First lady Michelle Obama was in Philadelphia this week to announce the launch of an initiative aimed at helping returning veterans combat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, and mark the first year of Joining Forces, a White House initiative to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
The new effort to combat PSTD and traumatic brain injuries will hinge on extensive new training for the nation’s three million nurses, who will be schooled in ways to recognize and help veterans manage PSTD and traumatic brain injuries.
“We often spend much more time with nurses than just about any other health care professional,” Obama said. “Quite simply, nurses are the frontline of America’s healthcare system.”
U.S. government statistics show that 1 in 6 soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan — more than 300,000 veterans — have suffered from PSTD or a traumatic brain injury.
Obama emphasized her point with a line that drew laughter and cheers from the crowd of nursing students.
“Nurses get things done. Ask any doctor, they don’t know what they’re doing,” she joked.
The first lady and Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife, made their announcement at the University of Pennsylvania Wednesday afternoon. Speaking in front an enthusiastic audience of about 1,100 people — students, members of the Armed Forces, Penn faculty and staff, at the campus’s historic Irvine Auditorium.
Obama was greeted like a celebrity, with a standing ovation and students shouting “We love you, Michelle.”
She was just one of several speakers including Biden, Afaf Meleis, dean of Penn’s school of nursing, and Navy Lt. Pamela Wall, a Penn grad specializing in the treatment of PSTD and traumatic brain injury.
Penn’s School of Nursing will be just one of about 500 nursing schools across the country that will take part in the new effort, which is part of Joining Forces. In addition to cooperation with nursing schools, more than 150 nursing organizations have agreed to train nurses and nursing students on how to recognize and care for those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
“That’s what the initiative we’re announcing today is all about,” said the first lady. “Making sure that nurses across this country have the kind of information, tools and training they need to change the lives of our military families. That is the least we can do for the men and women who serve the country so bravely.”
Calling the injuries and the depression that often accompanies them the “invisible wounds of war,” Obama urged veterans to seek help.
“They are natural responses to the violence of war,” she said. “They are not in any way a sign of weakness, and they should never be a cause for shame or of stigma. Too often these conditions are misunderstood.”
In addition to the launch of the nurse training initiative, Obama and Biden also noted that the administration has made good on its pledge to promote hiring and employment training for veterans and their spouses. According to Obama, the 50,000th person had been hired under the president’s pledge, made last summer, to promote the employment or training of 100,000 more veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.
The pledge was part of a promise the president made, noting that 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’s Philadelphia stop was part of a day-long launch of the new initiative that also included an event at the White House and an appearance on the Colbert Report.