(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Representative Conor Lamb (PA-17) introduced the Get Rewarding Outdoor Work (GROW) for our Veterans Act. The country’s veteran unemployment rate has risen sharply as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic - from 3.1 percent in 2019 to 11.7 percent in 2020. This bipartisan bill will help foster employment opportunities for veterans by directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a two-year pilot program that aims to employ veterans for positions with the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and they deserve all the support we can provide them,” said Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to partner with Rep Lamb on the Get Rewarding Outdoor Work for our Veterans (GROW) Act, and remain fully dedicated to supporting our veterans, their families, and their career opportunities each and every day in Congress.”
“We owe veterans a debt for their sacrifice and service. We also know that outdoor activity experiences can improve the psychological wellbeing of military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. This bill is the perfect way to increase job opportunities for veterans in an outdoor setting that is good for their mental and physical health,” said Lamb.
Despite early closures during the pandemic, 237 million people still visited our national parks in 2020. The National Parks Service (NPS) has been unable to keep up with park maintenance needs due to increased visitation, inconsistent funding, and aging facilities this year. It would cost nearly $11.92 billion to repair all of the items on the NPS deferred maintenance list, including repairs to bridges, roads, campgrounds, visitor centers, trails, water systems, and historic structures. National Parks currently have a maintenance backlog of about $299 million in the state of Pennsylvania alone.
To address this backlog, the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) provided up to $6.65 billion over five years in non-taxpayer funds to address these maintenance issues. The GROW for our Veterans Act will provide a trained workforce to address these priority maintenance needs and complement the GAOA.
The bipartisan GROW fo our Veterans Act will:
• Direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a two-year pilot program to employ veterans for projects for conservation projects at national parks and public lands;
• Direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish guidelines containing best practices for departments and agencies of the Federal Government that carry out programs to employ veterans who are transitioning from service in the Armed Forces. Such guidelines would include lessons learned under the Warrior Training Advancement Course (WARTAC) of the VA, and methods to realize cost savings based on what they have learned from the program;
• Direct the VA and Department of the Interior (DOI) to consider partnering with the Department of Defense (DoD) to apply the program under the existing work they do with the Skillbridge program on bases for transitioning out members;
• Direct the VA to, within 30 days of the enactment of the bill, commission a study on how the pilot program could affect unemployed veterans; and
• Require the VA, DOI and Department of Agriculture (DOA) to, within one year, jointly submit to Congress a report on the pilot program.
The Union Veterans Council supports the GROW for our Veterans Act.
“Veterans have a long history with our nation’s federally managed public lands — both as spaces for healing and reunion and as pathways to meaningful careers in the federal workforce,” said Will Attig, Executive Director of the Union Veterans Council. “As of 2018, only 17% of all Department of the Interior employees were veterans. We applaud the introduction of the bipartisan Get Rewarding Outdoor Work (GROW) for our Veterans Act for striving to safeguard the economic, mental, and physical well-being of our veterans as well as the lands and waterways we cherish.”