The Rutgers Veterans Environmental Technology and Solutions (VETS) program is a groundbreaking initiative to reduce immediate health risks to people who eat fish caught from the Lower Passaic River, while empowering local, unemployed veterans with new green job skills. In 2014, Rutgers Cooperative Extension collaborated with the Metropolitan Reassertion Community Development Corporation(MRCDC) and the Lower Passaic River Study Area Cooperating Parties Group (CPG) – comprised of approximately 60 companies working together to improve the condition of the Lower Passaic River – to start this first-of-its kind program.
Local veterans receive an educational stipend, while undergoing certified training programs in a range of sustainable environmental and business skills. New trainees learn through a combination of in-class lectures, site visits and hands-on engagement within the community. A variety of their experiences is focused on helping participants to readjust to civilian life, become self-sufficient and re-engage in their community through environmental improvement initiatives.
The first year of the pilot program was a great success and helped to lay the groundwork for the first fish exchange in the United States. The fish exchange will help to immediately and significantly reduce human health risk to individuals who are fishing and bringing their catches home to feed their families. Participants in the 2015 VETS program will be extensively engaged in implementing this fish exchange.