Non-Profits on Fire

The men and women in this category have turned their own first-hand veteran experiences into successful and well-known non-profit enterprises, all of which have the mission of helping service members as well as those within their local communities. These individuals understand the importance of building a strong community and recognize the constant challenges that many veterans and their families face. As such, they have dedicated their life’s work to ensuring that they bring positive and impactful change to those around them, as well as offering relevant opportunities for veterans to find a way to continue their call to serve.

Eric Goepel and Bill Ferguson, Veterans Cannabis Coalition

Eric Goepel is the founder and CEO of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to ending cannabis prohibition and ensuring that the Department of Veteran Affairs researches and develops cannabis-based medications. Enlisting in the U.S. Army at the age of 18, he served for seven years, providing communications and intelligence support in the special operations community. During that time, Eric deployed twice to Iraq and once to the Philippines. After the end of his enlistment, Eric worked as a defense contractor in Afghanistan before returning to the U.S. to complete his bachelor’s degree. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Eric was able to attend and graduate from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in political science.

During and following college, Eric worked in various policy analysis and advocacy roles in Washington, D.C., such as the assistant director of the American Legion’s National Security Division. In that position, Eric developed positions for the country’s largest war-time veteran association on the opioid crisis, cybersecurity, and transnational organized crime. His national security writing has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, Defense One, and the National Interest.

It was during his work on federal opioid response policies that Eric became convinced of the need to make cannabis available as a pain management alternative to everyone, especially veterans at risk of suicide and overdose. After months of discussion with fellow Iraq veteran and D.C. hand, Bill Ferguson, Eric and Bill decided to strike out independently and create the Veterans Cannabis Coalition to specifically bring the veterans community together to effectively push for cannabis reform.

Bill Ferguson is the co-founder of the Veterans Cannabis Coalition and a U.S. Army infantry combat veteran of the Iraq War.  He served in the 3rd Infantry Division during the initial invasion of Iraq and was with the first units to reach Baghdad in 2003. After returning home from the war, Bill joined a small group of dynamic post-9/11 military veterans in Washington, D.C. to advocate for healthcare, education, and employment for America’s veterans. He has been involved in the passage of several key pieces of modern legislation, including the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Post-9/11 GI Bill) and the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act, among others. As a disabled veteran, Bill has first-hand experience grappling with the challenges of managing service-connected injuries and conditions and is devoted to strengthening the coalition of doctors, veterans, law enforcement, faith leaders, and patients that are working together to end cannabis prohibition.Bill is an alumnus of Marion Military College and has a certificate in Conflict Analysis and Negotiation Management from the US Institute for Peace.

Today, VCC works in Washington, D.C., California, and with other veteran leaders around the country, to organize, educate, and advocate on behalf of veterans and all patients. Veterans issues are American issues–the physical, mental, and social challenges in the community may be amplified, but they are not unique. Veterans offer a way to unite fragmented groups around a message of compassion and access–something that VCC intends to ensure happens across the country.

@vetscannacoal

@ericgoepel

@BillFer52611230

 

Bryan Meyer, Veterans Community Project

Veterans Community Project was founded by a group of combat veterans in Kansas City, Missouri who resolved to stand in the gaps of a broken system that left too many of their brothers and sisters behind. Their solution to provide critical support services is two-fold:

The Veteran Outreach Center: A walk-in center to serve as a one-stop-shop for every type of veteran facing every type of problem. Regardless of time in service, discharge status, or any other traditional qualifier, VCP is ready to help. Our staff assists Veterans with navigating the VA and their benefits, identification services, mental and physical health referrals, financial counseling, and employment supports among other services. In addition, Veterans can receive hygiene kits and utilize a food pantry. All services are free of charge – all that we care about is whether you’ve ever donned a uniform.

VCP Village: A specialized community of tiny homes combined with wrap-around, onsite services to get homeless Veterans off the street and transition them to permanent housing. Built by Veterans for Veterans, VCP Village is specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of Veterans while recreating the stable support network last offered to them before they left the service.

Focusing first on the Greater-Kansas City area, VCP aspires to use Kansas City as the blueprint for achieving similar successes in cities across the United States. VCP has a long-term goal of eliminating Veteran homelessness nationwide.

@vcp_hq

Jim Lorraine, America’s Warrior Partnership

Jim Lorraine is the President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national non-profit organization that empowers communities to empower veterans. Prior to his current duties, Jim served as the founding Director of the United States Special Operations Command Care Coalition, a wounded warrior advocacy organization recognized as the gold standard in supporting more than 4,000 special operations force wounded, ill, or injured and their families. Jim served 22 years as an Air Force Officer and Flight Nurse. As a staff officer, Jim served as a Fellow to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and lastly as the Deputy Command Surgeon for the United States Special Operations Command. His military awards include the Bronze Star, Secretary of Defense Outstanding Civilian Award, USSOCOM Outstanding Public Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Exceptional Civilian Award. Jim is a graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in Nursing and also a graduate of Webster University where he received a Masters degree in Computer Resources and Information Management.

@jameslorraine

@AWPartnership

Abby J. Leibman, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

MAZON is a non-profit organization inspired by Jewish values and ideals and dedicated to fighting hunger around the world. They have also been major advocates for active-duty servicemembers and veterans alike who have been facing hunger themselves and their families. They have written letters to Congress, lobbied with veteran and military service organizations, worked directly with the VA and the USDA, and pushed for additions to the National Defense Authorization Act to preserve SNAP and other nutrition benefits for military members and veterans. Their work to raise awareness of the connection between veteran joblessness and hunger, and the harmful effects SNAP work requirements will have on veterans having trouble finding work after their service. Countless veterans and their families would be facing hunger and malnutrition if not for the amazing work MAZON has done. They have also teamed up with other nonprofits that provide access to free education and support to those working with, living with, or caring for military members and veterans. MAZON has been a dedicated advocate for veterans and their families.

@abbypl

@MAZONusa

Joe Wood, Boulder Crest Retreat Arizona

Joe Wood is the Executive Director of Boulder Crest Retreat Arizona. After a successful nine-year career in the US Army Military Intelligence Corps, with deployment to Iraq and sea duty aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, Joe was honorably discharged from active duty to focus on his entrepreneur work of building community leadership and helping veterans. Joe overseas the 130-acre Boulder Crest ranch in Sonoita, Arizona with a mission to improve the lives of military members, veterans, first responders, and their family members. On average, approximately 750 veterans and their family members attend a variety of programs at Boulder Crest.  Joe also conducts partnership outreach for veterans in Arizona, most recently building a partnership with the Tucson Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Joe is currently a Director on the Board for the Sierra Vista Veterans Memorial Improvement Foundation and has served as a Commissioner for the City of Sierra Vista, Sergeant at Arms for the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Chapter 32-4, and supports many veteran-oriented and nonprofit organizations.

@BCRforheroes