FAQ: Federal officials at a recent forum in Des Moines pledged to use programs in the new farm bill and other programs to help military veterans find careers in agriculture. What has USDA announced regarding that effort so far?
Answer: USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced that Karis T. Gutter, a Marine Corps Reserve veteran and current USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, as the first USDA Military Veterans Agricultural (MVA) Liaison.
The MVA Liaison will coordinate USDA leadership across the department to provide information, resources and support for active duty military and veterans interested in agriculture. The MVA Liaison will also have authority to facilitate formal relationships between USDA and other government agencies and nonprofit organizations to strengthen USDA support for veterans.
New position will coordinate ongoing USDA support
Harden made the announcement at the Farmers Veterans Coalition and Drake University Agriculture Law Center's inaugural national Farmer Veterans Stakeholders Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
"Many of America's veterans come from our rural communities and are often drawn back to the land upon returning to civilian life," said Harden. "Veterans are key to building our future generation of farmers, land stewards and conservationists. USDA already has a number of initiatives to help veterans find meaningful work in agriculture upon returning home, but this new position will help coordinate our efforts and make programs easier to navigate. I look forward to Karis' leadership as we continue to support America's heroes."
Gutter is USDA's first Military Veterans Ag Liaison
Karis Gutter, a native of Terry, Miss. (pop. 1,099) began his career in public service as an enlisted U.S. Marine Corp Reservist. Gutter served as a Corporal in the Marine Corps as a communications and field radio operator for six years and participated in humanitarian relief in support of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. Prior to his USDA service, Gutter worked for the Hinds County Board of Supervisors in Mississippi and on Capitol Hill as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02).
"Serving as USDA's first Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison is a great honor," said Gutter, who attended the Iowa conference. "As a Marine, I know military vets have unique skills, training and perspective. My job is to make sure military veterans have full access to USDA's resources and services to help them succeed in civilian life."
The USDA Military Veteran Agriculture Liaison, which reports directly to the Office of the Secretary, is a new position created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The farm bill also authorizes USDA to offer priority preference to veterans in several programs including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.
Since 2009, USDA has invested in housing, job training and financial assistance for veterans including:
• Providing safe and sound housing through Rural Development's Rural Housing Service by making 9,301 single- family guaranteed housing loans, 952 direct home loans, 766 home improvement loans and 1,445 home improvement grants to veterans and their families.
• Investing over $2 million to training and experience for over 600 veterans through the Veterans Fire Corps, many of which become permanent Forest Service employees. There are over 10,000 veterans employed across USDA.
• Partnering with the Corporation for National Service (CNCS) and other federal agencies to develop the 21st Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) to create opportunities for veterans to restore and conserve natural resources. Earlier this week, USDA and CNCS announced the project locations of expanded 21CSC opportunities in 11 states. In addition, the Forest Service invested over $21 million in FY14 and leveraged $18 million from partners to engage approximately 11,000 youth and veterans in training and employment opportunities.
• Closing 689 Farm Service Agency Farm Ownership Loans (totaling $106.8 million), 3,881 traditional Farm Operating Loans, (totaling $236.4 million) and 592 microloans (totaling $11.3 million) to veterans. Recently, the Farm Service Agency announced it would recognize leadership positions in the military as a way to satisfy experience requirements when applying for microloan funds.
• Investing $5.4 million to veterans through FSA Emergency Loans and over $1.1 million in Conservation Loans.
• Launching a dedicated website for veterans and military families about available federal nutrition programs.
• Chartering the USDA Veterans, Reservists, and Military Families Task Force (VRMF) to strengthen and coordinate programmatic and outreach efforts across the department to better serve military and veteran families.
• Integrating veterans into USDA efforts for new and beginning farmers.