WASHINGTON – A Memorandum of Understanding designed to help US veterans and transitioning military service members find jobs that promote agriculture, animal and plant health, food safety, nutrition, conservation and rural communities was signed on Feb. 28 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Fang Wong, national commander of the American Legion. As a result, both organizations plan to leverage existing resources to expand opportunities for veterans while promoting USDA programs and services throughout the US.

Approximately 6.1 million veterans live in rural communities, which is a higher concentration than anywhere else in the US. More than 5,300 American Legion posts are located in counties with populations less than 40,000 and one-third of the Legion's membership call rural America home.

The Legion has helped transitioning military and America's veterans to find jobs. USDA will recruit veterans and transitioning military servicemen for employment while promoting greater awareness of USDA programs. USDA and the American Legion will promote USDA vacancy announcements; share information about activities in newsletters; provide information about USDA programs and vacancies; plus promote veteran-owned business participation in USDA contracts.

The agency will also provide information about opportunities and support it offers so those service members wanting to start their own rural business, farm or ranch are familiar with agency programs, grants, loans or small business contracts. USDA education, training, outreach and mentoring programs, such as www.START2FARM.gov, will help encourage veterans to be the next generation of America's farmers and ranchers.

President Obama signed executive Order 13518, Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, on Nov. 9, 2009. As a result, the USDA created the Veterans Employment Program Office. USDA increased the percentage of veterans in the total workforce, including permanent and temporary positions, from five percent in fiscal year 2009 to six percent in fiscal 2010 to nearly eight percent in fiscal year 2011 through strategic recruiting and effective marketing of USDA to transitioning service members and veterans.

Disabled veterans are a veteran subset and a subject of special emphasis in hiring. USDA increased disabled veteran hiring from just over 1 percent of total persons hired in fiscal year 2009 to nearly 2 percent in fiscal year 2010 to more than 2 percent in FY 2011.

USDA also increased hiring veterans in the permanent workforce from 17.5 percent in fiscal year 2009 to 20.3 percent in fiscal year 2010 to 23.9 percent in fiscal year 2011. Disabled veteran hiring for permanent positions increased from nearly 6 percent in fiscal year 2009 to more than 7 percent in fiscal year 2010 to more than 8 percent in fiscal year 2011.

As of Feb. 19, the USDA rate of hire of veterans in the total workforce is 12.8 percent and disabled veterans is just more than 5 percent, according to data from the National Finance Center Report Center. The rate of veterans hired in the permanent workforce is 25.6 percent and disabled veterans is 12.2 percent.