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Healing nature, healing themselves

The Veterans Conservation Corps Program

The VCC provides opportunities for veterans to connect with nature in their own way while restoring Washington’s natural resources. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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The Veterans Conservation Corps, housed under the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, is a state-financed program that assists veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan tackle two major challenges of civilian life: finding employment and coping with psychological battle scars.

With numerous available internships for veterans throughout the year, the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC) provides Eco therapy opportunities allowing veterans to connect with nature in their own way while restoring Washington state's natural resources.

The VCC internships can range from three months and go all the way up to three years. It focuses on outdoor jobs and/or internships in forestry, wildlife management and other natural-resource fields.

By providing various training and volunteer opportunities, the VCC helps to not only restore and protect Washington's natural resources, but also provides an environment for veterans to reach out to other veterans and learn more about their earned benefits and other available resources.

We recently sat down with a couple of veterans in the VCC program and picked their brain about their personal experiences as a VCC intern and/or coordinator.

Beau Gromley, Thurston County, SFC/E7 (USMC & US Army)

"This VCC program is designed for veterans that are not only dedicated to one another but are truly good stewards of the planet.

Entering into a VCC internship made it possible for me to complete my degree while designing and building an urban farm that supports veterans and their families transitioning out of the military.

The program is instrumental in integrating veterans within the local community and various important ecological projects throughout Washington. Being able to gain practical, hands-on experience and having the VCC/WDVA support network is a game-changer when it comes to setting yourself apart from the competition of finding employment.

I learned that for some, ‘dirt therapy' and/or providing peer-to-peer support in an agricultural setting is an extremely effective way to connect with veterans who otherwise may not make that connection.

The VCC is made up out of the type of people that go out of their way to make sure that you feel wanted, respected and valued.

Thinking back to my very first experience, I can remember that it was a beautiful clear morning, we had a small group of volunteers that showed up to help plant some native medicinal herbs in an herb garden and participate in what turned out to be a very beautiful and intimate ceremony. After the ceremony, a fellow veteran came up to me with tears in his eyes and thanked ME for doing this. I then told him that this was not me that did this, it was US.

Overall, the VCC program has re-enforced my determination to find my way to sustainability and I see myself doing this work for my foreseeable future. This is my happy place, my safe space and my therapy!"

Jered Bocek, Whatcom County, Growing Veterans, E-5 Sergeant USMC

"We live in a world that is so manmade and artificial, that it's often hard to find joy while everyone just stares at their screens, but being in nature, it really feels like I'm the cellphone, and I'm getting my batteries recharged. There is just something about being in the dirt that really revitalizes you and helps orient you back on target. I walk around with a lot of hate and discontent, but nature finds a way to soothe these feelings.

A program like the Veterans Conservation Corps is more than just valuable to the community, it is essential.

Recently, I was going to school and struggling to find a connection in my community, as well as not being where I wanted to be financially. The VCC internship satisfied all of the areas I was lacking in my life.

I know what it is like to be fresh out of the military and completely lost. I know what it is like to feel forgotten about in a world that seems foreign. In addition, I now know the impact that a little bit of hard work, joining a fellow veteran community, and accomplishments in nature can have on combatting the terrible feelings.

My life would not be the same without the VCC. I want every veteran to share in the VCC experience and have it help change his or her life as it did for mine."

Any active-duty, National Guard and reservist and all other veterans are eligible as long as they have service in peacetime or during periods of conflict. The VCC also welcomes family members and anyone in the community who wishes to work with and for veterans. For more information on the Veterans Conservation Corps, contact them at or visit:

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