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What if Memorial Day meant SAVING veterans’ lives, not just commemorating them? Tens of thousands of former servicemen and women need our help right now if we want to make sure next Memorial Day we’re not placing flags at their graves.

In a retelling of the Good Samaritan story, a homeless man sits begging at the side of the road. A family with young children passes by, dressed in red, white, and blue, carrying small flags and similar things to wave. In a hurry to get a good spot for the Memorial Day parade, they walk by him, with only the youngest child giving him a second glance. A few minutes later, a local community leader and businessman also passes him by, too busy rehearsing his speech to be delivered at the foot of the veterans’ memorial to see the former serviceman. Finally, a woman whose son’s name is newly listed on that memorial walks past the veteran, then stops and turns around. It is her fallen son’s face she sees and his memory she honors when she skips the parade and the ceremony to talk to the homeless veteran, to hear his story and help him.

What Does Memorial Day Mean?

Just a parable, maybe, but an important reminder that this month is more than just parades, picnics, flags, and memories. Memorial Day has always been about remembering the sacrifices and acts of courage by men and women who’ve fallen in service to their country. By observing this holiday, we are declaring that what was given – the lives of these brave souls – will not be forgotten, and will continue to be honored year after year, generation after generation.
We love Memorial Day. Not because we enjoy celebrating loss, but because we love honoring all who’ve served. We also know that Memorial Day is just one moment of the year that we’ve all agreed to celebrate. We believe it is crucial for us to remember that honoring all who’ve served needs to happen year-round, and with more than just waving flags, reciting speeches, and laying flowers on graves. We have men and women veterans, not yet lost to us, who need our help.
Throughout the year, we receive news stories of homeless veterans who die on our streets. Sometimes, the community honors their service and provides a memorial and a hero’s burial. We read these stories with great sadness, knowing we were too late to help that veteran, knowing this Memorial Day there will be one more veteran who can only be remembered.
Memorial Day 2015 campaign image - invisible
Throughout the year, we also receive comments from the VA social workers who help the veterans we do reach and get housed. They send in notes like this one:
A veteran that was living out of his truck for more than 6 months … had zero income and was unaware of services offered by Veterans Affairs. The veteran did not have money necessary for security deposit, community services would not help due to the sustainability factor with zero income. Veterans Matter was able help this veteran by paying his security deposit. Once in his own apartment, the veteran was able to find work and continues to work on his recovery journey.
He was placed in long-term supportive housing created by a partnership between HUD and the VA, called HUD-VASH. The Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers are part of a nationwide effort to end veteran homelessness by the close of 2015. That’s less than eight months away. Our program provides the money for security deposits so veterans can use VASH vouchers and get into safe housing, which has a 91% success rate keeping them there. Last count, there are still 49,933 veterans in need on our streets. Do you sense the urgency? 
We implore you to not just walk by on your way to the parade. Consider the purpose of Memorial Day – to honor the sacrifices of service to country – by participating in our campaign this month to raise money and awareness to end veteran homelessness. We would ask you to add to your voice and action in recognition that there are tens of thousands of men and women on our streets who are still sacrificing, many because of service to their country. They need our help. And they need your help. Together, we can get them housed today.
Here is what you can do. First donate securely on our site at this page, or use your mobile phone to text VETS to 41444 and click through to donate any amount on your credit card. Second, you can “like” or follow us on Facebook or Twitter , and share our posts and tweets. Third you can visit our spread the word page and share our images, tweets, posts, or even the images of one of the 20+ musicians and celebrities who have also joined our campaign. Fourth, and probably the easiest, share this post right now. 
Former Michigan Governor Granholm summed up our message best when she said:
“Ceremonies are important. But our gratitude has to be more than visits to the troops and once a year Memorial Day ceremonies. We honor the dead best by treating the living well.” – Jennifer Granholm

Mitch Albom gives away $825,000 to charities serving DetroitMitch Albom got to play Santa Claus yesterday when he gave away $825,000 to nearly 20 different charities which enhance the lives of and health of the citizens of Detroit. From children to seniors, Mitch’s S.A.Y. Detroit covers the most vulnerable people in the famous author and radio host’s hometown, including homeless veterans.


