OFF THE WIRE
Nonprofit to help veterans after their service to their country..Board members of the National Coalition for Patriots are, from left, Tammy Campbell, Keith Campbell, Dan Ashby, George Tice and Mike Bohaychyk. Behind them are Mariner High students. / Rod Clarke/Special to news-press.com
On the eve of Veterans Day and virtually in the shadow of Cape Coral’s iconic Iwo Jima monument, a new nonprofit organization launched Thursday to fill gaps in helping veterans who come home to face a plethora of domestic and economic challenges.
“On the battlefield, we say, ‘Leave no soldier behind,’” George Tice of Fort Myers, a founder and CEO of the National Coalition for Patriots, said at a news conference. “Then when they come home, what do we do? We leave them behind.”
Tice said today’s veterans face a bleak future as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
There are an estimated 250,000 homeless veterans in the country today, said Tice, a Desert Storm veteran. “Unemployment in Lee County is about 11 percent, but among veterans here, it’s 13.3 percent,” he said, adding that veterans are attempting or committing suicide at an accelerated and alarming rate.
An abundance of programs and assistance is available to veterans who are wounded or suffer catastrophic injuries, such as the loss of limbs, said Coalition President Dan Ashby of Cape Coral. Ashby’s own stepson, PFC Corey Kent, lost both legs and part of a hand when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2010.
“The community has been great to our family,” Ashby said. “We wanted to give something back to the community. We wanted to do more for veterans who are NOT injured.”
Kent also serves on the board of the National Coalition for Patriots.
“His thoughts were, you know what, the guys who are coming home injured are getting all the parades, all the parties; we need to reach out to everyone, to every vet,” Tice said of Kent. “So that’s our new focus. We’re going to be helping veterans find jobs here in Southwest Florida, we’re helping veterans try to find homes if they need it, so we’re going to really reach out to every veteran here.”
The organization’s mission is “to uplift, honor, respect and salute all veterans by providing personal, physiological, psychological and financial help with the intent of enriching their lives.”
The coalition grew out of a program Tice established several years ago called Veterans Love Fishing.
“We took out other veterans, we took them out fishing, tried to get them talking for the camaraderie,” he said. “It was hard, it was a small organization, so we kind of reached out to everyone. We took some veterans to an Everblades game, took some veterans to the Miracle game.”
Tice said the Coalition has already forged ties with local businesses and organizations. Sunbelt Realty has agreed to hire and train vets, he said. Germain Arena will host two military nights in December, and the Florida Everblades hockey team will wear camouflage jerseys as a tribute to veterans.
And Students from Mariner High School in Cape Coral designed the organization’s website., nationalcoalitionforpatriots.org, and helped with the logo, the final design for which was selected by service members at the now-closed Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Board member Keith Campbell and Tice said the group plans to raise money through raffles and other fundraisers, but will not charge membership dues.
“We don’t charge dues or fees,” Tice said. “If you’re a veteran, that’s your membership.”
Those on hand Thursday included Cape Coral City Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz.
“I’m here because I totally support all our returning veterans,” he said. “I remember the lack of support we received when we came back from Vietnam, and I want to make sure that never happens again.”