HillVets' 100 Most Influential And Impactful Veterans, Service Members, And Supporters
In the fall of 2014, HillVets requested nominations for their first annual HillVets 100 award. The HillVets 100 highlights the most influential and impactful veterans, service members and supporters from 2014. Nominations poured in and HillVets compiled a list encompassing individuals from many diverse sectors and areas, including those in the arts, politics, business, philanthropy, and personal achievements.
Though different in their pursuits and contributions, the commonalities we found in the men and women listed as the HillVets 100 were their mission and purpose of giving back to those that have sacrificed so much for our nation. “As an organization that emphasizes networking and empowerment, we thought it would be a great way to create synergy with the amazing work that veterans and supporters are doing across numerous sectors. Imagine the great things that would happen if we get all of these men and women in the same room. We intend to shortly,” said HillVets Co-Founder Justin Brown.
HillVets 100 provided a chance to recognize those who have continued answering the call to serve, and it is a chance to gather and celebrate the successes of so many of our fellow veterans. Abigail Gage, HillVets Director of Operations and Outreach said, “We wish the list could’ve been longer. The selection process was a challenge. The project as a whole was more demanding then we had expected, but it was worth it.” HillVets had an open nomination period. Final selections and summaries were created by a panel of 13 HillVets 100 Committee members; a special thanks to them for their very diligent efforts.
Medal of Honor Category
The Medal of Honor is the United States of America’s highest military honor, bestowed for personal acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. These veterans and service members’ actions bring veterans and service members into the forefront of the national conscious, and we are thankful for them.
Sergeant First Class Adkins was a Medal of Honor recipient in 2014 for his combat operations at Camp A Shau, Republic of Vietnam from 9 March 1966 to 12 March 1966. Sgt. 1st Class Adkins manned a mortar position while running through exploding mortar rounds and dragging several of his comrades to safety. When the hostile fire subsided, Sergeant First Class Adkins exposed himself to sporadic sniper fire and carried his wounded comrades while sustaining injuries. Sergeant First Class Adkins’ extraordinary heroism in close combat against a superior hostile force was in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.
Colonel (Ret.) Harvey Curtiss Barnum, Jr. was born in Cheshire, Connecticut. He was a natural leader, serving as president of his freshman and senior high school classes. He commissioned into the United States Marine Corps officer, and deployed to the Vietnam War, where he earned Medal of Honor. After retiring from the Marine Corps, He continued to serve the military community as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs, then as Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). He has also served as a president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
Corporal Carpenter was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2009. During a 2010 deployment to Helmand Province, Afghanistan he threw himself in front of a grenade to protect a fellow Marine. For these actions, he received the Medal of Honor on June 19, 2014. Medically retired, he is pursuing a degree at the University of South Carolina.
Sgt. Santiago Erevia was born in Nordheim, Texas, and volunteered for the United States Army at 22 years old. He deployed to the Vietnam War, where he served as a radio-telephone operator. His conduct during a search-and-clear mission eventually resulted in his receiving the Medal of Honor in 2014.
SFC Melvin Morris was born and grew up in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. He enlisted into the Oklahoma Army National Guard, and then went on active duty. He became one of the first Green Berets in 1961 and volunteered for two tours during the Vietnam War. For his actions in Vietnam, Morris received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama in a March 18, 2014 ceremony at the White House.
MSG Petry was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, enlisting in the Army after high school. He was training to become a Ranger on September 11th, 2001. MSG Petry deployed eight times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in 2008 while deployed to Paktia Province, Afghanistan. Severely wounded during these actions, Petry lost his right arm below the elbow, but returned to service with a prosthetic, deploying to Afghanistan for another tour.
Ryan Pitts was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the Army, deploying to Kunar Province, Afghanistan in 2008, where he earned the Medal of Honor for his actions as a forward observer. He was medically discharged from the Army in 2009. He now lives in Nashua, New Hampshire with his wife and son. He works in business development.
Sergeant White was born in Seattle, Washington. He enlisted in the army in 2006, and deployed to Aranas, Afghanistan where he earned the Medal of Honor for his actions as a platoon radio-telephone operator. After departing from active-duty, White pursued degree in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, afterward working as an investment analyst with the Royal Bank of Canada.
Individual Accomplishment Category
These individuals are some of the most exemplary representatives of the veteran community, able to bridge the gap between the veteran and civilian population by educating and increasing the understanding between them. These individuals work to make the veteran experience a reality, and have dedicated their careers to pursuing their goals, achieving great success and recognition in all of their endeavors.
Phil Klay was awarded with the National Book Award of 2014 for his writing of Redeployment. Though this is a work of fiction, the characters Klay develops are based on the real experiences of this Marine veteran. This work shows the array of emotions and the individuals who make up the Marine Corps.
But perhaps even more important to the veteran community is the picture Klay paints of Marines transitioning from their military service back into the country within their communities. His narrative stays focused on the experience of war and how it can change a person’s perspective. Redeployment shares what it’s like to return to a country full of people who have never experienced the camaraderie, carnage, happy moments and sad times of the U.S. Marine Corps. If you have not read it, do so.
In March of 2014, Army Veteran Dr. Pardo inspired DC area veterans by taking the cover of the Washingtonian Magazine as a Top Doctor in the DC area; the second time she has made the list.
As a recipient of a Health Professions Scholarship from the US Army during medical school, Dr. Pardo completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. Following residency training in 2002, Dr. Pardo was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Upon returning to Washington, DC she attained her board certification in obstetrics and gynecology and spent the next 4 years working as an attending obstetrician-gynecologist at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center. During this time she was actively engaged in the residency-training program and served as the Chief of the Gynecology Division at Walter Reed. She joined Foxhall ObGyn Associates in 2007 following her nine-year medical career in the US Army.
Viti vini vici, Mike Viti walked over 7,000 kilometers during most of 2014 to honor those who have died in the line of duty. For each kilometer, he writes a name on a flag that he carries with him, each the name of a fallen service member. Going 26 kilometers or more a day, he has 14 flags filled with names. Media outlets noticed and took a moment to remind people of the 13 years of war in the Middle East and those Americans who have paid the ultimate price for armed conflict. Local and national media took notice when Mr. Viti felt compelled to raise awareness because he noticed how easy it seemed for many Americans to ignore the war. Viti is inspiring more veterans to take action to remind people of the cost of war, and he is just getting started. He plans to create more projects based on demanding challenges to continue to bring awareness for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Dr. Davidson is an Air Force veteran whose post military career has kept her at the vanguard of defense issues. This former combat pilot has received recognition from both the federal government and from the academic world for her work. Her regular blog on defense policy has added to public awareness and the conversation about the true cost of war. While Dr. Davidson’s focus is primarily on contemporary and emerging defense issues, her focus has helped add perspective for the troops on the ground and other geopolitical defense issues. In addition to her regular blog posts, this year her articles were published in The Hill, USA Today, and Defense One to name but a few.
The Arts Category
Those selected in this category have been successful in the art and entertainment sectors. From producing and directing movies that portray the lives of veterans and military service members, to developing programs that allow veterans to enhance their skills and talents, these individuals have pushed the envelope in the industry and have made headway for up and coming veteran artists, actors and entertainers.
As the founder and President of the Veteran Artist Program, B.R. McDonald has fostered and promoted veteran artists across the nation, successfully bringing thousands of veterans to new careers in visual arts, filmmaking, writing and other performing arts. Mr. McDonald and the VAP is most recognized for pioneering the Pentagon’s first ever, all-veteran artist exhibit, and for its production of The Telling Project, which aims to bring a deeper connection between communities and the veteran experience. Mr. McDonald has ensured that VAP is one of the fastest growing leaders in bridging the gap between the military and the arts.
Mike Dowling, Producer, Actor, Writer, We Are The Mighty
Mike Dowling served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 2001-2005 and as a mobilized reservist from 2008-2010. He is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran turned actor, author, technical consultant, public speaker, and veteran advocate.
He has also earned notice for his book: “Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between A Marine and His Military Working Dog,” which is a memoir of his time in the military working as a dog handler in the Marine Corps. In addition to being cofounder of VFT he remains highly active in the veteran community working with wounded warriors and on various veteran related non-profits. Mike currently works at We Are The Mighty — the military community’s entertainment and lifestyle brand — based in Hollywood, California.