For the second year in a row, Mitch has chosen Veterans Matter as the community solution to help end veteran homelessness in Detroit. Due to Mitch’s gift last year, along with money raised through Katy Perry and Kid Rock, and a recent donation of $20,000 for Operation Michigan from Jordan Rese’s in Ann Arbor, SIXTY THREE veterans and veteran families have been housed through Operation Michigan. That is 111 individuals, 36 of whom are children. Thank you, Mr. Albom. Thank you, Dr. Audi with the Detroit Rescue Mission. And thank you to all those who support Mitch Albom’s S.A.Y. Detroit during the 15-hour Radiothon held last December. Mitch’s donation this year will end homelessness for even more veteran families.

Mitch is one of those incredible individuals, like John Mellencamp, Gary Sinise, and others, who dedicate so much of their success and lives to giving back, to helping others find homes, find peace, and find themselves. They are nothing short of heroes to so many.

They are doing amazing things in Detroit. This video gives you an idea. Some of these programs are so easily replicable they can be done in any community! We hope you will help your community prosper.

Mr. Mitch Albom, Dr. Audi, and all the others… on behalf of all of those veterans and veterans you are helping us house, thank you!

We are grateful to be a recipient of the generosity of Mitch Albom

Women are just one facet of veteran diversity. Here, several USAF airmen (including a woman) salute during the 70th anniversary D-Day commemoration in France.

PICAUVILLE, France – U.S. Air Force Airmen salute as the national anthems of America and France are played during a ceremony in the town of Picauville, France on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2014. The event was one of several commemorations of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day operations conducted by Allied forces during World War II June 5-6, 1944. Over 650 U.S. military personnel have joined troops from several NATO nations to participate in ceremonies to honor the events at the invitation of the French government. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Sara Keller) (CC BY 2.0)

Like any good nonprofit, we keep records to measure our results as part of our dedication to transparency and program effectiveness. We track when referrals come in, and from where. We document in which branch the veteran served, and in which era and location. We keep data on gender, years served, and whether or not the rental deposit is just for them or for a spouse and/or dependents. A study in veteran diversity, it’s quite fascinating to look at these pages of spreadsheets and realize there is no such thing as a stereotypical homeless veteran. If anything, the information is evidence that anyone can become homeless.

Here are a few snapshots of the information so you can get an idea of the diversity of the men and women veterans we serve:

  • 99 of 579 veterans housed through Veterans Matter are women, 38 of them with children to care for.
  • That’s about 30% of the 119 veteran families with children. Another 30% are single men with dependents.
  • Yes, over 20% of the veterans we house have children who’ve been homeless with them.
  • If the stereotypical homeless veteran is a grizzled old white man, it may be a shock that only 23% of the veterans we’ve served are Vietnam veterans. 35% more have served in conflicts within the last 25 years, including Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or New Dawn (ND).
  • The remaining approximately 42% of veterans now housed through our program have served our country either in other conflicts or in peacetime.
  • 58% are former Army members. 18% were in the Navy, followed by 13% being former Marines. 9% were Air Force service men and women, and 1% spent their service time in the Coast Guard.
  • The veterans we’ve housed have served an average of 3.625 years to protect us.

Pretty amazing to look at the numbers and realize the term “hero” has so many facets to it. Our veterans come from all walks of life to serve for many different reasons. They’ve walked many different paths, but all share this in common: None of them deserve to be homeless. Especially not after what they’ve given, and what they were ultimately willing to give.

Your reasons for caring about veterans are probably as diverse as those heroes themselves. Some of you consider these men and women brothers and sisters in service. Some of you want to honor or memorialize a loved one who was in the military. Some of you simply love your country and hate the idea that it could be a place where veterans are left behind the enemy line of homelessness.

Regardless of why you care, thank you. Thank you for seeing that we serve all who’ve served, and being willing to partner with us in that work. As we get ready for our one of two major yearly campaigns next month, we’d like you to remember why all these men and women – and their children – mean so much to you and get ready to help us push toward our goal of housing 1500 veterans in 2015. We can’t do it without you!



