SAVANNAH, GEORGIA — Senator Kent Leonhardt (R – Monongalia, 02) is joining with legislators at a conference in Georgia to discuss how best to reintroduce returning veterans to civilian life.
His answer, in some ways, already exists thanks to the Department of Agriculture.
While there are some 40,000 organizations for veterans, very few of those organizations focus on a link that Senator Leonhardt, a veteran of the Marine Corps., believes could be financially and emotionally beneficial for veterans: agriculture.
“Hard work and agriculture, watching things grow, and the burst of livestock is healing to those members of the military with disabilities, particularly Post-Traumatic Stress,” said Senator Leonhardt during an interview on the MetroNews-affiliated “The Mike Queen Show” on the AJR News Network. “Military folks are used to seeing things be destroyed, but in agriculture you’re watching things grow.”
According to Leonhardt, the Department of Agriculture is already taking applications for returning vets. Some 250 have applied. Beekeeping is considered the top program currently with around 80 veterans learning how to beekeep.
“Not only does it help them physically and mentally, but it actually helps them start a business here in the state of West Virginia,” he said.
Senator Leonhardt also noted that veterans working in agriculture can have a practical impact. The eruption of food deserts in highly rural and deep inner-city areas plays a significant issue in some of the health problems facing the state and the nation, and Senator Leonhardt believes that the continued growth of farmer’s markets in West Virginia could play a key role in solving the issue of access (or lack thereof).
“In agriculture, there’s so much room for growth here in West Virginia,” Leonhardt said. “You’re not going to step on anybody else’s toes. Just go out there and enjoy what you do, and grow some healthy food for the citizens.”
Above all else, the Senator hopes that working in agriculture will help veterans heal emotionally.
“Hopefully over time–the program is still in it’s infancy–we can bring these resources together to help our nation’s veterans who need it,” Leonhardt said.