Newly established Yuma Veterans Fund to fill service gaps
War veterans come home big heroes, and sometimes they come home with wounds.
“The veterans we have coming back now have legs blown off, arms blown off, but there are lot with wounds you can't see, and it's there and it's terrible,” retired Lt. Gen. John Hudson said.
Occasionally, these “invisible wounds” end in tragedy. Every month Hudson gets a report listing suicides among Marines, “and they're up,” he said.
What veterans see in war often “won't leave them alone,” he noted. And many veterans don't reach out for help.
“What do you learn at boot camp? You're not a whiner. It's so ingrained that they're extremely reluctant to reach out, and you almost have to look for them,” he said.
Hudson hopes the Yuma Veterans Fund, newly established by the Yuma Community Foundation, will help these hurting soldiers. Hudson is serving as an adviser to the fund.
He pointed out that although many organizations support veterans, substantial gaps still exist.
“There are these other veteran organizations, but there's not enough money, not collectively, not individually. When they run out of their funding limit, there isn't anymore.”
The needs of veterans are so special none of the organizations can do it by themselves, Hudson added.
The foundation recognized this gap in services and funding a while back.
“We've been working on the idea of a Yuma Veterans Fund for a while, hoping to get a significant contribution to kick start it,” said Judy Gresser, the foundation's western regional manager.
Her wish was realized when a veteran – who wishes to remain anonymous – stepped up and contributed $10,000 as a challenge gift to encourage donations to the new fund. The veteran will match every $2 donated to the fund with $1 from his gift.
“That's huge,” Gresser noted.
The first goal of the Yuma Veterans Fund is to raise $25,000 by spring of 2013.
Noting the foundation's motto of “for good, forever,” Gresser explained that the Yuma Veterans Fund will be an endowed fund and it will exist in perpetuity. Since grants will be made from the interest earned, it will “always (be) there to provide support for local veterans' needs.”
Dollars raised in the county for the fund will remain in Yuma County. A local committee will decide how to distribute grants. The committee will include individuals with a stake in veterans' issues, for example, a post chaplain, military spouses and active and retired military.
However, Gresser stressed that the new fund will not compete with other veterans' organizations. “I want to make it clear. We're not in competition with other resources. We're here to add to those resources.”
Hudson echoed the sentiment. “There are a lot of veterans organizations, they do a tremendous amount of good.” The new fund will supplement the local chapters to “fill the huge, enormous void.”
Gresser has made presentations to several veterans' organizations to ask about the needs of Yuma veterans.
“Getting veteran organizations involved at the beginning is important because who can better understand the needs of veterans than other veterans?”
She has learned that veterans' needs in Yuma County include housing for veterans, support for younger veterans who have returned from war-torn regions, veteran knowledge of entitlements, including what is available and where to apply, highly trained advocates to assist with Veterans Affairs disability claims, and transportation from rural Yuma County to VA facilities.
“The list is endless – jobs, education, training and workforce development and transition to civilian life were also mentioned,” Gresser said,
“Unfortunately, there will probably always be wars, and those wars will always bring unique challenges,” Gresser said.
“So a fund in perpetuity is a very important thing to the community.”
Gresser believes Yumans will support the fund because of the important role the military plays in the community.
“In Yuma County, the military will always be a major economic driver,” she said, adding that the new fund is “a wonderful way to thank our Yuma veterans for their service.”
The foundation is also “a mechanism for people to give a small amount to an existing fund or give a large amount, and it can grow,” Matt Molenar, the foundation's marketing chair, said. “They don't have to figure out how to do it. We can do it for them.”
The endowment fund is like a retirement account that grows thanks to contributions made over a period of time. The endowment is invested and produces investment income.
In the case of the veterans fund, 5 percent of the investment income will be given out as grants to organizations serving Yuma County veterans after a year of investment.
The principal of the fund will never be touched. Earnings over 5 percent will be added to the principal so the endowment continues to grow.
“The big money of this fund I believe will come from planned giving. By the time we pass we all have some assets,” Gresser said, noting that those assets might not seem like a lot but combined they can make an impact.
Veterans supporters can start contributing now. Tax-deductible donations can be made online by going to www.AZFoundation.org/YumaVeterans or by mailing a check to: Yuma Community Foundation, P.O. Box 6835, Yuma, AZ 85366. Donors should write “Yuma Veterans Fund” on the memo line of the check.
To learn more about the Yuma Veterans Fund, email Yuma Community Foundation at email@example.com or call 928-539-5343.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.