Kyle Hausmann-Stokes is an award winning director and writer based in Los Angeles. Following graduation from the production track at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Kyle founded a production company (Blue Three) through which he has produced a variety of commercial, web, and video content for national television and multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Kyle served 5 years in the US Army’s Airborne Infantry, is a combat veteran of Iraq (Bronze Star), and is one of todays few professional young directors able to bring direct, personal experience and perspective to military/veteran-related projects.
Mr. Tamba is a Marine Reserve NCO with a passion for the arts and entertainment. He was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq. Folleh Tamba has showcased his talent and is working for the interests of the veteran’s community through the GI Film Festival and with the release of his two documentaries.
One of these documentaries: Triangle of Death, was picked up by A&E. An interesting aspect of Mr. Tamba’s life is his past – he grew up in Liberia, immigrated to America, attended film school and joined the Marine Corps where he fought with honor for his adopted country.
The Rauch Brothers create cartoons, shorts, and animations to bring stories to life in a unique and impactful way. In 2014, they dedicated a large portion of their work to developing three shorts for the project: StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiatives, which had the aim to tell the stories of post-9/11 veterans, service members and their families to others. These pieces of animation told various stories of the war through different perspectives – one about a survivor Marine and another about the relationship between a member of the US military and two Iraqi citizens.
Through their unique broadcasts and animations, The Rauch Brothers have been successful in bringing a better understanding to the lives of the men and women who have served. The Rauch Brothers’ animations are award winning and their creations have been featured on NPR and PBS.
Montel Williams has a storied career as a US veteran and long-time service member. He is a US Marine and has worked for the veteran’s community for many years. He is recognized as an avid and tireless supporter of veterans’ issues. Most recently, Mr. Williams displayed his commitment to the community by speaking out against the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal, and encouraging a VA Surge of healthcare professionals.
Businesses That Support Veterans Category
The businesses in this category have dedicated a significant portion of their work to ensure that veterans, military service members, and their families have a number of diverse resources and opportunities available to them. These companies recognize the challenges that veterans face during the transition into civilian life, and as such, have created impactful and purposeful programs that provide a benefit to the veteran community. The individuals selected for this category are those that led the charge for these companies in 2014, promoting veteran-specific initiatives that aim to highlight the skills, leadership and experiences of the veteran community.
Lockheed Martin demonstrates a continued commitment to veterans, service members and military families by following the tenants of their core value: “We never forget who we’re working for.” This phrase has defined the way that Lockheed Martin demonstrates the importance of giving back to the community and supporting the men and women that have sacrificed so much for our nation.
From numerous hiring programs and initiatives that help transition veterans to civilian life to providing rehabilitation programs for wounded warriors, Lockheed Martin is a solid supporter of ensuring that Veterans receive the honor and gratitude that they are owed. Ms. Hewson has maintained the company’s commitment to this charge, and remains to be an influential individual; she was recognized Forbe’s “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” in 2014.
Boeing has made huge strides in helping service men and women achieve success after their time in the military. Through their Wounded Warrior Hiring Program, Boeing has addressed many of the challenges that veterans and military families face in the job market. Boeing has hired over 25,000 veterans, and has solidified their commitment to this effort by offering mentoring, career counseling, and networking opportunities. The company continues to engage with programs that highlight service by developing partnerships with other companies and non-profit entities that have initiatives that support the veteran community.
Northup Grumman has made a difference in hundreds of transitioning veterans, service members and their families’ lives through their Operation IMPACT (Injured Military Pursuing Assisted Career Transition) initiative. The program provides support for those who have been injured in the war.
By committing resources and recruitment initiatives to hiring veterans, Northup Grumman has become a force in veteran hiring. As CEO and President, Mr. Bush has led the charge to instill the values of service and giving back to the community throughout the mission of the company.
J.P. Morgan Chase recognizes the sacrifices that military members, veterans and their families undergo by offering employment, housing and educational programs to these individuals. As the CEO and President, Jamie Dimon ensures that the company is committed to understanding the challenges that many veterans face during the transition to civilian life. J.P. Morgan Chase is dedicated to helping individual service members and their families find success in their careers and in their plans for the future. In 2014, J.P. Morgan Chase pledged to invest an additional $20 million towards programs and initiatives to build upon the $25 million the company has already provided to military and veteran-based organizations since 2011.
The Patriot Project offers free chiropractic care to veterans, military service members and their families. Dr. Novelli began this grass-roots organization in 2012 in North Canton, Ohio, and the project has since spread across the country. The project began when Dr. Novelli recognized that although chiropractic care is included in veterans’ health benefits, it was not easily accessible. There are now over 800 chiropractors that currently that take part in The Patriot Project. Dr. Novelli has set a high goal, however – to have active participation from the majority of chiropractic physicians in the United States, putting chiropractic care in all VA hospitals across the nation. Dr. Novelli has made a huge impact for veterans, and continues to work in advocating for veterans’ access to various health care services.
Businesses Focused on Veterans Category
The individuals in this category are the leaders and founders of businesses created with veterans in mind. They offer services and provide resources and solutions that benefit veterans and military service members. The companies’ efforts work to strengthen the community by directly supporting veterans through unique and diverse initiatives. This category includes the more traditional and long-standing supporters of veterans, to the newer, veteran-founded businesses, both of which are focused on bringing relevant tools and resources to the veteran community.
Josue “Joe” Robles is President and Chief Executive Officer of USAA, one of America’s leading financial services companies. The association has been serving military families since 1922 and has become well known for what it offers to its 9.4 million members. In 2014, USAA continued expanding their mission to the military community by offering free guidance and tools that were catered to supporting veterans in their careers and post-military lives. They increased their promotion of veterans’ hiring programs and partnered with other industries to ensure that available jobs were filled by worthy and experienced veterans.
Navy Federal Credit Union is a well-known supporter of the veteran community and specializes in banking and mortgage services for its members. Underneath Mr. Dawson’s leadership, the Navy Federal Credit Union recommitted to their mission of helping young veterans by strengthening the company’s student loan repayment program, which will benefit new enlistees. Mr. Dawson has been President and Chief Executive Officer of Navy Federal Credit Union since December 2004. Previously, Mr. Dawson served as a Navy Federal volunteer official for five years until March 2004, after completing a 34-year career in the United States Navy. He served as Chief Financial Officer of the Navy and a principal advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations.
Fred Wellman is CEO of ScoutComms and provides senior level counsel, strategic communications, public relations, social media, media relations and government affairs advice to the company’s clients. He applies his over 25 years of military, government, commercial and non-profit experience to helping clients operate successfully.
Mr. Wellman supports a number of veteran oriented non-profit organizations and efforts. Prior to founding ScoutComms, he was the Vice President of a strategic communications firm in Washington D.C. exclusively focused on the aerospace and defense sector providing management of all of the company’s operations and client services.
The Novitas Group’s mission is “helping veterans translate military experience to the civilian sector.” Their highly successful “Vet Connector” is a revolutionary job tool that connects a veteran’s military skills with available jobs in the market. As the Founder and CEO, Mr. Taylor has ensured that the company’s success always benefits members of the military, veterans and their families.
Prior to the Novitas Group, Mr. Taylor spent 14 years in the US Marine Corps. He is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council, and a member of the Board of Trustees at the American University of Afghanistan. He is also an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
Mr. Iscol is a combat decorated Marine Officer, Iraq veteran and entrepreneur. Hirepurpose was developed to address the gaps that exist in the transition from military service to civilian life. Developed by veterans, hirepurpose dives deep into a military service member’s story and life goals in order to help the individuals achieve their purpose and find the right opportunity. Hirepurpose focuses on “matching the right talent with the right opportunities so everyone wins.”
Before founding hirepurpose, Mr. Iscol served as the first officer in charge of Recruiting, Screening, Assessment, and Selection (RSAS) for the US Marine Corps Forces – Special Operations Command. He is also the Executive Director of the Headstrong Project, a non-profit organization that provides cost-free mental health care treatment to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with PTSD and TBI.