A milestone was reached last week when Operation Texas, the longhorn branch of the nonprofit program Veterans Matter, housed its 300th homeless veteran. Launched in the late summer of 2012 after Dusty Hill, bassist for ZZ Top, decided to get his hometown heroes in Houston off the streets following his recording of a video PSA for the program, Operation Texas has housed an average of two veterans a week. The chapter’s milestone accounts for nearly 53% of the Veterans Matter total number of 567 veterans housed, and is the fastest-growing of Veterans Matter’s 7 operation chapters.

Much of that growth has to do with the commitment of Operation Texas’s board to keeping the funding of the branch alive. Soon after Dusty Hill and his wife Chuck initiated the operation, they were joined by Kevin Maley, (thanks to Veterans Matter board member Gary Fruchtman) owner of KO Supply who started bringing his friends together: Dave and Sheri Henderson, Kathy Walton, Steve and Maybeth Gilbert, Buddy Johnson, Mark LaCour . With just a handful of phone calls, they raised over $55,000 to get the first 75 veterans housed within a month. Now they have collectively donated enough to housed 300. Wow! True Texas, and American Heroes!

That momentum continues today. One of the most significant things to remember about this process is that the HUD-VASH vouchers for which Veterans Matter provides the deposits also ensures housing for the veterans’ spouses and children. That means the 300 veterans Operation Texas has housed actually represents 469 people, once the 36 spouses and 132 children of those veterans are included!

Our hats – cowboy, ten-gallon, pork pie (Ken’s favorite) or otherwise – are off to the amazing team that keeps Operation Texas going and changing the lives of our service men and women and their families. Thank you for your commitment to take care of our own!

If you are in Texas we are in urgent need for funds for Dallas and Austin. For more information check out the Operation Texas page:


For our site visitors who aren’t as social as we are – at least, not following us on Twitter or Facebook – here are some highlights from the pats couple of weeks on social media from Veterans Matter.


…decided some #MondayMotivation was in store in the form of an inspirational quote…


…spread this news story that highlights how difficult it is for many veterans to find jobs after their service.

…asked how many of our Facebook followers were into yoga when posting this story about an instructor who hopes to help heal veterans through yoga.

…saw that Oklahoma is trying to pass legislature at the state level to add support for veterans slipping through the cracks..

…were thrilled to share this new PSA video recorded by huge veteran supporter Gary Sinise, shot at the headquarters of his foundation which does much to care for veterans and their families:

…were glad to hear this long overdue idea was gaining traction.

…think this information is very important for anyone wondering if their veteran loved one might have a brain injury.

…shared our latest blog post celebrating Social Work Month by telling you about the real heroes of the VASH program.

…did a happy dance for veteran Alicia Watkins when we saw this follow-up to her story of homelessness (hint: she’s now at Harvard!).

…loved this news bit about a hero twice over.

…said a well-deserved congratulations to Operation Texas for reaching the 300-housed milestone last week. Overall, Veterans Matter has housed 567 veterans across the U.S., with 300 of them in Texas. Great job!



homeless man with dog

”Veterans Matter housed my 80 year old Veteran and his little dog ‘Mikey’. This Veteran showed up to lease signing in a suit and tie. He melted the heart of his new landlord. Previously he was living in his van with the dog. Good work Veterans Matter, you came through for this veteran BIG TIME! He loves the new apartment and stated ‘I hope I can stay here forever.’”  – VASH Social Worker

