Mark Miner received a bit of a shock when he transitioned out of the Army after nearly seven years of service – his last paycheck would not arrive for 90 days.
The 32-year old veteran wasn’t sure at first what to do or where to turn, but then he remembered talking to someone from USA Cares at a booth at a job fair.
Headquartered in Louisville, USA Cares is a national nonprofit serving veterans in all 50 states and U.S. territories. Their mission is to assist post-9/11 veterans, current service members, reservists and national guard with career transitions, immediate and emergency housing or bills assistance when facing hardships directly related to their service. The program morphed from Kentuckiana Cares to USA Cares in 2003, and fields as many as 200-250 requests a week for assistance.
“I don’t know many families who can go without a paycheck for 90 days, and technically I was still employed by the Army so I was making too much money for services,” said Miner. “I was going to be forced to sell my car in order to qualify. I did have an offer letter from an employer but that job was still 30 days away.”
That’s where USA Cares stepped in so he would have money to feed his wife, stepdaughter and grandchild. “Forty-eight hours after contacting USA Cares my bills were paid, so I could buy food,” said Miner.
“It meant everything. It gives me chills to this day. They didn’t know me from anybody. The best thing is they never asked me for a dime back,” he said. “There was no loan or repayment plan. It was all done through grants.”
USA Cares, which focuses on the areas of emergency assistance, housing, assistance for the combat injured, and career transition assistance, is funded through grants, foundations and private donors. Communications Manager Aubrey Gonzalez said the organization also holds fundraisers like motorcycle rides, running events, fishing tournaments and other events to raise money for USA Cares and to honor veterans and their service, such as an upcoming American Proud dinner in Lexington. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share stories and experiences and build that support network throughout the area,” she said. “We host American Proud annually in both Lexington and Louisville, and we hope to expand the event into other communities as well.”
Programs Manager Marlo Taft said serving veterans is embedded in her nature. With a husband who is a veteran and two daughters currently serving, it is near and dear to her heart. Taft said she sees homelessness as still the number one challenge veterans face. “Pride gets in the way and they don’t want to ask for help,” she said.
Case Manager Jenn Humphrey is an Army combat vet with PTSD, and working with other combat injured veterans through USA Cares is a natural fit.
“One of the hardest things we see is where people are losing jobs due to symptoms of PTSD,” said Humphrey. “So many go untreated, but when they’re finally at a place in their life where they can admit they need treatment, I get to work with them. When I talk to these veterans, I let them know I’ve been there, and there is light at the end of that tunnel. It’s great to see the veterans and their families have the peace of mind they need knowing the bills are being taken care of by USA Cares, so the veteran can concentrate on getting better.”
Humphrey said she benefits as well. “In the long run, helping other people work through their PTSD has helped me work through mine,” she said.
Angela Chattoo, a Case Manager at USA Cares for 11 years, said nearly everyone employed by USA Cares has a veteran connection, and that mission binds them as a team. She is the wife of a Marine combat veteran and her father is a Vietnam veteran. She pointed out that USA Cares works with many different scenarios to help veterans. “All of our programs – Combat Injured, Career Transition and Emergency Assistance have a housing component,” she said. “Many vets need mortgage and rental assistance because they fall behind due to Veterans Administration (VA) pay issues with disability or issues with computer hacks and identity theft,” said Chattoo.
Chattoo said the government shutdown has also caused issues with unemployment and disability benefits. “We help place vets in hotels for temporary stays while they wait for approval for a HUD permanent housing program, which takes time. We provide emergency housing so they are not living in their cars. We help with rent at home if a vet has a work loss due to mental health or medical treatment. We help them avoid foreclosure. Those are just a few of the ways in which we help.”
If the public is interested in supporting USA Cares, Gonzalez said they can give their time to help out at an event or donate directly to the organization. “We don’t get any money from the government; we are completely privately funded,” she said.
Beyond providing direct service, USA Cares also collaborates with other organizations like the Wounded Warrior project, which provides medical assistance or Volunteers of America for housing assistance in order to provide the full spectrum of needs for veterans.
For Mark Miner, the stop-gap help he was provided was a godsend, but he also turned to USA Cares for further career transition assistance later down the road.
“When I wanted to change jobs, I submitted my resume through a transition assistance program and they placed me with an up-and-coming company that is 70 percent veterans,” said Miner. “It’s a humbling environment, and I’ve gone from team lead to supervisor to production management in just one year. I love it.”
Miner felt so strongly about USA Cares that he found his own unique way to support the organization.
After he got back on his feet, he wanted to give back, so Miner discovered a niche building wooden plaques that are American flags. One of the flags adorns the lobby at USA Cares, but Miner was particularly proud when USA Cares started presenting the flags to recognize donors at events.
“They can tell donors, ‘You are helping people and this is coming from someone you helped. It’s phenomenal. That means a lot to them.”