USDA Veteran Initiatives Now Part of DoD’s Transition Assistance Program

By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2015 - Agriculture and farm business opportunities became the newest career training choice for transitioning service members this week when the Agriculture Department announced it would ensure service members attending the Defense Department's Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, would receive information on veteran training and counseling programs in agriculture.

DoD's Transition to Veterans Program Office Director Susan Kelly told a class of transitioning troops in the Pentagon Sept. 14 that they are the first to learn about the USDA's new program during their weeklong Transition GPS -- goals, plans, success -- curriculum.

"We're delighted [the Agriculture Department] made its announcement here at the Pentagon and with our transitioning service members," Kelly told DoD News.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden spoke to the class of 18 service members about becoming the next generation of farmers through learning about the opportunities, preferences, and incentives offered by the USDA.

"USDA wants to work with you," Harden said, mentioning that the department has offices in every state and 2,000 counties and offers a variety of programs, incentives and relaxed fees for transitioning service members. "Many veterans come from rural areas and small towns," she noted.

USDA Needs Veterans

Harden said the average age of a farmer is 58, and there is not necessarily a generation coming back to the family ranch. "We need you," she told the service members, noting that family members now often choose education and other careers over running the family farm.

She explained that service members' existing skills, from logistics to engineering and planning, mix well with agricultural work that puts them in a business where they are their own boss. "It's hard work, and that's something you're familiar with," Harden said.

"There's nothing like getting out and getting your hands dirty," Harden, who grew up on her family's farm, told the class. "Starting with just a little seed, you nurture and care for it, and with a little luck from mother nature and [your] expertise, it grows into something that's going to feed not just [your family] but your community."

Interagency Partnership

USDA joins several other agencies to offer information during TAP on federal training, grant, and employment opportunities.

TAP was reorganized and reintroduced in 2013 as required training for service members transitioning back to civilian life to pursue careers and further their education. It is offered at 206 installations stateside and overseas, Kelly told DoD News.

An ever-evolving, evidence-based program that continually hones its curriculum, the new TAP has become "far more than we ever expected," Kelly said.

"We'll modify it as we learn," she said of the feedback the program receives from its veterans.

One of the program's latest additions is offering the Transition GPS curriculum online to spouses, caregivers and veterans who have already separated from military service, Kelly said.

Filling Workforce Gaps

Kelly said the nation is also facing gaps in other workforce sectors.

"In DoD, we separate 200,000 service members [a year] who have received immense training and experience and can fill those workforce gaps if we do some deliberate planning and institutionalize that pipeline of talent into those workforce sectors," she said.

Even though the newly reorganized and expanded TAP is two years old, private-sector and federal employers are coming to DoD to seek out and hire veterans.

"They are recognizing the talent service members bring to their organization. Veterans have proven themselves to be assets across every spectrum," from small businesses to large organizations, Kelly said.

"It's exciting and overwhelming," she said. "We get good news every day."