PenFed President and CEO James Schenck rose through the ranks to become PenFed’s CEO in March of 2014. An Army officer, graduate of the United States Military Academy, and UH60 Blackhawk pilot, it is safe to say that Schenck understands the needs of the service members, veterans, and families that make up the majority of Pen Feds customers. Additionally, the company launched the Military Heroes Fund to provide wounded service members with services that the Defense Department cannot offer due to budgetary and regulatory restrictions.
In his new capacity, Mr. Schenck has maintained Pen Fed’s commitment to the hiring of veterans and the support of military families. In 2014, on numerous instances Pen Fed highlighted, notably and to include Schenck, the hiring of veterans to numerous senior level positions within the organization. Schneck earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and taught economics and finance at West Point. He served on the Army Staff in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, overseeing the Army’s OPTEMPO Budget. His final tour was as special assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
Capitol Hill Staff Category
These individuals are at the helm of forming the policy and legislation for our Nation. Working on Capitol Hill gives a great deal of responsibility and power needed to address many of the problems and challenges that veterans, and our nation, face on a day-to-day basis. The influence that these few have in bringing legitimate change to the veteran community is unparalleled, and their ability to understand the issues and facilitate necessary debate and discussion is recognized and appreciated.
In the 113th Congress Robertson oversaw the agenda of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee during one of the most pressing eras in recent memory. With the VA under fire, he was the lead on formulating a political response to address the issues facing the VA healthcare system. Robertson had large influence on what would move forward in conference and what legislation would be considered from the House.
Robertson was Senator Sander’s senior legislative assistant prior to his Chairmanship of SVAC. He also has worked as director, deputy director and assistant director of the National Legislative Commission at the American Legion. Robertson retired after 20 years of military service: 12 years active-duty USAF and 8 years in the DC Army National Guard.
Mr. Brinck, a former Naval helicopter pilot, is second in command of the House Veterans Affairs Committee under Chairman Jeff Miller. During Mr. Brinck’s tenure, Chairman Miller has lead the way on numerous hearings and investigations surrounding the wait time scandals at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. Brinck, the former Staff Director of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity has been with the committee since 1994 and is well respected by staff from both sides of the aisle, as well as among the many veterans and military service organizations involved with veteran issues. Brinck hails from Iowa and has a B.A. from St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, and is a graduate of the Naval War College.
Doug Coutts, Chief of Staff, Senator Tom Cotton
Coutts is an Army Veteran that served with Senator Cotton in the infantry, and is now providing the lead role in his office. During Coutts’ time serving as the Chief of Staff, Senator Tom Cotton has become extremely influential, beginning his career as a member of the House of Representatives, and is now a member of the Senate. Mr. Coutts also served as Cotton’s campaign manager, and will continue to play a critical role in an office that consists of and impacts a number of OIF veterans. Coutts taught U.S. History and Government at Orange County Public Schools prior to joining the Army in June of 2003. He received an MBA from American University.
Darren Dick, Republican Staff Director, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
With homeland security, terrorist attacks, and the growing realm of government intelligence, Navy Reservist Darren Dick played an outsized role in providing oversight of the Nation’s intelligence apparatus. His role will likely only continue to grow in the 114th Congress.
Darren Dick served as the Deputy Staff Director for the House Intelligence Committee from January 2011 to July 2013. He is a veteran of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence where he served as Counsel for the Committee and also as Deputy Staff Director. He was previously Senior Manager and Counsel for Government Relations and Public Policy at the EMC Corporation. Darren spent three years in the office of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) as principal advisor to the Senator on national security issues. Prior to his work for Senator Roberts, he worked as a litigation attorney in Overland Park, KS. From 1992-1996 Darren worked as the Military Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Robert Dole (R-KS). He is an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves and holds a Masters Degree in National Security & Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
Richard Kessler, Democratic Staff Director, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs
Dr. Kessler, an Army Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Bronze Star, was the lead US Senate staffer overseeing America’s intelligence apparatus. This essentially placed him between House Republicans and the President in consideration of legislation of interest; a position that Senate Democrats will not enjoy in the forthcoming Congress. Nonetheless, it seems that Kessler will continue to be an influential voice on Capitol Hill considering his impressive background and accomplishments.
Dr. Kessler also served as the Democratic Staff Director of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee where he was appointed in 2008. Prior to his work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Dr. Kessler served as Staff Director and Democratic Staff Director for numerous committees and subcommittees. As a Sergeant in the U.S. Army from 1970-1973, Dr. Kessler served in Vietnam where he was awarded a Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, the Vietnamese Medal of Honor, and two battle stars.
The tireless work of the foundations listed in this category play an important role in strengthening and empowering the veteran community. These foundations provide direct support to the community through the development of employment initiatives, by providing funding for research on veteran-specific health issues, and by bringing relevant dialogue and educational opportunities to the general public in order to increase the overall understanding of veterans and the military community.
Hiring Our Heroes is a grassroots initiative that helps veterans, service members and military spouses find employment across the United States. Hiring Our Heroes is committed to promoting events that will allow the military community to engage with both public and private partners, connecting businesses with future employees. With more than 800 hiring fairs, they have set a goal to make employment commitments to 500,000 veterans and spouses.
He first entered military service in 1994 as an enlisted security specialist in the Indiana Air National Guard. Eversole later accepted a commission in the United States Navy JAG Corps in 1998 and served on active duty until 2001, when he transferred to the Navy Reserve. Mr. Eversole is also the founder of the Military Voter Protection Project (MVP Project)—a program dedicated to promoting and protecting the voting rights of active duty military members and their spouses.
In 2014, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation gave over $12 Million in grants to benefit veteran initiatives and education through their well-known Veterans Program.
The Veterans Program is “committed to investing in, learning from, and implementing models of support to enable veterans to become assets in their local and national communities.” The impactful model deployed by the foundation encompasses plans and programs that make a difference in the daily lives of veterans by investing programs that benefit veteran employment, health and reintegration into a civilian lifestyle. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation has been integral in ensuring that veterans are provided with the resources that they need and opportunities that recognize the service that they have provided to the United States.
In March 2014, the Schultz Family Foundation announced their commitment to honoring the nation’s veterans through their Onward Veterans program. Onward Veterans is an initiative that empowers post-9/11 veterans and recognizes their skill sets, work ethic and leadership skills by providing opportunities that utilize these abilities to make our nation better and stronger. This program also focuses on providing funding for research of PTSD and TBI.
The foundation recently released a book: For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice, which allows the civilian population to engage with the military community and veterans. By raising awareness of the sacrifices made by these individuals and increasing an understanding across the broader public, the Shultz Family Foundation works to bring the service member experience closer to home.
The Patterson Foundation’s Legacy of Valor Campaign is a military initiative that aims to highlight the contributions given by military service men and women. The campaign consists of more than 100 community partnerships and organizations and has the purpose of facilitating events that will benefit and honor veterans and their families. Thus far, the Legacy of Valor Campaign has raised more than $270,000 for non-profits and engaged in more than 200 community events and activities that honored veterans. Most notably, they worked with VA to create Patriot Plaza, a 2,800-seat ceremonial amphitheater at Sarasota National Cemetery that honors veterans, inspires patriotism and embraces freedom. These are only a few of their accomplishments. The campaign hopes that their support of hundreds of grassroots projects will inspire patriotism, and educate communities about the service and sacrifice of veterans and their families.
The Posse Foundation celebrated its 25-year anniversary in 2014, continuing its commitment to recognizing scholars around the nation. In 2014, The Posse Foundation expanded its Veterans Program, which supports and helps individuals in achieving his or her goals of receiving Bachelor’s degrees from highly ranked U.S. universities and colleges. The group’s ability to build a community of veterans around educational goals and opportunities makes The Posse Foundation undeniably noteworthy.
Boasting a graduation rate of over 90%, The Posse Foundation has gone above and beyond to ensure that veterans are receiving the best education and experiencing success in reaching their life and career goals. As founder and president, Deborah Bial is an expert in the field of education and leadership development. Her expertise has gained her national recognition in the higher education community in the United States.
Government — Career Employees Category
The individuals in this category have dedicated their lives to public service. In light of the most recent scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the following have given countless hours to bring pragmatic solutions to the most relevant problems, in addition to the positive work that they already do for the veteran community on a day-to-day basis. This category honors those that devote their lives to serving the interests of veterans, and their work is appreciated and recognized by many in the community.
