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09/19/2012

GOP blocks passage of veterans conservation jobs bill

After spending the better half of last week bickering over whether or not to support veterans, the GOP just killed the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012. The bill would have increased hiring and job training for veterans over the next five years, with a focus on jobs restoring and protecting our public lands.

Actually, the bill won the majority of US Senate votes. Fifty-eight senators (including five Republicans) voted in favor of extending job opportunities to veterans. Unfortunately, procedural rules in the Senate required sixty votes to move this bill forward.

If any two issues exist, that should break the partisan divide and unite us as a nation, they are support for veterans and protecting our natural heritage. The Veterans Jobs Corps, a top priority for the Obama Administration, was detailed in the President’s budget recommendations to Congress earlier this year. The bill would have increased skills training and job placement for veterans, primarily those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, while at the same time start to whittle down backlogged maintenance projects overwhelming our nation’s public lands. According to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), the National Park Service alone has deferred maintenance totaling over $11 billion. The Veterans Jobs Corps would also increase employment among our returning service members as police, firefighters and first responders. Experts say the $1 billion bill would have paid for itself in ten years.

While the Veterans Jobs Corps may not have led to world peace, or even brought work to the 720,000 unemployed veterans across our nation, it would have been a big step in the right direction. The bill was supported by groups like the American Legion and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. It’s also supported by the Sierra Club.

Since 2007, the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors program with generous support from the Sierra Club Foundation has provided outdoor nature-based opportunities to over 50,000 members of the military and veteran communities, primarily children. Through partnerships with the National Military Family Association, Armed Services YMCA, Blue Star Families and a host of other organizations working to support military kids, families and veterans, the Sierra Club has sent kids to camps, led veterans on backpacking expeditions and is now training active duty soldiers, veterans, spouses and care-givers to become Sierra Club outings leaders so they can help bring nature into the lives of their loved ones and their communities.

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Creating employment opportunities on our public lands, where veterans not only earn a paycheck, but benefit from the healing nature of nature, is something we should all be able to get behind. Stacy Bare, an Iraq veteran himself (and the Director of Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors program) said “I am deeply disappointed that politics has gotten in the way of supporting veterans. This legislation would have eased the transition of our service men and women coming home by placing them in positions where the skills they learned in combat and the military can easily translate into continued service to our Nation.”

In his 9/11 Huffington Post piece, Bare also discusses how the outdoors helped with his return from war, “it was this sense of a second chance at life, a new mission in the outdoors and in the countryside I defended, which allowed me to come home and not just survive, but also thrive.”

This blog can also be viewed in The Huffington Post.

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