Graduates from the inaugural Homeless Veterans Apprentice Program post for a photo with VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and NCA leadership at the graduation ceremony Nov. 15 at VA headquarters in Washington D.C.

Find more photos from the graduation here.

Thirteen happy and formerly homeless Veterans were the center of attention at a graduation ceremony for the 2013 Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program class Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C.

The graduates had just completed a yearlong training program to learn skills to be cemetery caretakers at VA national cemeteries. They were trained and will now hold full-time caretaker positions at national cemeteries in Mountain Home, Tenn.; Puerto Rico; Black Hills, S.D.; Bay Pines, Fla.; and Fort Bliss, Texas.

Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve L. Muro offered remarks to the graduates.

“Today’s ceremony is about choices,” he said. “We’re here today because each of you chose to seize the opportunity that was offered to you—and you chose to see this commitment through.”

The graduates put on their National Cemetery Administration hats after graduating from the apprenticeship program.

The National Cemetery Administration launched the Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program in 2012 as a way to support Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s initiative to end Veterans’ homelessness by 2015.

During the past year, the candidates participated in both classroom and on-the-job training. Now that they have completed the program, they can elect to remain at their training cemetery, compete for positions at other federal facilities or take their skills to the private sector.

NCA will build on the success of last year’s pilot program by expanding opportunities to other career fields such as cemetery representative, grounds, facilities and equipment maintenance. According to participants, the opportunity to serve their fellow Veterans and families in their hour of need has been the highlight of their experience and a great honor.

“Yours is a sacred trust,” said Sec. Shinseki to the Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy Veterans. “You will be the last to serve our nation’s Veterans—the last to stand watch while they sleep. Care for them as you would care for those you served beside. They deserve it.”

The Veterans, who received a diploma, a coin and a NCA cap, said the program helped them feel like they were again part of the community, and had another chance to serve.

“I felt empty inside when I was homeless,” said U.S. Air Force Veteran James Barger, “but I knew if someone gave me a chance I could still contribute to my community. This program did that for us. We’re whole again.”

Brian Taylor, from Sturgis, S.D., agreed. The 46-year-old fought back tears as he talked about his new chance at life and what it meant to be part of the VA employee family.

“Being one of the first graduates from this program feels amazing,” the Navy Veteran said after the ceremony. “It meant a lot to see everyone clap for us as we got our certificates and I could tell they were proud of us. I want to make sure I do my job well and honor all Veterans.”


The program graduates celebrate with cake at their graduation reception.

The 2014 Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program class has already begun with 24 new participants.

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Published on Nov. 15, 2013

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  1. Dave Smith December 3, 2013 at 1:58 am

    Let me get this straight…. Thirteen homeless vets placed in jobs and thousands of others still on street corners panhandling for drug and alcohol cash? And someone has the gall to consider this a success? We have a long, LONG way to go and we taxpayers will pay billions before homeless vets are paying their way. There’s no light at the end of THIS tunnel yet…..

  2. Jay Daniels November 18, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    Awesome! From Veteran to homeless to employed! Way to go you guys and way to go to the NCA for this pilot program! We surely need more programs like this one. I heard on the news that there are an estimated 300,000 homeless vets living on the streets every night. The VA is doing a wonderful job in helping homeless vets but I’m afraid of these numbers increasing when troop withdrawls increase in 2014.

    Was the pilot program renewed and have new ones begun?

    • National Cemetery Administration November 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      Mr. Daniels, the program is now into its second year. The new Cemetery Caretaker Apprentices started earlier this month. The new class is expected to graduate in November 2014.

  3. roy chalmers November 18, 2013 at 2:06 am

    Proud of you guys. Thank you for your service.

  4. Dr. Sri S. Sriskanda November 17, 2013 at 4:18 am

    War Veterans and their cemetries. It is going to be the national dialogue in Sri Lanka sooner or later.

  5. David Schmitzer November 16, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    This is GREAT to see all of these BROTHERS given the opportunity to serve and be apart of a SOLID FOUNDATION… Keep up the work!!!

  6. Marta Evansa November 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks God, Thanks to the U.S. Government for this amazing program. Changing the life of Homeless Veterans for a better future. Yes Sir.

  7. alfredo viscarra November 16, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    As for me am Honored to be a veteran,The VA is doing a great job assisting our homeless and all veterans alike’ We salute you. Thank you.

  8. Johnny T. November 16, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I love seeing employers offering programs like this to veterans. Military service is often left unappreciated in the private sector for different reasons, and training such as this goes a long way at making former military people a more competitive choice for jobs. The recruiters tend to talk about how jobs will be bountiful once returning to civilian life, and it’s just not true. And seeing homeless vets on the street is just abysmally unfortunate. It’s good to see someone leading these efforts.

  9. karl kernehan November 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    god bless the va!

  10. Reggie Dunbar ll November 16, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks for making a positive change in those who have served and want to keep serving a new community.

Comments are closed.

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