FORTUNE — Two years ago, we launched Joining Forces, a nationwide campaign to rally all Americans to support our veterans and military families. We did this for two simple reasons: because we were both awed by the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day to protect our values and keep us safe. We were also awed by their families, the spouses and children who serve right along with them, enduring deployment after deployment with grace and resolve.
As we traveled the country visiting bases and military communities, everywhere we went, we heard from veterans who had years of training and experience in the military — leading dozens, even hundreds of their peers; operating some of the most advanced technology; and solving complex problems under the most extreme conditions imaginable. But when they returned home, they struggled to find decent jobs. We met military spouses who’d spent decades moving from base to base every couple of years and struggled to maintain their careers. As the months passed, we saw that the unemployment rate for our most recent veterans remained far too high above the national average.
These men and women are some of the highest-skilled, best-trained, hardest-working people in this country. They are medics and engineers, drivers and welders, computer technicians and machinists. They are eager to work and determined to keep on serving this country. All they need is a chance.
But the challenge of giving them that chance is only becoming more urgent. In the coming years, more than a million servicemembers will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning to civilian life. That’s on top of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses already out there looking for work.
MORE FROM FORTUNE: Blackstone to hire 50,000 vets
That’s why, back in August of 2011, President Obama challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. And over the past two years, businesses across America have answered that call. By last August, they had already filled 125,000 jobs, with commitments to hire 250,000 more. And today, we are proud to announce that America’s businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, almost triple the original goal. In addition, companies like Wal-Mart, UPS, Home Depot, the Blackstone Group, Target, and McDonald’s have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.
So we’re making real progress. We’re encouraged that the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans dropped by 2.2% in 2012. But it is still too high; because as long as any veteran or military spouse who needs a job is unable to find one, then we still have work to do.
That’s why, in his budget, President Obama proposed a permanent extension of the tax credits he signed into law for businesses that hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors. We’ve also been working with governors and state legislators to revamp state laws to give our troops credit for the skills they’ve learned in the military when they apply for professional licenses and credentials here at home. In addition, we’ve created new partnerships between the armed forces and the manufacturing and information technology industries to ensure that our servicemembers are trained for good jobs.
But ultimately, it’s up to our companies to actually hire veterans for these jobs. So today, we need business leaders across this country to ask themselves, “What can my company do for these men and women who have served our country so bravely?” If you own a small business, can you commit to hiring a few veterans — or even just one? If you own a larger company, can you hire a few hundred — or a few thousand? Can you retrain the veterans already in your workforce so they can grow within your company? Can you team up with other businesses to hire the veterans in your communities?
This is an all-hands-on-deck issue, and we cannot rest until every single veteran and military spouse who is searching for a job has found one. These men and women have sacrificed so much for all of us. Now is the time for all of us to come together to serve them as well as they have served this country.
Michelle Obama is First Lady of the U.S., and Dr. Jill Biden is Second Lady of the U.S.