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Rural Development Honors America's Veterans and Highlights Ways USDA Can Help Them

Jay Fletcher
Release Date

Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Doug O’Brien today honored the nation’s veterans and underscored the many opportunities available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help them start or expand businesses and purchase homes in rural communities.

“America’s rural towns, farms and hamlets comprise nearly 40 percent of the nation’s armed services personnel, so it is a privilege to recognize their contributions on Veterans Day,” O’Brien said. “I am proud of the work USDA and the Obama Administration have done over the past few years to reach out to our veterans and ensure they are aware of the many programs Rural Development has available to them and their communities.”

Today, about 6.1 million veterans live in rural areas. They are often leaders in their communities, and USDA wants to help them pursue and reach their goals. For example, our Rural Housing Program can help veterans become homeowners. USDA’s Single-Family Housing Programs finance homes for low- and moderate-income rural Americans through direct loans and loan guarantees, and provide loans and grants to repair or improve existing homes, including accessibility modifications for people with disabilities. (View the list of all Single-Family Housing Loan and Grant programs.)

Army veteran Crystal Woolen served this nation for eight years as a heavy equipment operator, including a 15-month tour in Iraq. Upon returning stateside in 2011, she sought to buy a home in Palisade, Colo. Woolen contacted Housing Resources of Western Colorado, a local non-profit housing agency, and learned about Rural Development’s Self-Help Housing program. Under this program, participants –with expert supervision – perform about 65 percent of the construction labor on each other’s homes. The savings from reduced labor costs allows them to obtain low-interest mortgages through USDA. In addition to learning home construction skills, Woolen received instruction in managing a household budget – important skills that will help her as a new homeowner.

Our Multi-Family Housing Programs finance apartment-style rental housing complexes for very-low-, low- and moderate-income individuals and families, the elderly and people with disabilities. Additionally, Rental assistance is available to very-low-income individuals to help them offset the cost of rent.

Rural Development Community Facilities Programs provide direct loans, grants and loan guarantees for essential community facilities in rural areas. Typical projects include hospitals, health clinics, schools, fire houses and community centers. In Missouri, for example, Rural Development recently provided Exceptional Equestrians of the Missouri Valley with a $750,000 Community Facilities loan to purchase a horse stable and about 31 acres of land. One of the programs that Exceptional Equestrians offers is its "Heroes on Horseback" program, a free therapeutic riding service for disabled and injured veterans.

Through its Business Programs, Rural Development provides loans and grants for new, existing and expanding rural business. Funding can be used for projects that provide jobs and job training for veterans. One of the biggest challenges for veterans returning home is finding employment. In rural west Tennessee, a new program — the Soldiers to Civilians (S2C) Project — was recently started to give local veterans training in precision agriculture. Thanks to a Rural Business Enterprise Grant from Rural Development, today the S2C program is expanding beyond west Tennessee to help even more veterans in the rural delta areas of east Arkansas and west Mississippi.

USDA has also worked assiduously to increase its rate of hiring veterans and disabled veterans. In February 2012, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and The American Legion signed an agreement to increase outreach, recruitment, hiring and retention of veterans and to ensure that veterans across America – and especially in rural America – are well-informed about USDA programs. The Legion is the nation’s largest veterans’ service organization and helps transitioning military and veterans find jobs. Legion posts are often the hub of rural communities. One-third of American Legion members and more than 5,300 posts are located in counties with populations under 40,000.

These are just a few examples of how USDA supports America’s rural veterans. O’Brien noted that this support is a reminder of the importance of USDA programs for all of rural America. A comprehensive new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill would further expand the rural economy and is just one reason why Congress must get a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill done as soon as possible, he added.

To learn more about USDA programs, we encourage veterans and their families to contact their nearest USDA Rural Development local office for assistance.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.