In the wake of the challenges of the Phoenix VA Medical Center crisis, Steve Young was called in to lead as the interim Medical Center Director. Young continues to be one of VA’s go to leaders in difficult situations, particularly in the Western United States.
He was appointed Director of the Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System on June 21, 2009. In this position, he is responsible for executive leadership of the health care system that includes the George E. Wahlen VA Medical Center and clinics located in Utah, Idaho and Nevada.
Holly Petreaus is the Assistant Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Servicemember Affairs, a government office dedicated to protecting service members and their families from financial predators and pitfalls.
From taking on predatory lenders focused on service members, to making sure that educational institutions are not taking advantage of veterans and their families, Holly Petreaus spent 2014 trying to make the world a better place for troops, veterans, and their spouses.
Dr. Sam Foote was the initial whistleblower whose actions led to a large-scale shake up of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to include the resignation of Secretary Shinseki and numerous other top VA officials. An emphasis on patient wait-times goals, poor oversight and scheduling practices all led to systematic failure of veterans across the nation. Mr. Foote’s and other whistleblower actions led to the uncovering of these failed systems that resulted in increased Congressional funding aimed at increasing clinical space for veterans, increasing the number of VA physicians to provide care, and providing temporary authorization to receive private care in the event VA cannot provide it or if the veteran does not have easy access to a VA facility.
James Ridgway is the Chief Counsel for Policy and Procedure at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. As a military brat, and one of the most respected veteran benefit attorneys in the nation, Ridgeway continues to be a leader in benefits law. He clerked for the Hon. Kenneth Kramer, an original member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC), and was the senior law clerk to the Hon. Alan G. Lance, Sr. for nearly eight years. In between his periods with the CAVC, Professor Ridgway was an assistant state attorney in Chicago for five years. While in Chicago, he taught appellate advocacy at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law. He is also a Professor of Law at George Washington University.
Mr. Ridgway was the president of the CAVC’s bar association for 2012-13. As part of the Board of Governor’s for the bar association, he published the quarterly Veterans Law Journal, helped found the National Veterans Law Moot Court Competition (NVLMCC), and presents an Introduction to Veterans Law at law schools across the country.
Government – Political Appointees Category
Those that are called to serve carry the responsibility and honor of developing and implementing the President’s agenda. This is no easy task, and the following individuals were integral in making tough decisions, all with the aim of bringing the right solutions and policies to benefit the veteran and military community. The Department of Veterans Affairs were hit with a number of scandals this year, and these individuals took charge of their positions, doing everything possible to make right some of the most immediate problems and prominent challenges for veterans and service members.
Chuck Hagel, the 24th Secretary of Defense, is the first enlisted combat veteran to lead the Department of Defense. As a young man, Secretary Hagel volunteered for Vietnam, serving as an infantryman. Wounded during the conflict, his decorations include two Purple Hearts.
Secretary Hagel has been advocating for the veteran community since 1981, when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to serve as Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration. When elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, Secretary Hagel continued to protect veterans’ rights, adding a focus on international security to his portfolio. He was also one of the leading Republican Senators that advocated along side Senator Jim Webb for passage of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. Secretary Hagel has also served as Co-Chairman of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board and a member of the Secretary of Defense Policy Board.
The year 2014 will probably not be fondly remembered by the highly decorated Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Army. After five years as Secretary, President Obama accepted Shinseki’s resignation as the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, in light of a scandal involving veterans receiving substandard access to care at the Phoenix VA Hospital and the mischaracterization of VA’s performance measures related to access. Despite these challenges, the top three priorities of Secretary Shinseki during his tenure were: increased access to VA healthcare and benefits, ending veteran homelessness by 2015, and eliminating the VA backlog with no claim pending for longer than 125 days. Moving forward it will be interesting to watch how VA under the leadership of Secretary McDonald, reorient their goals.
Sloan Gibson was appointed to be Deputy Secretary following the departure of Deputy Secretary Scott Gould in 2014. Appointed in February, he had little time to prepare for the VA scandal that rocked VA in May. By the end of the month he was the acting Secretary after Shinseki’s resignation and was a national media focal point as numerous whistleblowers and other VA’s hospitals were found to be fudging their patient wait times. Sloan found himself testifying before Congress and working with VA to formulate an immediate emergency response to veterans that were in need of consistent and accountable healthcare. Prior to his appointment, Sloan was the CEO of USO and a graduate of the 1975 class of West Point.
When the Phoenix scandal led to Shinseki’s resignation in May 2014, an effective replacement was necessary. Many in the veteran world wondered who would fill the tough shoes of the highly respected Shinseki. The President’s selection, who was the Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), has intrigued many. The implication has been that McDonald, a successful businessman, will be able to bring about positive customer-oriented change to VA.
Secretary McDonald is a graduate of the 1975 class from the United States Military Academy. He received his MBA from the University of Utah.
From the claims backlog, Post 9/11 GI Bill, and VA’s home loan program, General Allison Hickey is the face of VA benefits and services. The claims backlog took a backseat in the VA public limelight to the VA’s recent healthcare crisis. Recent numbers also suggest that Hickey has been effective in leading VA to dramatic reductions of VA claims; though not without controversy.
Nonetheless, General Hickey continues to be a dominant force over the 56 regional offices that give billions in benefits to veterans across the country. She created a strategy that took the VA out of a paper-based system and into an electronic claims processing system. Most seem to be in agreement that there has been substantial improvement in timeliness and the delivery of services. 2015 will be a year to watch General Hickey as VA has suggested for numerous years that they would eliminate the VA backlog. General Hickey is a 1980 graduate of the first Air Force Academy class to include women. She retired with the rank of Brigadier General as the Director of the Air Force’s Future Total Force office at the Pentagon.
The First and Second Ladies understand that behind every service member there is a supportive spouse and family that is making sacrifices and serving our country. To support them, the dynamic duo launched an effort entitled Joining Forces: Taking Action to Serve America’s Military Families. In President Obama’s State of the Union he suggested Joining Forces has resulted in 700,000 jobs for veterans and their spouses.
A strong and robust military depends on its people, and its people depend on their families. Ensuring the strength of our military families fortifies the morale of our soldiers, and strengthens their ability to protect and defend our nation.
In October 2014, Maura Sullivan became the face of VA’s communications as the Assistant Secretary for Public & Intergovernmental Affairs.
Following the challenging scandal that rocked the VA in May, Maura’s role is integral to rebuilding trust and transparency with the veterans and families VA serves. Sullivan was a Marine Captain and served in Fallujah in 2005. She came to VA via Pepsi Co. where she was a part of their executive team. She also was previously appointed to the Commission of the American Battle Monuments Commission. She is a graduate of Northwestern (B.A), and Harvard (MBA, MPA).
These military men and women have successfully led the United States Armed Forces during a very challenging and difficult time in our country’s military history. Being involved in numerous wars and conflicts for more than a decade, these individuals have shaped the debate surrounding the duty and the call to serve. With the Middle East continuing to be a volatile environment for our troops, and politicians continuously posturing on positions that take the fight to the enemy, we can only expect that our military will continue to see high ops tempos.
Gen. Martin Dempsey took his unique Jersey City, NJ flavored Irish American wit with him from the West Point Class of 1974, to Chairman of The Joint Chiefs. In a show of his multi-force command demeanor and diplomatic prowess, General Dempsey proved his admirable qualities when he ordered military schools to make sure they were not including anti-Islamic themes in training courses.
Martin Dempsey received his commission as an Army Armor Officer in 1974 when he graduated from West Point. Through his continuing 41-year career and rise to Chairman of The Joint Chiefs, Gen. Dempsey has served in a plethora of joint force, and multinational command elements. His highest level personal decorations include; Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with bronze oak leaf cluster), Army Distinguished Service Medal (with three bronze oak leaf clusters), Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (with two bronze oak leaf clusters), Bronze Star (with Valor device and bronze oak leaf cluster), Meritorious Service Medal (with two bronze oak leaf clusters), along with the JSCM, ACM, and numerous AAMs.
