American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed a memorandum of understanding  today to kick off a nationwide campaign to increase the percentage of military veterans employed by the USDA.
"This is a great day and a big step forward in The American Legion's push to give veterans jobs when they get back home," Wong said after signing the MOU during the 52nd American Legion Washington Conference. "We appreciate the secretary's efforts to pull us closer together. Hopefully, we can influence the other departments to join in the same effort."
"It's a great match because people coming out of the military service are problem solvers," Vilsack said. "Particularly these war vets have had to deal with very significant circumstances that require them to think quickly and clearly and to reach a solution to a problem. Plus, they are technically efficient. In their service to the country, they have learned skills that are absolutely necessary for us at USDA. There are lots of good reasons for this, apart from the fact that the country owes a debt to these folks."
USDA opened a Veterans Employment Office in late 2009 to focus on raising the percentage of veterans hired each year within the department's 17 agencies and 15 offices. Since then, the percentage of veterans hired each year at USDA has climbed from less than 6 percent in Fiscal Year 2009 to 12.7 percent so far in Fiscal 2012. Vilsack has set 17 percent as a year-end target for the department, which employs approximately 97,000 workers nationwide.
Vilsack sees The American Legion, which has approximately 5,300 posts in counties with less than 40,000 population, as an ally in the effort to reach veterans in rural areas where jobs in such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service may be a good fit for those with military backgrounds. "What we want to do is make sure we know who the (American Legion) leadership is so we can communicate to them directly through our state offices and regional offices about all of our programs. We have housing programs. We have business-development programs. We have farm-loan assistance. We have beginning farmer efforts to encourage people to think about how they might get started in farming. We have the Forest Service. We have telecommunications. We have utilities. We can help returning vets."
"We certainly will coordinate with USDA and help identify the leadership, identify the posts that can help, and have our folks join in and work together so that the veterans, when they return home, can be channeled to the proper offices and liaisons to get the process started," Wong added.