The renowned anthropologist Margaret Meade was once asked about the first sign of civilization, expecting the answer to be evidence of some sort of tool. Instead, Meade remarked it was a healed femur. Why? Because it meant that, back in the long ago of nomadic, primitive living, where “survival of the fittest” meant you had to hunt, run, gather, and keep moving to stay alive, someone had stayed with injured person, protecting and caring for them, until their broken leg healed. The first sign of civilization was compassion.
If that is true, then perhaps the most civilized among us are those who choose to spend their lives serving others in compassionate professions. We here at Veterans Matter are in particular awe of the VASH social workers.
The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) staff is the clinically-trained Masters level mental health social workers in the Healthcare for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) program of each regional VA hospital. These are the folks we work with directly to house veterans. These are the people who do the heavy lifting.
They are heroes to us. And greater yet, they are heroes to those men, women, and children they have helped house: About 25,000 veterans and veteran families over the past 5 years, all one at a time.
They go out and conduct curb-level street searches, looking for homeless veterans in camps, abandoned buildings and kitchens. This can mean entering some dangerous neighborhoods. (We’ve partnered on several of these “blitzes” – they’re not just knocking door-to-door!) Once they locate a homeless veteran, they work hard to get the former service member fully ID’ed and connected to VA programs and benefits.
Their screening includes eligibility for the HUD-VASH vouchers. If approved, the VASH social worker gets the veteran in the pipeline for housing. Once they find appropriate VASH housing for the veteran, negotiate the lease, and have the veteran ready to cross the threshold into their own housing, the VASH social worker submits a housing referral to us. 99% of the time we can approve this referral in minutes and have the check cut, signed, addressed, stamped, and sent to the landlord the same day.
The Ann Arbor VA Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program coordinator, Shawn Dowling, and 1Matters/Veterans Matter volunteer Shawn Kellerbauer talk to a veteran during a Project Connect event in Adrian, MI, in 2013.

The Ann Arbor VA Healthcare for Homeless Veterans program coordinator, Shawn Dowling, and 1Matters/Veterans Matter volunteer Shawn Kellerbauer talk to a veteran during a Project Connect event in Adrian, MI, in 2013.

Each veteran’s story is different. All of this is hard work, and each social worker becomes an expert in identifying and then overcoming any and every barrier to domestic autonomy.

“I found a veteran, literally living on the streets, with his very small dog and a bicycle. We were able to talk to him about the HUD-VASH program and then get him a housing voucher. We found a place where the utilities are included in the rent. I was able to also apply for a “Hardship Waiver”, for the veteran which he was granted. Usually the vets have to pay some portion of their rent each month. The waiver exempts them from even the $50.00 a month minimum, charged by the local housing authorities. This veteran had not worked in years and had no source of income of any kind.  It is hard to imagine how he had been living in the streets and eating what meals he could from local churches and missions for over five years. Veteran was grateful to the point of tears, to be warm, in his own apartment, both for himself and for his small companion. Again, without Veterans Matter it would have taken much longer to house this veteran. But now he is warm and for the first winter in five years, he will not have to brave the cold of trying to survive living outside.  Since he moved into his new apartment the VA has helped him to find second hand furniture, pots and pans, dishes and cleaning supplies and many other necessary household items. It is heartwarming to visit veteran and see how happy he is to be off of the streets and maybe, most of all, to have a place to call home.” – VASH Social Worker
But, after all that work, the VASH staff isn’t done. In fact it just starts. One of the more important aspects of the Housing First approach is continued case management to help in addressing the needs that Veterans have beyond housing; often needs that will help them stay in housing. It is also the VASH social worker’s responsibility to provide wrap-around case management to support that veteran and ensure their success. This is all driven by goals created by the veterans themselves, such as recovery, job training, or education. The social workers help them accomplish those goals, no matter the barriers.
The huge success of Veterans Matter is fueled mostly by the compassionate determination of these VASH social workers and the desire of our homeless veterans to get off the streets. They do the work before and after we bridge that final funding gap not covered by the voucher.
We believe the social workers are the true heroes of this VASH program, which is proving to be very extraordinarily successful. In fact the program is averaging a 91% success rate keeping the Veterans housed over a year.
Yes, much attention has been focused on the delays on the Medical side of the VA. But on the other side of the house the heroes who help our nation’s homeless veterans get housed so fast, and stay housed are the social workers. We believe the reason for success is the wisdom in hiring Masters Level Social Workers. In practice we get to watch them work, and succeed.
To those men and women who wear compassion as the armor to house and protect our Veterans, we salute you as we would a Five Star General. You inspire us. The stories of housing veterans make us cry. Your tireless work is making a real impact in the lives of thousands of veterans now finally, truly home. Thank you for your example of compassion and for being beacons of how a real civilized nation takes care of its own.
I was with a veteran who had been homeless for three years.  We signed his lease with the landlord and he asked me to drop him off at the library where he checks his email.  About 10 minutes after dropping him off he called me in tears and said “you know as I was walking into the library I realized I have my own apartment and a key in my pocket. I know where I will sleep tonight.  It seems like the stress of years of homelessness has been lifted off my shoulders.  Thank you for helping me”.   Well Ken, that sentiment goes to the good people at Veterans Matters as well.  Later he gave me a decoration to hang in my office.  It has a house shape with a heart on it and says, HOME is a starting place for LOVE and DREAMS.  Sort of glad I am the only person in the office right now so others don’t see the tears rolling down my face while I write this.  The other thing about housing homeless veterans is that so many of them tell me that it takes a long time for them to believe that they are housed.  Like a homeless PTSD.” – VASH Social Worker

