In rural America, promise and opportunity abound for veterans

Farm Forum

Veterans have sacrificed dearly to keep this country safe. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security. We owe it to our military men and women to ensure a different kind of security is waiting when they return home—the security that comes from the promise of a good job, affordable housing, a quality education and dependable health care.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture stands proudly alongside those who have served. Our staff across America includes more than 11,000 veterans – and our team works hard every day to strengthen services and programs in rural areas that support veterans and their families as they achieve their dreams. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning and training opportunities for those who want to start a farm or ranch to grants and loans to help veterans start or expand a rural business.

Today, more than six million veterans live in rural areas, a higher concentration than any other part of the country. A disproportionate number of those who serve in the military come from rural America. While just 17 percent of this country’s population lives in rural areas, 44 percent of the men and women who serve in the military come from small towns and rural communities.

Whether they grew up there or have relocated there, rural America offers tremendous opportunity for veterans to start or expand a small business, get into farming or ranching, or simply to buy a home and raise a family—and USDA is here to help. Since 2009, for example, USDA has provided $356.2 million in farm loans to help more than 5,000 veterans purchase farmland, buy equipment and make repairs and upgrades. Our microloans, which offer smaller amounts of support to meet the needs of small- or niche-type farm operations, have also grown in popularity among veterans. Since it was launched in January 2013, USDA’s microloan program has provided more than $10.6 million in support to help hundreds of veterans grow their farming businesses.

USDA also offers help for veteran-owned rural small businesses. In 2014, for example, we provided a small grant to help KJ’N Ranch, a veteran-owned sheep and lamb ranch in Montana, begin the process of expanding its business and generating new revenue through cheese making. Another grant went to a small Nebraska business owned by a former Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan to begin selling farm fresh eggs.

In addition to support for veteran-owned farms, ranches and rural businesses, USDA also offers job skills and training programs targeted to veterans. This past year, for example, we invested $20 million in partnerships that supported work and training opportunities for 11,000 youth and veterans on national forests and grasslands through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. This included support for a partnership between USDA and the Veterans Fire Corps that helped employ veterans on the fire line, a place where their military skills – including decisiveness, solid judgment, teamwork and attention to detail – contribute to successful work on the ground. Ultimately, these partnerships help to equip veterans with the knowledge and critical skills they need to pursue careers in conservation and land management.

As we honor our veterans this November, I would personally like to thank them, along with our active duty military personnel for their service and dedication to protecting this great nation. USDA’s efforts are just one piece in America’s shared responsibility to support our veterans, but we believe that they have a real impact in the lives of our brave returning soldiers and their families. We continue to take additional steps to grow opportunity so that all rural Americans, including rural veterans, can achieve their dreams.