Today is Veterans Day, and I’d like to take a moment to honor the men and women of our military. Every day, they confront and triumph over those that threaten our national security in order to keep us safe. America’s veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of their country, and a sense of duty and sacrifice to give back to the land that has done so much for us all.
To the USDA employees who have served America in uniform, and to those who support family members and loved ones who serve, I offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you. USDA’s staff across the country now includes more than 11,000 veterans. In recent years, we’ve expanded our commitment to bringing on board more former service members, participating in a wide variety of veterans’ hiring efforts coordinated by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. We’ve also created a USDA Veterans Employment Program office, through which any veteran who contacts us has access to counseling, career help, and consideration for employment.
In addition to hiring veterans at USDA, we continue to expand our outreach efforts to rural veterans. When Service members return home, we want them to know that rural America has a place for them and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tools and resources to help them follow their dream of starting a farm or ranch business—no matter where they're from. For example, over the past seven years, USDA employees have helped more than 6,500 veterans secure more than $443 million in farm loans to help them purchase farmland, buy equipment and make repairs and upgrades to farm businesses. Another program that has grown in popularity among veterans is our microloan program, which has provided more than $24.2 million to help 1,154 veterans grow their farming businesses since its launch nearly three years ago.
Our employees have also taken the lead in developing new and creative ways to reach more veterans with the wide variety of training and resources available to them through USDA. For example, FSA recently entered into an expanded collaboration with the Department of Defense to better reach every single one of the more than 200,000 Service members who leave military service each year with the training they need to start their own farm or ranch business. FSA also recently announced a new partnership with the Farmer Veteran Coalition to conduct agricultural credit training sessions in the Midwest for military veterans to help them beef up their business planning and financial skills, and improve understanding of USDA risk management tools. USDA also recently announced Lanon Baccam as Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and USDA’s new Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison. Lanon will help to coordinate USDA leadership across the Department to provide information, resources and support for active duty military and veterans interested in agriculture. And recently, Deputy Secretary Harden and her team rolled out a new, tailored web tool designed to connect burgeoning farm entrepreneurs with programs and resources available to help them get started at www.usda.gov/newfarmers. The new web tool includes a special section with information tailored to the unique needs of military veterans.
I would personally like to thank our military veterans for their service and dedication. USDA’s efforts are just one piece in America’s shared responsibility to support our veterans, but I am proud of the positive impact we’ve had in the lives of brave returned service members and their families. We continue to take additional steps to grow opportunity so that all rural Americans, including rural veterans, can achieve their dreams.