Gen. Odierno, currently serving as the 38th Chief of Staff of the Army understands the importance of a strong and well-trained military force. In 2014, he spoke candidly about the need for leadership development in the Army, despite budget cuts and public disapproval of the continuing war. General Odierno continues to embody the tenants and traditions of what it means to serve. He works to bridge the gap between military and civilian life, and create the environment for a greater understanding between the two cultures.
Ray Odierno received his commission in 1976, upon graduation from West Point. He also received an MS in Nuclear Effects Engineering from NC State, an MA in National Security and Strategy from the Naval War College, and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters again from NC State. Gen. Odierno most recently served as Commanding Gen. MNF-Iraq. His numerous decorations include; Defense Distinguished Service Medal (with 3 bronze Oak Leaf Clusters), Army Distinguished Service Medal (with bronze Oak Leaf Cluster), Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (with 1 silver Oak Leaf Cluster), Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with 3 bronze Oak Leaf Clusters), ACM, and AAM.
General McMaster is currently strategizing and helping win America’s future wars as the Director of Army Capabilities Integration Center and Deputy Commanding General, Futures, of US Army Training and Doctrine Command. McMaster is known for his pragmatic and no nonsense attitude; on numerous occasions he has spoken out against mistakes made in the war, solidifying his place as a leader of change. He has pinned on three stars in less than six years, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
HR McMaster received his Commission as a US Army Armor Officer after graduating West Point in 1984. He has earned numerous decorations during his career, including a Silver Star for his actions in 1991 as Captain commanding Eagle Troop of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at the Battle of 73 Easting, where the nine tanks under his command destroyed over eighty Iraqi Republican Guard tanks and other vehicles without loss.
Michael P. “Mike” Barrett enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of 17 and has risen to be 17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. On April 11, 2014, Barrett surprised Congress on the topic of pay when he said, “Marines don’t run around asking about compensation, retirement, modernization…” “That’s not on their mind. As I talk to thousands of audiences, they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next.”
Sergeant Major Barrett hails from Youngstown, NY, where he enlisted into the Corps at the age of 17 on March 16, 1981. During his 30 plus year rise from Infantry recruit at Parris Island, to 17th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps on June 9, 2011, he has held numerous duty positions, including; Scout Sniper, earning a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Valor Device for engaging enemy mortar positions with his Barrett M82 sniper rifle in early 1991 during the first Gulf War. His leadership under fire also earned him two Bronze Stars with Valor Device during his 2005 and 2007 deployments to Iraq with the 2/7 Marines.
Navy SEAL Sniper Chris Kyle had been termed Shaitan Ar-Ramadi, “The Devil of Ramadi”, by those he took aim at, and “Legend” by those whom he protected. After his tragic death in 2013, solidifying his full devotion to protecting Marines from the turmoil of war, Bradley Cooper portrayed Kyle in the film version of his book, “American Sniper,” which has brought his story and the challenge of service into high magnification. With 160 confirmed kills, “America’s deadliest sniper” was known as saying, his targets were, “already dead. I was just making sure [they] didn’t take any Marines with [them]”.
Kyle was born in 1974 in Odessa, TX to Deby Lynn (Mercer) and Wayne Kenneth Kyle. After overcoming medical complications with his arm during his attempted enlistment into the Marines, he was invited by the Navy to attend BUDS, and became a Navy Seal in 1999. Chris served through four combat tours to Iraq where he earned two Silver Star Medals, five Bronze Star Medals, one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.
The media plays an integral part of our political process. In 2014, the following individuals led the way on reporting on VA and the veteran experience. Through their stories, the media has held public and government officials accountable for their actions and promises. The media has also enlightened the public on veterans’ issues and increased their understanding of the sacrifices made by those that chose to serve.
Mr. Maze has been a major presence on Capitol Hill for most of his career as a regular contributor on C-Span, recognized for his writing on defense and veterans’ issues. He currently serves as the Editor in Chief of the Association of the United States Army. He has reported on military, defense and veterans affairs for 35 years, and is a nationally recognized expert on these issues.
Many were sad to see Maze’s departure from Gannett, Military Times, as he was rightly credited as the lead beat writer on veterans’ issues for numerous years.
Leo Shane is an award-winning Military and Veterans Affairs reporter whose work has drawn national recognition from policy leaders, media peers, and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, all of who rely on his insight as an objective voice on issues affecting their lives.
He has worked in Washington, D.C. since 2004, covering Capitol Hill and the White House. His beats include legislation affecting military policy and veterans’ issues. His work also includes overseas coverage of military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chile and Ecuador. He has become a prominent voice on veterans’ issues, chronicling troops’ transition back to civilian life and the challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The man, the myth, the legend. Twenty years ago, who could have predicted that a satirist would be considered a bona fide newsman in America? During Stewart’s tenure, The Daily Show went from a barely veiled homage of SNL’s Weekend Update, to investigating and reporting on real news. They have pushed the envelope on many controversial, yet relevant stories.
The Daily Show spent a fair amount of time on Veterans’ issues in 2014, as did a lot of news makers, in the wake of some of the controversy surrounding VA’s handling of patient wait times, but the Daily Show has a history of keeping a watchful eye on veterans’ issues. With so many topics which are not exactly ripe for comedic material, Stuart walks the fine line to highlight important issues and generate interest.
Jacqueline Klimas is an award-winning reporter in Washington, D.C. As a Capitol Hill reporter for The Washington Times, she covers veteran’s issues, defense legislation, sexual assault in the military and on college campuses, and how technology is changing elections. Ms. Klimas was on top of all of the major veterans stories in 2014, which highlighted controversial issues and provided a high volume of stories that shaped the narrative and paved the way for passage of the Veterans’ Access Choice and Accountability Act.
Richard M. Jones serves as Executive Vice President, General Tax Counsel, and Chief Veteran Officer with CBS. Prior to his role at CBS, Mr. Jones was a noncommissioned officer for the Army…oh yeah, he was also an Army Ranger. As Chief Veteran Officer, Mr. Jones is personally responsible for seeing that veteran’ issues are kept at the forefront of CBS’s news watch. Jones works closely with veterans’ organizations and keeps vigilant in ensuring veterans’ needs are receiving the attention they deserve.
He serves on the Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment, Training and Employer Outreach (ACTVETEO) at the Department of Labor. He also sits on the boards of the Wounded Warrior Project, The Institute for Veterans and Military
Families (IVMF) at Syracuse, The Uniforms Services Justice and Advocacy Group, the Eastern Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veterans Community Services, the Aaron Grider Foundation and is an advisor to Veterans Advantage and Act Today! (Autism Care & Treatment) for Military Families.
Most Successful Veteran Entrepreneurs Category
These veterans have taken success to a new level. Their drive, ambition and savvy have allowed them to create extremely successful careers and gain domination within their individual business markets. These individuals started serving their country when they joined their respective military branches many years ago, and since then, have continued to serve our nation with the services that their business provide.
Richard Kinder is a veteran of both the Vietnam War and the energy industry. The former Army Captain was Enron’s President at a time when the company was considered a bastion of integrity, and he left before the company’s challenges. Mr. Kinder emerged as one of the co-founders of Kinder Morgan, now the 4th largest energy company in the country. Forbes listed him among the richest Americans of 2014, and he is poised to remain on that list for some time.
Kinder’s leadership style has been described as meticulous, and he holds his management team to high standards. His nature has also led to a positive and strong workforce environment, and Kinder Morgan was recognized as one of Americas Most Admired Companies by Fortune magazine in 2007.
Before Jack Taylor launched what would become the Enterprise car rental company 1962, he was a Navy Fighter Pilot in World War II serving on the USS Enterprise. Enterprise remains family owned and operated, but Mr. Taylor’s military values remain present, and the company takes pride in its military heritage. The company welcomes veterans and their family members into their ranks and offers a Management Training Program, which teaches participants how to run a successful business. In addition, Enterprise has been involved with philanthropy for over half a century. This has led to over $200 million going to thousands of local nonprofits focused on community improvement, education and environmental stewardship.
Rich Davos is one of the cofounders of Amway and the owner of the Orlando Magic. A World War II veteran who served in the Army Air Corps, the 88 year old is still attending his team’s games regularly.
