Yesterday I had the honor of addressing more than a thousand of our nation’s veterans at the American Legion Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
Veterans hold a special place in our country, but they also hold a special place at the Department of Homeland Security. Roughly a quarter of our workforce consists of veterans, including more than 2,100 service-disabled veterans. Every day these men and women, who already have sacrificed so much for our nation, are helping achieve our mission to secure the country.
I told veterans gathered at the conference that we are firmly committed to increasing their ranks at DHS. Indeed, we have set a goal of employing 50,000 veterans at the Department by 2012. We are well on our way to achieve that goal – hiring 3,000 veterans since January of this year.
But our efforts aren’t just about numbers. We are also expanding partnerships and outreach to veterans across the United States. For example, we are creating greater opportunities for Veteran Owned Small Businesses and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses to do business with the Department. Last year, veteran-owned small businesses won more than $931 million in prime contracts from DHS.
And our first-ever job fair for veterans drew more than 750 participants this summer.
Through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, we’ve also continued to grant citizenship to tens of thousands of our men and women in uniform who have become American citizens while at the same time serving in our Armed Forces. We will continue to do even more this year and in the future.
In Louisville, I thanked the American Legion, as well as the American Legion Auxiliary, for their strong support for programs like Citizen Corps, which is creating more prepared communities through service and citizen engagement.
I also called on the Legion to continue to support these and other efforts to help build a culture of preparedness and resiliency in America. That includes taking action to boost personal preparedness and spread the word about important resources like Ready.gov. This is especially important as we prepare for the possibility of an H1N1 outbreak this fall.
We must bring a sense of shared responsibility to this effort. Veterans are in a unique position to help us meet this challenge, as they’ve done throughout our nation’s history. We are proud to have them as members of the Department and critical partners in our nation’s homeland security mission.