Don Young Veterans Advancing Conservation Act

Landscape in a US national park

New legislation taps a uniquely trained and highly motivated workforce eager to contribute to conservation. The Don Young Veterans Advancing Conservation Act, S. 1918, introduced by U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), co-chairs of the Senate Oceans caucus, creates a grant program to hire, retrain, and redeploy veterans to work on coastal, Great Lakes and underwater conservation projects. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) joined Whitehouse and Murkowski as original co-sponsors.

“There are so many things that veterans are capable of. They just need a chance. Give them that chance, and they’ll surprise you with how eager they are to learn, how eager they are to reach that next ridgeline, and how eager they are to do a great job,” said Steve “Gonzo” Gonzalez, a former U.S. Navy Master Chief (SEAL) and current Director of Operations at Force Blue.

Known as the ‘‘Veterans Advancing Conservation Grant Program,” the Secretary of Commerce could award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations that train or employ veterans to conduct underwater marine and coastal conservation activities.

“Veterans have honed skills that translate well to supporting complex conservation efforts,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I am pleased to co-lead this bipartisan legislation to connect veterans transitioning to civilian life with jobs that will help improve the health of our oceans.”

This legislation strikes a chord with me. Over the years I’ve worked with organizations like Project Healing Waters, Rivers of Recovery, and Trout Unlimited’s Veterans Service Partnership that support our veterans and get them outdoors. I’ve seen firsthand the struggles vets face in transitioning from the military mission to civilian life. Giving them a chance to use their skills to address conservation challenges is a terrific idea.

“As we continue to work to address the ongoing mental health crisis in America and to combat the rising numbers of veteran suicides, this legislation gives us the unique opportunity to help address two seemingly unrelated problems: the rapidly declining health of our oceans and the employment challenges military members face as they work to adjust to civilian life following their service, said Senator Murkowski.

When I met Gonzalez last year, he quickly made me a believer in Force Blue’s mission. They are giving veterans the chance to work on conservation projects in the water and giving them the training to succeed. Making sure the organizations that create those opportunities can continue to do their work only makes sense.

Top photo by Tom Hilton – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, via Wikipedia

About Tom Sadler

Tom Sadler is the Network's deputy director. He has an extensive background in advocacy and journalism and a passion for oceans and fly-fishing. 

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