The American businessman has also authored two books, Compassionate Capitalism and Hope from My Heart: Ten Lessons For Life. The latter was written after a successful heart transplant operation in 1997. He also coauthored a book about his career titled Believe.
John Paul DeJoria may be better recognized as a cofounder of the Paul Mitchell brand, but the entrepreneur has a diverse range of holdings including the Patron Spirits Company and the House of Blues.
What many may not realize is that DeJoria is also a Navy veteran. His trek into the Navy would sound familiar to many of today’s service members. As a first generation American, DeJoria began earning money to support his family at the age of nine by selling Christmas cards and newspapers. During high school, he joined the Navy at 17, serving on the USS Hornet. The Navy recently honored DeJoria with the Lone Star Sailor Award in recognition of his success as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a pillar of the business community.
Sumner Redstone is the media magnate behind CBS Corporation and Viacom. The Boston native graduated from Harvard in 1944, and served as a lieutenant in US Army during World War II. Besides building a media empire, Redstone is also an author and philanthropist. It is estimated that Sumner Redstone has donated over $150 million, nearly 1.7 percent of his net worth to various philanthropic causes. In 2014 alone, Redstone donated $10 million to Harvard Law School for public-interest fellowships. The donation was the largest ever to the law school in support of public service.
Non-Profit Innovators Category
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.
Jake and Team Rubicon have taken the veterans’ world by storm. What better way to continue using your military skills than redeploying to help when a natural disaster strikes? Since 2010, Team Rubicon has grown immensely, and they even received their own infomercial on the National Mall during HBO’s Concert for Valor. If that doesn’t make you want to tread into hurricanes and earthquakes… what will? In 2014 it was business as usual for Team Rubicon, with hurricane operations in the Philippines, and in assisting in the aftermath of mid-west tornados and flooding across the Nation.
Wood honorably served four years in the United States Marine Corps, deploying to Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan in 2008. He graduated Scout-Sniper School at the top of his class and in 2007 he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” for actions in Iraq. Jake serves on numerous national veteran committees and speaks around the country about veteran issues and social entrepreneurship. In October, Crown will publish Jake’s first book, Take Command. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a double major, where he also played football.
Across the nation, veterans, their families, and their supporters are donning red Team RWB shirts. The man to blame: Mike Erwin. Erwin, a Major in the US Army, earned a MS in Psychology from the University of Michigan. He also teaches psychology and leadership at the US Military Academy at West Point.
Team RWB’s fast growing nature seems to be based on a growing trend whereby veterans are interested in coming together and looking for ways to bridge commonalities in a social and empowering manner. Team RWB seems to be at the forefront of this and saw dynamic growth in 2014. From running to rock climbing to other fun and physical activities, veterans are getting out, getting active, and having a strong association with Team RWB in the process.
Got Your 6, under the leadership of Chris Marvin, has made huge headway and come out strong in 2014. From media campaigns to working with their partners on the Concert of Valor, Got Your 6 has been busy “normalizing the depictions of veterans on film and television to dispel common myths about the veteran population.” We are looking forward to see what 2015 brings for veterans on their behalf.
Marvin, a US Army Officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot, served for more than seven years and was awarded a Bronze Star and the Air Medal. After being severely wounded in combat in Afghanistan, Marvin volunteered as an advocate for other wounded veterans, most prominently as the Director of the Fellowship Program for The Mission Continues. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
After receiving his Commission from the US Naval Academy in 2002, Seth went on the serve for 6 years as a Marine Corps Ground Officer. He then went on to earn a MPA in International Affairs from Princeton University, and after came to DC where he founded Second Service and Veterans Campaign, both of which are aimed at teaching Veterans how to run successful campaigns. Mr. Lynn understood that Veterans were experienced in leadership and teamwork and that they are the ones that could bring solutions and partnerships to Capitol Hill.
In 2012, Seth published In the Shadow of Greatness, discussing his military service and how it inspired him to start his nonprofit organizations. After 4 years of existence, Veterans Campaign, in 2014, has become a prominent catapult in helping Veterans fulfill their call to service in political office.
The death of Davis’s husband to a roadside bomb in 2007 led her to create the American Widow Project. The American Widow Project is a non-profit organization providing peer-to-peer support to a new generation of military widows grieving the loss of spouses in the United States Armed Forces.
After her husband’s death, Taryn began traveling around the country to hear other women’s stories of love, tragedy and survival. In hearing their accounts, she hoped to learn more about the title that been had given to her – that of a military widow. Inspired by the willpower and strength of the women “in her shoes” she has found that true love is eternal, that the lessons and things her husband said and did still runs through her veins, and mostly that she is not alone.
Chris Brown has been taking the farming world by storm. What launched as an idea among fellow veterans to learn more about farming, nutrition, and the chemicals that pervade our food supply, Mr. Brown has successfully turned into this group of veterans that are determined to help their fellow vets experience a positive transition. Growing Veterans, moving into its second year, is looking to empower military veterans to grow food, communities, and the relationships with each other. Their organization is part educational, part community, and part agricultural movement. We are looking forward to eating the outcome!
Dog Tag Bakery is a small business run by veterans. Father Curry founded Dog Tag Bakery as a training ground for veterans, giving them a hands-on experience with the tools and resources needed for operating and managing a business. This unique business model has partnered with Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies to offer training offers courses specific to participating veterans’ goals including: accounting, management, communication, corporate finance, marketing, and business policy. The storefront includes a state of the art bakery and kitchen, as well as classroom space to ensure that veterans learn about every aspect of owning and operating a successful business.
Wounded Warrior Project continues to make an impact in a growing number of projects and events that benefit veterans. One thing is for certain – Wounded Warrior Project knows what the broader community of veterans wants and needs, and has created overarching and long-term strategies to achieve their goals and benefit the veteran community. Wounded Warrior Project offers a number of programs focused at assisting veterans, as well as advocating for veterans’ issues to Congress and the Administration. Mr. Nardizzi helped found the Wounded Warrior Project in 2003. If the past is any indicator, expect to see more dynamic partnerships and effective programming in 2015.
Non-Profit Traditional Category
This category honors some of the longest standing, non-profit supporters of the veteran community. The continuously show dedicated and committed efforts to bring veteran and service members’ interests to the forefront of national dialogue, which has made them highly influential and powerful forces in enhancing veterans’ needs. The individuals listed below represent the leadership of these organizations, those who reinstated the commitment to veterans in 2014, and who ensured that the veterans’ issues remained prevalent in public discourse.
The American Legion and Verna Jones, quickly found themselves among veteran and public conversations during the VA Healthcare Scandal. The Legion was the first traditional Veteran Service Organization to call for the resignation of highly respected Secretary Shinseki. Ms. Jones was called upon to organize Veteran Crisis Command Centers in Phoenix and numerous other cities to assist veterans in receiving healthcare, benefits, and other services. In November, Ms. Jones was appointed to become the first African-American female Executive Director of the American Legion.
Garry Augustine survived a severe injury sustained by a mine attack in 1970. Since then he has dedicated himself to assisting veterans in numerous capacities. As the Executive Director of the DAV, Mr. Augustine is one of the most respected voices on Capitol Hill. Under his leadership, the DAV has earned a reputation of being approachable, pragmatic, and knowledgeable.
In 2014, he and his team led the way on advance appropriations to ensuring that the VA was properly funded. He also worked tirelessly to get more funding in light of the VA healthcare scandal, and in looking to create a fully developed appeals process.
Paul Rieckhoff continues to dominate the airwaves as the “go-to” expert for a number of veteran related topics of the day. In 2014, his team was oriented towards highlighting mental healthcare issues via the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, which aims to help reduce military and veteran suicides and improve access to quality mental health care.
Through Rieckhoff’s efforts, his organization has a sizable team of lobbyists and advocates in Washington, D.C. that continue to focus on finding government solutions to the many challenges faced by America’s veterans.
With 13 years as the Executive Director of the VFW, Wallace is easily the longest tenured Executive Director of the “big three” veteran service organizations: DAV, Legion, VFW. As a combat wounded Vietnam Veteran, Wallace is well known and respected on Capitol Hill, and among the veteran community.
In 2014, his team was largely focused on the challenges presented by the VA scandal that broke in May 2014, as well as on receiving advance appropriations for all VA funded programs to continue improvements to VA claims and appeals processes.
