Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A ‘thank you’ to America’s veterans


By TOM VILSACK

Americans recently came together on Veterans Day to honor our nation’s returned service members, including more than 22 million living American veterans.

For generations, American service members across every branch of our military have made tremendous sacrifices to defend our freedom and liberty. It’s important that all of us take time to remember their service.

In particular, earlier this year, President Obama honored our Vietnam-era veterans when he proclaimed a 13-year period—May 28, 2012, through Nov. 11, 2025—as the “Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.” This gives all of us a special opportunity to recognize these veterans, who too often were not properly thanked when they came home.

Today, more than 6 million veterans live in our small towns and rural communities, a higher concentration than any other part of the country. That is not a surprise to me.

Our veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of their country, and a sense of duty to give back to a nation that has done so much for us all.

I share the president’s belief that when our veterans return home, we don’t just owe them a debt of gratitude. We owe them a good job, secure housing, a quality education, and dependable health care. That’s why USDA has worked hard to ensure our veterans have tools to succeed.

We’ve stepped up hiring of veterans at USDA, and helped offer new work experiences to prepare veterans for the job market.

USDA has participated in a wide variety of veterans’ hiring efforts coordinated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. And through the USDA Veterans Employment Program office, any veteran who contacts us has access to counseling, career help and consideration for employment.

We’ve helped veterans learn more about opportunities in farming and ranching—providing support for organizations to train more than 40,000 new producers, including veterans.

We’ve invested in projects that bring more opportunity to rural veterans. Since 2009, USDA has supported more than 1,000 rural health clinics. We’ve supported more than 5,700 distance learning and telemedicine projects. We have made record loans and grants that help veterans start a farm, buy a home, or run a small business.

And in February, USDA signed an historic memorandum of understanding with the American Legion. Working with the Legion at posts across the country, our aim is to help more rural veterans connect with employers, get a good job, and access useful information about USDA programs.

Our efforts are just one piece in America’s shared responsibility to support our veterans. Together, we can be sure that after veterans fight for America, they don’t have to fight for good opportunity when they come home.

 

Tom Vilsack is the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 




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