For our site visitors who aren’t as social as we are – at least, not following us on Twitter or Facebook – here are some highlights from the past week on social media from Veterans Matter.


…believe this 60 Minutes segment by Scott Pelley, Coming Home, which aired last Sunday night, was great coverage portraying the struggle, courage, commitment, and sacrifice our service people continue to make even after war. Don’t miss the extra segments and Pelley’s photo gallery.

…found this article on Stars & Stripes about the differences in the nature of concussions between athletes and soldiers very interesting. New studies indicate those differences contribute to the reason why soldiers and Marines don’t recover from their head injuries as quickly, and could very well mean new – and hopefully, more effective – ways of treating these “invisible wounds”.

…liked that student veterans will soon be able to get in-state tuition at public colleges because of S.2450 – Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

…saw and shared more news coverage from Final Salute, Inc., which was a great segment on the particular obstacles female veterans face in returning to civilian life after service.

…loved this photo from the U.S. Coast Guard, and thought it was a great start to a Wednesday!


…applaud Indianapolis for implementing this hotline for veterans experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. The 24-hour hotline can help veterans with everything from housing to education.

…were thrilled to post that another 6 veterans/veteran families were housed over the last week, and updated our Veterans Housed to Date page to reflect our new total number of 559 housed veterans.

…are thrilled to announce that mega-veteran supporter Gary Sinise has joined our roster of famous friends helping us get the word out about housing our homeless heroes. Gary recorded a great video PSA, which we will be releasing shortly. We are grateful to this true patriot, whose own Gary Sinise Foundation has been doing fantastic work on behalf of veterans for several years now, for adding his voice to the cause!

Hollywood actor and part-time rocker Gary Sinise performs at the 4th Annual America Supports You Military Tribute Concert as part of the Military Appreciation Month celebrations. Sinise and "The Lt. Dan Band" jammed for a standing-room-only crowd packed into the courtyard of the Pentagon.

Hollywood actor and part-time rocker Gary Sinise performs at the 4th Annual America Supports You Military Tribute Concert as part of the Military Appreciation Month celebrations. Sinise and “The Lt. Dan Band” jammed for a standing-room-only crowd packed into the courtyard of the Pentagon.


For our site visitors who aren’t as social as we are – at least, not following us on Twitter or Facebook – here are some highlights from the past week on social media from Veterans Matter.


…wrapped up #Dine419, and were so grateful to our sponsors, media sponsors, restaurants, and of course, DINERS! Thanks to the following businesses and organizations for working to hard and giving so much to get more homeless veterans housed:

…were saddened by the loss of former Army staff sergeant (and famous actor) Leonard Nimoy, who passed away about one month shy of his 84th birthday. He lived long and prospered, but it’s still hard to think of him gone. RIP, Mr. Spock.

…got choked up watching this story about a former Marine who passed away homeless but not without great honor, thanks to his community.

…shared that huge veteran fan and supporter Kid Rock (one of our own supporting celebrities) has a new album out. First Kiss is now on sale, and has gotten some great reviews!


…said Happy 100th Birthday to the U.S. Navy Reserve! (Did you know that so far we’ve housed 103 Navy veterans? Want to house more? You can donate here.)

…retweeted that March is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Awareness Month.

…felt this proposal to the G.I. Bill could be a great idea to help veterans move forward.

…hit, then passed, our latest milestone of housing 550 veterans and veteran families!