Admiral Ryan’s actions continue to lead MOAA to higher plateaus. Largely respected as one of the top military service organizations (MSO), MOAA continues to build its impact and image under Ryan’s leadership. In 2014, MOAA announced that they would take on assisting veterans with their disability benefits. Additionally, they continue to play a key role in the fight to maintain service members’ benefits and pay.
Expect to see Admiral Ryan leading the way in the discussions surrounding the morale and readiness of the uniformed services in 2015, the need for increased pay, the quality and accessibility of healthcare for veterans, and the maintenance of benefits for service members, veterans, and their families.
In 2014, these Representatives were at the front and center on veterans’ issues, or were dynamic veterans themselves. During challenging times at VA, and with more than 10 years in war, these members are on the leading edge of the policies that affect our nation’s service members and veterans.
As Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Miller took VA leadership to task as news broke that the Phoenix VA Medical Center had been inappropriately reporting wait times for veteran’s medical appointments. Additionally, Miller played a key role in legislation aimed at ensuring that veterans receive timely healthcare, which included increased funding for VA clinical space, the hiring of physicians and healthcare employees, and the ability to utilize private healthcare in the event that VA is unable to provide services in a timely manner.
United States Representative Jeff Miller also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is a former Florida State Representative who attended the University of Florida. Naval Air Station Pensacola is located in his district. He was a strong supporter and proponent of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.
Congressman Thompson, a Vietnam Veteran turned vintner, is Co-Chair of the Veterans Congressional Fellowship Caucus. In 2014, Thompson took point with the congressional body for failing to hire veterans. In reaction to the less than 3% of veterans working on Capitol Hill, a number worse than nearly every federal agency, he and Rep. Don Young established the Veterans Congressional Fellowship. The fellowship provides an initial opportunity and training for veterans to get their foot in the door in the Capitol Hill career track. In the summer of 2014, the fellowship hosted the first eight veteran fellows, across numerous offices on both sides of the aisle. The Veterans Congressional Fellowship is expected to host two classes of fellows in 2015. Additionally, Representative Thompson continues to fight for his local veterans leading the way on bringing positive change to the Oakland VA Regional Office; one of the worst in the nation. He has also been a strong proponent of Post 9/11 G.I Bill, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and TBI/PTSD issues.
In 1990, Thompson was the first Vietnam veteran elected to the California State Senate. He served in combat with the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant/platoon leader with the 173rd Airborne Brigade where he was wounded and received a Purple Heart. He was also an instructor at the Army’s Airborne School.
Thompson is a small vineyard owner and was the maintenance supervisor for the Beringer Winery. He has taught Public Administration and State Government at San Francisco State University and California State University, Chico. He received his Masters of Public Administration from California State University, Chico.
Congressman Don Young is the second longest tenured veteran in Congress, second only to Charlie Rangel. Rep. Young is the co-founder of the Veterans Congressional Fellowship Caucus. In 2014, Young took point with the congressional body for failing to hire veterans. In reaction to the less than 3% of veterans working on Capitol Hill, a number worse than nearly every federal agency, he and Representative Mike Thompson, established the Veterans Congressional Fellowship. The fellowship provides an initial opportunity and training for veterans to get their foot in the Capitol Hill career track. In the summer of 2014, the fellowship hosted the first eight veteran fellows, across numerous offices on both side of the aisle. The fellows received extensive legislative and on job training. The Veterans Congressional Fellowship is expected to host two classes of fellows in 2015.
Congressman Don Young was re-elected to the 114th Congress in 2014 to serve his 22nd term as Alaska’s only Representative to the United States House of Representatives. First sworn in as a freshman to the 93rd Congress after winning a special election on March 6, 1973, Congressman Young is today the 1st ranking Republican member and the 3rd ranking overall member of the House of Representatives.
In 2014, McKeon chaired the powerful House Armed Services Committee during continued operations in the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and other contingencies across the world. Under his leadership the House renamed the FY2015 NDAA to the Buck McKeon Act that would authorize $600 billion in appropriations. The bill successfully kept the Air Force’s fleet of A-10’s in operation despite best efforts to retire them to save operational funds.
McKeon, a graduate of BYU, retired at the end of the 113th Congress. We suspect he will be spending a great deal of time with his 31 grandchildren.
Representative Titus actions led to the most controversial Veterans Affairs Committee vote in the 113th Congress. In a Full Committee mark-up she offered legislation that would allow same sex married couples to receive benefits and healthcare from VA. The vote was split on party lines with one Republican voting in favor of the measure. Additionally, she has focused on reducing the claims and appeals backlog, increasing veteran access to National Cemeteries in states that don’t have them, and increasing GI Bill benefits for those pursuing STEM degrees.
Titus, a Georgia native of Greek descent, first came to Nevada as professor of political science at UNLV. She also served in the Nevada Senate.
In 2014, these U.S. Senators were at the front and center on veterans’ issues, or were dynamic veterans themselves. During challenging times at VA, and with more than 10 years in war, these members are on the leading edge of the policies that affect our nation’s service members and veterans.
A 2015 dark horse, Cotton had fellow OIF veterans shaking our head in amazement that he had pulled off the win. Cotton enters the 114th Congress as the first Senator to be an OIF generation combat veteran. At 37 he is also the youngest Senator. He continues to employ veterans at a high rate, realizing the leadership skills they bring and that likely contributed to his being the youngest Senate member on Capitol Hill…take note Congress!
An OIF/OEF vet, Cotton attended Harvard (B.A. and J.D.) and was a platoon leader for the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star.
Senator John McCain continues to offer his own brand of foreign policy and national security. With nearly 33 years of congressional experience in the House and Senate, and a few presidential runs under his belt, McCain continues to be a “go to” for the press on issues such as ISIS, Afghanistan, and other National Security focused issues. He holds the record for Meet the Press appearances for an individual in office.
McCain, a former U.S. Naval aviator who attained the rank of Captain, was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He was a POW in the notorious Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years prior to his release. He is highly respected and is a recipient of the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and the Navy Commendation Medal.
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sanders found himself as the gatekeeper between law affecting the Department of Veterans Affairs and a Republican controlled house. As the VA scandals in Phoenix reached the level of a national crisis, Sander’s found himself looking for pragmatic middle-ground as both the public and the nation’s veterans called for immediate action. Sanders played a key role in legislation aimed at ensuring that veterans receive timely healthcare, which included increased funding for VA clinical space, the hiring of physicians and healthcare employees, and the ability to utilize private healthcare in the event that VA is unable to provide services in a timely manner.
Senator Levin has served as Democratic ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee since 1997, and served as Chairman during the 113th Congress. After his 6th term representing Michigan as the state’s longest serving Senator, Levin delivered his farewell address on Dec. 12, 2014, and leaves behind a truly bipartisan legacy. His time in the Senate was addressed with accolades by numerous members from across the aisle such as, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaking about Levin. “He’s put the country ahead of any partisan politics….working with him on detainees, investigating Abu Ghraib. He has just been a rock-solid chairman of the Armed Services Committee.”
Senator Burr currently serves the state of North Carolina in his 2nd Senate term as Chairman of Senate Intelligence Committee. Prior to being elected to the Senate, he served North Carolina through five terms in the House. His advocacy for our men and women in the military and their families, and for the growing population of veterans across North Carolina, has earned him a seat on the West Point Board of Visitors.
He carries a great American legacy with him as 12th cousin of Aaron Burr, the former Vice-President, Senator, lawyer, and Continental Army officer known most for defeating Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in an 1804 duel.
Small and Mid-Size Businesses
The veteran community has only grown stronger with the development and progress of these businesses. These small and mid-size businesses are either founded by veterans, or founded with veterans in mind, and they offer insight into the leadership and entrepreneurial talent that exists within the veteran community. As these individual businesses continue to grow, it will mean more opportunities for veterans and supporters to establish themselves within the local community as successful business men and women.
Ms. Halfaker continues to take the world by storm. “Have a vision. Follow your passion. The money will come,” she says. A West Point Grad, she is the founder and CEO of Halfaker and Associates, a successful, award winning professional services and technology solutions firm founded in 2006. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Halfaker and Associates operates worldwide providing cutting-edge, innovative solutions in information technology for government organizations on issues of national and global significance. Under Dawn’s leadership, the Company has achieved extraordinary success and growth and which is fueled by the Company’s vision of “Continuing to Serve.” She is also a Board Member of the Wounded Warrior Project.
