing a degree.

“Even though I served this country for more than two decades as a radar tech, an avionics electronics technician and an avionics instructor, I was unable to receive even a single college credit with all of my military experience and numerous formal training courses I completed on active duty,” Hite said. “Legislation that’s being signed today will ensure the well-deserved recognition of our country’s veterans’ efforts of service and acknowledge their military experience and their formal training received while serving our country.”

The legislation, Hite emphasized, will remove the barrier of time.

“It will help shorten the time required to complete the desired degree by allowing credit for the often-expensive knowledge [veterans] have gained during their military service,” Hite added.

Maryland joins a growing list of states that have taken legislative or executive action to help service members, veterans and their spouses get the credentials they need to successfully transition to the civilian labor market.

“Your bill here in Maryland is one of the best bills we have seen in the entire country,” Obama said. “You’re helping our veterans obtain professional credentials … earn college credit … and making it easier for military spouses to continue their careers as they transfer to your state.”

O’Malley also addressed the plight of veterans before signing the bill.

“These individuals should never come home, after overcoming all the barriers they have for us, and face barriers to employment, barriers to licensing, barriers that prevent them from keeping a roof over their children’s heads and providing them with a loving home with economic security and dignity.”

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First Lady Joins Maryland Governor at Veterans’ Bill Signing

Obama Proclaims April Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

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File photo: President Barak Obama. Defense Department photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

File photo: President Barak Obama Defense Department photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

President Barack Obama today proclaims April “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.” He reminds the nation that sexual violence is an affront to human dignity that cannot be tolerated and calls on Americans to offer their support to survivors of such crimes.

The proclamation reads:

In the last 20 years, our nation has made meaningful progress toward addressing sexual assault. Where victims were once left without recourse, laws have opened a path to safety and justice; where a culture of fear once kept violence hidden, survivors are more empowered to speak out and get help.

But even today, too many women, men, and children suffer alone or in silence, burdened by shame or unsure anyone will listen. This month, we recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need.

Sexual violence is an affront to human dignity and a crime no matter where it occurs. While rape and sexual assault affect all communities, those at the greatest risk are children, teens, and young women. Nearly one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault during college.

For some groups, the rates of violence are even higher — Native American women are more than twice as likely to experience sexual assault as the general population. Moreover, we know rape and sexual assault are consistently underreported, and that the physical and emotional trauma they leave behind can last for years.

With Vice President Joe Biden’s leadership, we have made preventing sexual violence and supporting survivors a top priority. Earlier this month, I was proud to sign the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which renews and strengthens the law that first made it possible for our country to address sexual assault in a comprehensive way. The act preserves critical services like rape crisis centers, upholds protections for immigrant victims, gives state and tribal law enforcement better tools to investigate cases of rape, and breaks down barriers that keep lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims from getting help. It also expands funding for sexual assault nurse examiner programs and sexual assault response teams, helping states deliver justice for survivors and hold offenders accountable.

Just as we keep fighting sexual assault in our neighborhoods, we must also recommit to ending it in our military — because no one serving our country should be at risk of assault by a fellow service member.

Where this crime does take place, it cannot be tolerated; victims must have access to support, and offenders must face the consequences of their actions. Members of our armed forces and their families can learn more about the resources available to them at 1-877-995-5247 and www.SafeHelpline.org.

All Americans can play a role in changing the culture that enables sexual violence. Each of us can take action by lifting up survivors we know and breaking the silence surrounding rape and sexual assault. To get involved, visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/1is2many.

Together, our nation is moving forward in the fight against sexual assault. This month, let us keep working to prevent violence in every corner of America, and let us rededicate ourselves to giving survivors the bright future they deserve.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2013 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. I urge all Americans to support survivors of sexual assault and work together to prevent these crimes in their communities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

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Obama Proclaims April Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month