Vilsack: Taking time to remember the fallen

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This Memorial Day weekend, I hope all Americans will take a moment to honor the service of those who have lost their lives defending our nation. America is a beacon of freedom and democracy today, in no small part because of those who throughout history stood in defense of our values and principles.

We must also remain united in our commitment to today’s active and reserve service members, our veterans, and their families.

At USDA, we understand the special contributions of rural America to our armed services. More than six million veterans live in rural America – and a disproportionate number of today’s service members hail from small towns and rural communities.

USDA’s staff across America includes more than 10,000 veterans and our team works hard every day to strengthen services in rural areas that help veterans and their families. This includes everything from health clinics and telemedicine services, to distance learning opportunities and training for those who want to start a farm or ranch.

We work closely with other federal agencies, as well as through a partnership with the American Legion, to help get rural veterans the assistance they need to find a job. And I’m proud that today, more than 40 percent of our new hires at USDA are veterans.

All of these efforts complement the Joining Forces initiative, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, which helps connect service members, veterans and their families with resources to find jobs. In particular, Joining Forces has played a key role in encouraging U.S. businesses to hire veterans. A few weeks ago, the First Lady announced that since 2011, U.S. companies have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses. And the private sector has committed to hiring or training 435,000 more by 2018.

We owe these efforts to our active duty and reserve service members, to our veterans, and to the memory of those who didn’t come home. This Memorial Day weekend, as we come together to enjoy time with family and friends, I hope everyone will take time to honor those who lost their lives in service to our nation. We’ll never forget their sacrifice, and we won’t let up in helping those who have served.

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Charles Heckman    
Olympia, WA  |  May, 27, 2013 at 01:45 PM

Mr. Vilsack’s comments about the USDA’s commitment to veterans are self-serving and deceptive. After serving two combat tours in Vietnam, I received a Distinguished Flying Cross, 29 Air Medals, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, and my honorable discharge from the Air Force. For 45 years, I have been denied all employment in the United States because of this service. My qualifications include an M.S. degree from the USA and a doctorate from Germany. To date, I have authored 9 books and more than 65 shorter publications in scientific journals and books. Until 1998, all my civilian employment was in foreign countries for foreign employers because of discrimination for my service in an “unpopular war.” In 1997, two USDA employees offered me $20,000 to withdraw from a selection by the USDA Forest Service. As a veteran with preference rights, I was blocking the hiring certificate for a much less qualified non-veteran, who the agency wanted for non-merit reasons. Reporting this illegal act to the Special Counsel made me a whistleblower, the second most hated group after veterans by USDA personnel. When forced to hire me for violating merit system laws in 1998, the USDA also hired a person with experience firing scientists to get rid of me. I was fired one working day before the end of the probationary year, and the USDA then blacklisted me by contacting both federal and state agencies offering jobs in my field. The law denies both whistleblowers and veterans the right to sue in real courts. Only the Merit System Protection Board is permitted to examine cases like mine, and it makes sure that the agency is never held liable for illegal acts. To the USDA, the only good veteran is a dead veteran.

Tim Lutton    
May, 28, 2013 at 04:21 PM

Charles.... Thank you for your post. I agree and understand. Thanks for your service. I too, am an Air Force Vietnam Veteran.

Timothy Lutton    
California  |  May, 28, 2013 at 04:17 PM

This article was nothing but a political advertisement for the USDA and it's democrapically run administration. Don't get your hopes up, vets! If you are a conservative, your chances of getting hired by the USDA or ANY other government agency, are not QUITE as good as a snowballs chance in HELL!!!! God Bless our fallen heroes! God Bless our current troops!! God Bless our veterans!!! God Bless America!!!!

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