…thought this story about a homeless veteran finding a valuable class ring and returning it instead of cashing in on it, who then had the owner raise over $100,000 for him, and who then decided he needed to take care of other homeless veterans, was pretty darn awesome.


For our site visitors who aren’t as social as we are – at least, not following us on Twitter or Facebook – here are some highlights from the past week on social media from Veterans Matter.


…were very busy sharing #Dine419 information, posting photos of amazing food by great Toledo restaurants. Proceed s from certain meals eaten at certain restaurants during the week of February 23 – March 1 will help us get more veterans housed. So we posted updated like these:

  • The list of restaurants who participated, which can also be found here:
  • The editorial of Toledo Free Press publisher, Tom Pounds
  • Photos like the one at right of the mouth-watering food available during #Dine419
  • An interview Ken did with Fred LeFebvre of 1370 WPSD about Veterans Matter and #Dine419
  • The Toledo Free Press article about the work of Veterans Matter (page 14)

…also took some time to remind everyone of why #Dine419 and our work is so important by posting this quote by a VASH manager:


…updated our Veterans Housed to Date page because we’ve now housed 547 veterans!

…thought this information about free tax prep for veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs Twitter account was valuable.


What Does It Mean to Love Our Veterans? hand holding heart with camo background and logo

I remember taking an aptitude test, administered by the U.S. military, my junior year of high school. It revealed I had a fair knack with mechanical things. This was not surprising as much as the new idea of a career in the armed forces. Despite my lack of firm occupational direction at that time, entering the Air Force (which is where I leaned during this brief notion) had not been on my list. Eventually, I dismissed the idea for myself – my issue with living a disciplined life was already evident in my need to lose weight before I could realistically apply to join.

Perhaps you, like me, entertained but never committed yourself to serving your country in the military. Perhaps, for various reasons, it was never even an option. Perhaps you are a veteran, or are actively serving. Together, we are Americans, each in our roles of working, serving, and enjoying our freedoms.

We know we owe these freedoms to generations of brave men and women. We’ve all pledged our allegiance to the same basic ideals. We recognize the ultimate sacrifices on Memorial Day, celebrate our shared independence on the Fourth of July, and say ‘thank you’ to veterans known and unknown, near and far, on Veterans Day.

We are outraged to hear of mismanagement that jeopardizes care for veterans. We are shocked by the soul-shattering statistic that 22 veterans a day – yes, a DAY – commit suicide. We can all agree that the words ‘homeless’ and ‘veteran’ don’t belong together, even less the fact that one in seven unhoused people are former service men or women.

But these are all reactions to problems which have existed for a while now, problems that will continue to exist until we all come together in more than just words and observances. The great news is a foundation has been laid to solve each one of these problems – changes in the VA to correct mismanagement from a new Secretary, the ‘Clay Hunt’ Act to stem the tide of veteran suicide, and an unprecedented concerted effort by the VA, HUD, and the Obama administration, along with communities across the nation, to virtually eliminate veteran homelessness.

Love is a Verb

It’s all happening NOW. Now is the moment to truly support our troops. The time for cards and care packages during war is dwindling; the time for creating a ‘home’ to come back to is overdue. Like my dad always told me, “Actions speak louder than words.” Or, if you prefer the way our founder Ken Leslie has put it, “Compassion without action is just a word.”

We know many folks are struggling themselves; it’s not always an option to give out of a nearly empty wallet. Trust us, our veterans understand hard times. Yet just like not all of us can (or did) serve in the military but all of us are capable of rallying to support those who can and did, we can still take any number of actions:

  • Contact elected officials to let you know you support their commitment to veterans on every level
  • Share facts with others about the issues facing veterans and encouraging them to do their part
  • Learn more about the solutions for these issues – and others – and advocate on behalf of veterans to push good solutions forward
  • Subscribe to our RSS feed and/or our email newsletter, and share what comes your way with those who might find it interesting
  • And, for those who are able, donate here – knowing that what you give gets veterans off the streets, out of shelters, and into a warm home… just the start of a new life for them!

Those are just a few ways that together, we as Americans, can take roles of bringing the change our veterans need. Let’s not just say we love our veterans, let’s actually love them back to health and home with our action-filled compassion!