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First Lady Jill Biden visits medical and military facilities in San Antonio

First Lady Jill Biden toured the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio on Feb. 23, 2022.
Bonnie Petrie
Texas Public Radio
First Lady Jill Biden toured the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio on Feb. 23, 2022.

Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States, came to San Antonio Wednesday to visit UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center and a childcare facility at Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland.

Several San Antonio cancer survivors and their doctors talked with Biden as she toured the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Biden stressed that she approaches this topic not just as a first lady, but as a mother. Biden's son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2013.

“I mean, we were fortunate that when our son got cancer we had access to the best health care in the world. We had access to trials. We had access to different kinds of therapies. I mean we tried everything,” Biden said.

Biden says it’s important that all families have access to that kind of care. She heard from several local experts in cancer diagnosis and treatment, with a focus on addressing health disparities experienced by Latino-Americans.

President Joe Biden relaunched his Cancer Moonshot initiative earlier this month. Among the program’s goals are to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years.

Biden, who has a doctorate in education, also toured the Gateway Child Development Center at JBSA - Lackland to learn about programs that serve military children with disabilities — with special attention paid to how military moves can impact their quality of life.

Dr. Biden listened as parents, educators, and advocates gave feedback on the military-wide Exceptional Family Member Program, which helps troops manage care and services for family members with special needs.

Joint Base San Antonio has developed a network of community partnerships that help it support special needs families. So far, the base has over 5,000 EFMP sponsors, making it one of just a handful of U.S. military bases with the resources to attend to families with intensive needs.

The Military Desk at Texas Public Radio is made possible in part by North Park Lincoln and Rise Recovery.

Although the vast majority of attendees lauded the base’s work on behalf of special needs children, many still experienced gaps in medical and educational services after switching duty stations. Sgt. Andres Rodriguez-Bolandi’s 5 year-old son once went more than 8 months without some of the care he needed.

“Relocating sometimes means regression, loss of progress, breaks in service, sometimes even the need for surgery,” he said.

Other attendees said students’ individualized education programs—or IEPs—weren’t always treated the same across state and district lines.

“It needs to be smooth for the [special needs] family member when they move from one installation to another,” said Kimberly Gilman, a school liaison coordinator at JBSA. “A lot of states have different requirements. So I think that's the problem that we run into — is that they [IEPs] are read differently.”

Biden pledged to take the feedback to Washington.

“We have to know where the holes are in the fabric to be able to sew it all together…and move forward and give our military families what they deserve,” she said.

Biden has made supporting military families a cornerstone of her work as First Lady – mostly though Joining Forces, a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around military families through wellness, education, and employment opportunities.

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Carson Frame was Texas Public Radio's military and veterans' issues reporter from July 2017 until March 2024.