$1 billion program would focus on conservation
By Steve Vogel
President Obama will announce details Friday for a $1 billion Veterans Job Corps that the White House says will put up to 20,000 veterans to work over the next five years on projects to preserve and restore national parks and other federal, state and local lands.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki on Thursday described the program as "a bold new effort" to lower the high unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 military veterans, which stood at 13.1 percent in December. The government estimates that 250,000 post-Sept. 11 veterans are unemployed.
Obama proposed the corps in his State of the Union address last month, describing it as "enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation."
At an appearance Friday at an Arlington County firehouse, Obama is also expected to announce that the budget to be released this month includes $5 billion in funding proposed in the American Jobs Act to spur police and firefighter hiring in 2012.
Preferences for the grants will go to communities that hire post-9/11 veterans.
Obama said in his address last month that his administration will "help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her."
The White House also is announcing an expansion of entrepreneur training for service members leaving the military.
The Veterans Job Corps will involve projects such as repairing trails, roads, levees and recreational facilities, according to the White House.
Other work could include providing visitor programs, restoring habitat, protecting cultural resources, eradicating invasive species and cutting brush to reduce the risk of forest fires.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the Civilian Conservation Corps, established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression to put hundreds of thousands of the unemployed to work on projects in government parks and lands, serves as a "very good indicator" of what the administration hopes to accomplish with the Veterans Job Corps.
"When one looks back at the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, we take great comfort that those who take this on will leave a great legacy for the United States," Salazar said during a conference call with reporters Thursday to discuss the veteran employment initiatives.
Salazar said that the program would "make a significant dent" in the deferred maintenance that has become common at many federal, state, local and tribal lands as government budgets have been cut.
Salazar said the veterans program could serve as a "gateway to permanent positions" with the National Park Service, as many young people who take temporary jobs at national parks or wildlife refuges end up making a career of such work.
"Those veterans who have served will have a place here at the Department of Interior," he said.
Salazar noted that some of the nation's first park rangers were from African American cavalry regiments known as Buffalo Soldiers, which patrolled Yosemite and Sequoia national parks to protect wildlife against poachers.