USJAG: We Do More Than Hand-Out Cards and Tee-Shirts
Colorado Springs, CO -- (ReleaseWire) -- 06/06/2016 --Non-Profits and Partnerships
As is the case with many newer and smaller non-profit organizations, the Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USJAG) has faced many challenges. For start-up veterans organizations the barriers to success are much higher than they are for non-profit organizations in other realms of social justice advocacy. First of all, there have been Chartered veterans service organizations listed as 501 (c) 3 entities since the First World War. There are 47 Congressionally-Chartered Veterans Service Organizations and a large number of Military and Veterans Associations. A wide variety of newer non-profit organizations have appeared in the wake of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The most successful of these organizations were founded and subsequently run by former military officers and they began with substantial financial backing. For former enlisted personnel dealing with readjustment or reintegration-related issues and competing for funding, recognition and building organizational infrastructure the hurdles are numerous and the barriers are substantial. If you are a start-up organization dealing with a specific set of issues that might be deemed in any way controversial the difficulties multiply exponentially. USJAG is a unique organization dealing with controversial and misunderstood issues.
"You're Doing Great Work, Thanks!"
USJAG faces a familiar dynamic for many who have worked in a smaller non-profit over the years: The organization deals with a specific issue-set that has not been well-understood by the general public or even those working in veterans and military affairs. Specifically, how do we help prevent the improper separation from military service for tens of thousands of soldiers who have served in our military during the course of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Let's examine the magnitude of the problem in the US Army during the period 2004-2011:
You may down-load the Excel spread-sheet with referenced data from USJAG's web-site, here:
Separations from service by discharge category 2004-2011
Or, you may access the document attached to this Press Release
Let those numbers and what they mean sink in for a bit. It is not, as many in military circles would have it, a case of a "few bad apples". On the contrary, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of soldiers who enlisted in the Army alone during the course of seven year's time! These soldiers become veterans–and they are not even recognized as such in a wide range of contexts, including the following by many Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and the Veterans Administration (VA). Not only are many of them ineligible for disability compensation–where warranted–or healthcare services, they are also disproportionately represented among veterans in prison and jail, among the homeless and in the contexts of divorce and suicide. Furthermore, they face nearly insurmountable barriers to employment. Despite a copious body of research on all of this within specific sub-populations by issue are, we pretend they don't exist.
The Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USJAG) takes a bite out of part of this enormous apple: The organization, in the main, serves those soldiers facing improper separation from service in those cases where active duty personnel have served in combat and their diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or other combat-related mental or physical injuries have provided the impetus for interaction with civilian and military justice systems. A "few bad apples", really? Most of the soldiers we have served have served multiple combat tours–as many as 12. Many were decorated for their service and many served in special operations units such as Rangers, Special Forces and the 101st Airborne Division. These men and women are not bad apples, they are broken heroes who fought long and hard and were kicked to the curb when they finally broke. For a cross-section of those we serve, merely read the stories in our News section and decide for yourselves.
Maligned by many, misunderstood by most, USJAG has done what no other organization has done–it has served hundreds of wounded warriors and their families when no one else would and the organization has done so on its own dime and own time. You think there are other organizations who do this? Think again.
The title of this sub-section repeats a refrain that the organization has heard repeatedly over the course of years: "You're doing great work, thanks!" We've heard it from a wide range of stake-holders, but you can't run an organization on well wishes and fine sentiments.
A David vs. Goliath Scenario and Gaining Traction
Armed with fine sentiments and well wishes, the organization finally obtained its 501 (c) 3 IRS Determination letter late in 2015, with formal recognition dating from 2013. Enjoying the support of the support of the hundreds of veterans they had helped and substantial national media coverage, the organization continued to serve wounded warriors with a bank account balance sufficient for a shopping excursion at a neighborhood supermarket and not much more. The time had arrived to ask, "do we give up or continue to soldier on?"
In 2015 the organization added Guy Gambill to the mix. An Army veteran with 30 years experience and a Senior Justice Fellow with the Open Society Institute (OSI), he began to work with the organization on the building of some basic infrastructure. Making opening forays into the philanthropic sector, the organization began to obtain some donations, including from the Sturm Family Foundation in December, 2015.
Employed by the law firm Collins & Collins, P.C. located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gambill began a fruitful working relationship with one of the firm's founding partners, Parrish Collins. Mr. Collins had done a great deal of pro-bono work for homeless veterans in New Mexico. In 2015 he began working with Gambill and USJAG founding members Georg-Andreas Pogany and Robert Alvarez, and the relationship has proven very fruitful.
A very deliberate examination of USJAG's organizational needs was undertaken, among them the following;
I. Web-Presence and the organization's web-site as an effective platform for action.
III. Partnership building
At the beginning of 2016 USJAG's web-site was barely visible on the world-wide web and lacking any ranking in the United States. The organization had one back-link and less than 50 visitors per month. We live in a digital world and having a web-site no one visits is basically a death-knell for any organization. Constructing an effective web-platform to shout from was a barrier to overcome. Working closely with CueOps, an Albquerque-based web-development company, the organization launched a new web-site in the Spring of 2016 and has subsequently enjoyed a greatly heightened web-presence.
A First Fund-Raiser in Albuquerque, New Mexico-May 24, 2016
Having constructed and fielded an effective web-platform and achieved an unquestionable web-presence, the organization embarked upon solving its next challenge: obtaining funding so that it can continue to do the work it is doing and, hopefully, expand the numbers of soldiers and veterans it serves.
A group of businessmen in Albuquerque began meeting in 2015 with the intent of assisting the organization in its fund-raising efforts, the core group consisted of Mr. Collins, Marc Powell of Recarnation, Jim Rogers of Sunland Development and Jay Zanios of Zanios Autos. The group planned and held a fund-raising event which took-place at the Albuquerque Country Club, May 24. 2016
The music was provided by the New Mexico Mariachi Spectacular and also featured Flamenco dancers, lending a decidedly New Mexican flavor to the event. The proceeds from the event provided a welcome influx of funds, allowing the organization to regroup and continue its work. As this was the first fund-raiser for the organization, it also provided a learning experience. To underscore the importance of the organization's advocacy on behalf of soldiers who have served in our Armed Forces, the case of multiple tour combat veteran SSG Cory Griffin was playing out during the week of the event and on May 26, 2016 he received an eight year prison sentence in Colorado Springs.
Moving Forward, Partnerships and Next Steps
Coming out of the Albuquerque event and having learned some valuable lessons, as well as, some new partnerships the organization has undertaken next steps, including a D-Day effort for June 6th with well-known crowd-funding organization, Crowdster. Having produced Strategic and Business Plans, registered with all major Charity Watch Organizations and successfully garnering a listing in the National Resource Directory USJAG is poised to embark upon the next steps to ensure its continuing success in service to soldiers, veterans and their families.
We look forward to the challenges ahead and extend our heartfelt gratitude to all those responsible for the orchestration of the first USJAG fund-raiser in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the near term we will be adding both a testimonials page to our web-site, as well as, a tool-box for use to Host an Event for the Uniformed Services Justice & Advocacy Group (USAJAG). Again, special thanks to Parrish Collins and the folks at CueOps for their contributions to the vital work we do.