WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama has been everywhere from a West Point mess hall to a NASCAR speedway in the past year to drum up support for military families through her "joining forces" campaign. On Wednesday, she marked the program's one-year anniversary by taking stock of what's been done and challenging Americans to do even more.
At a chilly ceremony on the White House lawn, Mrs. Obama praised businesses, churches, schools and other organizations for working to hire more veterans and provide other services to military families but added, "we are not here to pat ourselves on the back."
"There is so much more to do," she said. "It's a time for us to redouble our efforts."
Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, attended the White House event, and said afterward that while the first lady's campaign has been a welcome effort, many veterans of the two conflicts still aren't feeling its impact.
He credited the first lady for bringing new attention to the needs of military families and veterans, but said much more needs to be done to make sure promised jobs actually are delivered and to address the rising suicide rate among veterans, an issue he said the White House has shied away from.
"Mowing lawns for military families is great, but we've also got a spiking suicide rate," he said.
Reichoff said the White House would have to carefully navigate how to push the program in an election year without allowing it to become bogged down by partisanship.
"It's a very complicated dance to do, especially in an election year," he said.
Handled right, though, the initiative can be boost for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, offering the administration a patriotic platform that's guaranteed to be popular even if the war in Afghanistan is not.
After the White House event, Mrs. Obama and Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president, set out on a two-day anniversary tour with stops in Pennsylvania, New York, Louisiana and Florida to celebrate all things military and announce two milestones for the campaign:
—A commitment by more than 150 nursing organizations and hundreds of nursing schools to train current and future nurses on how to recognize and care for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. The injuries have affected 1 in 6 of the troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq — more than 300,000 veterans.
—The hiring of the 50,000th person under the president's pledge last summer to promote the employment or training of 100,000 more veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. Because military families move around so much, it can be hard for spouses to find and keep good jobs. Companies have pledged to hire 160,000 more veterans and spouses in coming years.
The first lady also will talk up the program Wednesday night on Stephen Colbert's TV show, "The Colbert Report."