As the spokesman of NAVOBA (National Veteran Owned Business Association), Robert “Rocky” Bleier, CEO of Rocky Bleier, Inc. is an accomplished Veteran, who began his service when he was drafted for the Vietnam War. He was awarded a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his military service. He moved on to be an extremely successful athlete, mentor and businessman. He is a four-time Super Bowl winner with the Steelers in the 1970s.
Bleier found his calling through motivational speaking. His focus has been to communicate to the broader veteran community, ensuring that veterans understand the importance of sharing and spreading their individual stories and experiences. He is a managing partner of RBVetCo., which works on various VA contracts.
When two Army veterans team up, watch out. RideScout originated from imagine this….DC traffic! The idea: what is the quickest way to get from point A to point B utilizing real time data on various available transportation options? Their revolutionary (and genius) tool allows people to search and compare various ground transportation options in real time. RideScout shows a user’s transit, taxi, ride share, car share, bike share, carpool, walking, biking, driving and parking in one view, with transit arrivals and traffic integration.
Word on the street is that they have struck a deal and have or are selling the company to a higher bidder. We will be keeping an eye on these Army Vets and imagine they have more to come!
Top Lobbyist and Influencers Category
The job of lobbying for veterans’ interests brings a diverse selection of individuals for this category. The range of veteran and service member issues is wide and offers a number of perspectives when trying to understand the most relevant problems for multiple generations of veterans. From Vietnam to the most recent Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the individuals listed below represent the most impactful lobbyists and influencers from 2014, those that worked relentlessly to bring positive change to the veteran community.
Rick Weidman continues to be one of the most respected veteran advocates on Capitol Hill. As a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and its primary spokesperson in Washington, D.C., Mr. Weidman has long advocated for a host of issues for veterans across the board to include Agent Orange, access to quality mental health care, and employment and small business issues. His efforts have resulted in significant positive results for veterans over numerous decades. Weidman served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.
Joe Violante, a Vietnam veteran, was appointed National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in July 1997. Since that time Mr. Violante has become one of the most respected veteran advocates on Capitol Hill. He leads a pragmatic, solution-oriented team and has gone after many tough issues. His team continues to lead the way on advance appropriations to ensure that the VA is properly funded.
A New Jersey native, Mr. Violante joined the Marine Corps in 1969 and served with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and Battalion Landing Team 2/4 in Southeast Asia. He was discharged in 1972 with the rank of Sergeant. He attended the University of New Mexico, received a Bachelor’s degree in history and political science, and earned his law degree from the San Fernando Valley College of Law in California. Mr. Violante was a practicing attorney in California before moving to Washington D.C. to work as a Staff Attorney at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 1985.
Alexander Nicholson serves as the Legislative Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). In a short period of time, Nicholson has quickly established himself as one of the leading veteran advocates on Capitol Hill. Armed with IAVA’s strong media presence and strategy, Alex has reinvigorated positive relationships with lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill in an effort to garner positive outcomes on behalf of veterans.
In 2014, his efforts largely focused on introduction and passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act that aims to help reduce military and veteran suicides and improve access to quality mental health care. Prior to joining IAVA, Mr. Nicholson founded and led the advocacy group Servicemembers United.
Mr. Nicholson holds a Bachelors degree in international affairs from the University of South Carolina, a Masters degree in public administration from the University of North Georgia, and is currently completing the dissertation on his Ph.D. in political science from the University of South Carolina.
As the Vice President of Government Affairs for SVA, Will Hubbard has led the way on veterans’ educational issues on Capitol Hill. With an increased number of veterans departing the military and looking to use their educational benefits, SVA’s role has grown across the nation.
Previously, Will spent several years serving government agencies to include the Department of the Navy, Department of State, and the State of Indiana Department of Revenue. Prior to his career in consulting, he co-founded a successful startup business in the snack food industry, which continues to prosper in the greater Chicago area. He has served SVA at both the chapter and national levels.
In 2014, Mr. Kelley led the way on Capitol Hill for America’s oldest major Veteran Service Organization – the VFW. He and his team focused on veteran’s issues across all sectors, but were particularly focused on healthcare in light of the recent Phoenix scandal. He also played a critical role in the creation of the Independent Budget, which is intended to inform and educate the public and lawmakers about the most pressing issues affecting VA and veterans.
Formerly the National Legislative Director for AMVETS, Kelley’s credentials as an advocate for America’s veterans are well established. Prior to that, he served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon receiving his Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Indiana University, East, Kelley served for three years in the Army Reserve where he conducted over 250 combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
Bhagwati continues to lead the way on Military Sexual Trauma (MST) reform on Capitol Hill. MST, which has seen continued interest in the media and public, was a large topic of debate in the 113th Congress. Bhagwati was the lead advocate on numerous pieces of legislation that would increase benefits for veterans who have been the victims of MST, while pushing DoD to reform policies to prevent sexual assault in the military and punish those that partake in assaults.
A former Captain and Company Commander, Anu served as a Marine officer from 1999-2004 and was the second woman to complete the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor trainer school, earning a black belt in close combat techniques. A regular contributor to the media, Anu has been featured on Piers Morgan Tonight, The Situation Room, Fox News, MSNBC, CBS This Morning, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, NPR, BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek and is also featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary The Invisible War.
Veteran Foundations Category
The individuals in this category have led the charge in promoting veteran-specific initiatives and providing support and funding to improve the quality of veteran and military service members’ lives. These organizations are dedicated to ensuring that the valor and sacrifices made by the men and women in our military are recognized and honored. These foundations’ efforts have worked to bring a number of benefits to veterans, and their commitment to these efforts has increased the overall strength of the veteran and supporter community.
Bob and Lee Woodruff continue to impact the veteran community with their great deeds. Emphasizing rehabilitation and recovery, education and employment, and quality of life, the foundation has provided millions of dollars to entities that are fulfilling these outcomes on behalf of veterans.
In 2014 the foundation provided funds to help veterans to transition into farming, to educating nurses that assist veterans, and to provide programs that reintegrate veterans through a number of physical activities. In 2006, Bob Woodruff was seriously injured by a roadside bomb while reporting for ABC. Since then, he has become a huge advocate on behalf of veterans, service members and those that support them.
Lee Woodruff, as the wife of Bob, has been by his side throughout his recovery. This tragedy that she detailed in her book In an Instant has been the spark that has led to a huge amount of goodwill and assistance to those that serve our Nation.
The number of Tillman Foundation scholars continues to rise, and their accomplishments do not fail to amaze both the veteran community and its supporters. Founded following the death of Pat Tillman, the foundation has changed over the years into an entity that assists veterans in realizing their dreams through educational scholarships.
Marie Tillman has led the way in turning tragedy into a legacy, one that continues to honor Pat’s life, as well as honoring Marie as a survivor, who has found an impactful purpose in enriching the lives of veterans through education.
Ken Fisher continues his family tradition of providing an amazing “home away from home” when veterans and service members are receiving treatment at facilities across the nation. In 2014, sixty-four Fisher Houses served more than 25,000 families in 2014.
When he is not helping service members and their families, Kenneth Fisher is a senior partner at Fisher Brothers, based in New York City, and is part of the third generation of leadership, overseeing the leasing, management and marketing of more than five million square feet of class-A commercial space in Midtown Manhattan covering the Park, 6th and 3rd Avenue corridors and 1.5 million square feet in Washington DC.
A U.S. Navy veteran with a long lineage of military service, Focareto found inspiration in helping disabled veterans attend socially interactive events. In 2014, the Veterans Ticket Foundation gave away nearly a half-million tickets. Focareto views social events as a great way to bring veterans families together, while also allowing veterans to socially reintegrate.
HillVets is a bipartisan organization focused on empowering veterans through networking, education and community service. HillVets strives to increase the number of veterans working in government and in business in the Washington DC area. Through various initiatives and events HillVets works to promote and connect veterans to each other and to the broader community. Learn more at: www.HillVets.org.