VHA 2019 Votes – Veteran Hero Awards

Veteran Hero Awards Nominees

Vote today! Voting closes October 10th.

All Award Categories
Denise Chalnick-Marquez

Organization 4 Paws 4 Patriots

Position Master Trainer (Dogs)


Denise volunteers training for Veteran's and their dog to become a service dog team. The training takes one to two years to include tasking for dogs to assists veterans with PTSD and physical disabilities. It is such a blessing to veterans in need of a service dog.
Gary Chesterton

Organization Veterans Benefits Administration

Position Assistant Director


Gary was Assistant Director at the San Diego Regional office when I met him at Takano's Round Table for Veterans in Riverside one year. He offered his business card and offered support when needed for our Veterans. Before I could contact him he emailed me and extended that offer and that started a phenomenal working relationship to serve our veterans who are in crisis or end stages of life who need their benefits approved ASAP. I contacted Gary for homeless veterans, soon to be homeless veterans, a veteran with MST (military sexual trauma) who had finally after almost 40 years of the incident decided to file a claim after working with them for a year, veterans with only a month to live.....etc, etc, etc. Each time I contacted him he was so willing to assist each and every vet whether it be by delegating to staff in his office or providing me with a POC (point of contact) at the Los Angeles regional office. I am so thankful to Gary and all he has done for the veterans I have encountered thru the years. Without Gary's assistance a Veteran and his family would have been homeless for the holidays, the MST survivor would have not pursued her claim, and so many other veterans would not have received the time sensitive assistance they needed.
James Combs

Organization Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Position Chairman, California


Brigadier General James Combs (U.S. Army - Ret) was sworn in as California ESGR State Chairman in October, 2015 and was named to the ESGR Board of Directors, Vice Chair for Strategic Planning in 2018. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is a Department of Defense program was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee's military commitment. Jim retired in 2009 from the Army after 42 years in uniform. He is a veteran of both Vietnam and Enduring Freedom campaigns. His capstone assignments included commanding the California Army National Guard, while deploying over six thousand troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and command of the 40th Infantry Division which deployed over two brigades under their oversight. Jim has also served as Marketing Director for BaleySuit Inc. while serving in the California National Guard. Jim has worked closely with California’s ESGR team while facilitating the Army’s force generation cycle. Jim supports many veteran oriented nonprofits since his retirement including his current post as President of the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Association of the United States Army.
The Mission Continues

Organization The Mission Continues

Position N/A


The Mission Continues is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit that empowers veterans to continue their service, and empowers communities with veteran talent, skills and preparedness to generate visible impact. Veterans possess the drive and desire to serve others, but without access to the tools needed, their potential to make meaningful impact at the local level remains untapped. On the other end of the spectrum growing numbers of communities in this country are under-resourced and being left behind. At The Mission Continues, we’re on a mission to connect veterans with under-resourced communities. Our programs in cities across the country deploy veteran volunteers alongside nonprofit partners and community leaders to improve educational resources, increase access to parks and green spaces, foster neighborhood identity, and more. Our vision is for all veterans with a desire to continue their service to be part of a movement to transform communities.
Cameron Cook

Organization California State University Fullerton

Position Director of Veteran Services


Cameron entered the role of Director of Veteran Services at the Veteran Resource Center at California State University, Fullerton in January of this year and his impact was felt immediately. Having come from the trenches of Veteran Services helping Veterans recover from substance abuse, find homes and jobs Cameron is no stranger to the front line fight for the betterment of Veterans' lives. This is apparent in his work at the university where he takes interest in the issues of Veterans far above and beyond the scope of his role. He has helped Veterans launch careers and navigate barriers to academic success, he has fought hard for policy changes that assist Veterans as they transition in, through, and out of the university, has helped the institution understand Veterans by leading training initiatives for staff and faculty, and served as a mediator in a number of cases where Veterans would have had no one in their corner had he not stepped in. Being a Veteran himself helps, but it's his strong devotion to caring for the Veteran community that drives him. Cameron is a stellar example of a Marine who exemplifies the teamate you would want in battle next to you, from his service in the military to his service in the community and now in his service at California State University, Fullerton.
Lou Correa

Organization US House of Representatives

Position Congressman


Congressman Lou Correa is tireless in serving our local veteran community, which he grew up in and has served for decades. Congressman Correa serves our nation’s veterans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He is proud of the bipartisan work he and his colleagues have done to protect our nation’s veterans. Congressman Correa supported new funding for the Veterans’ Choice Act and supported the new GI Bill, which will allow a new generation of veterans to seek higher education. A believer in holistic and compassionate care for underserved veterans in our community, Congressman Correa rallies with innovative partners for solutions to veteran homelessness and effective treatments for both visible and invisible wounds of war.
Lisa Costa

Organization Mental Health Association

Position VA Certified Peer Support Specialist/Veteran Liaison


Lisa works with the homeless population and veterans at the Mental Health Association. She also served in the military herself at some point in her life. She is a spectacular employee and great at what she does for the community. She deserves to be recognized. It is an honor to work with her.
Lisa Costa

Organization Mental Health Association of Orange County

Position Veteran Liaison


Lisa Costa has worked for the Mental Health Association of Orange County as our Veteran Liaison for over four years (with a brief break to take an office job). A veteran herself, Lisa experienced homelessness after returning to the United States from Germany, where she had been stationed. Through our Federal Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) grant in 2009, we were able to move Lisa into permanent housing. Lisa now devotes her life to serving unhoused veterans. Because of her own experience, Lisa is passionate about linking homeless veterans with services and moving them into permanent housing. Lisa spends her days out in the community engaging veterans, encouraging them to seek services, not only through the VA, but also through other social services agencies. She has developed relationships with many veteran-serving organizations in the community and she works closely with those organizations, such as Patriots and Paws and Battle Buddies (part of Volunteers of America), to secure the support she needs to move "her" vets off the streets into housing and help them become self-sufficient. Lisa has become an expert in the field and never stops wanting to learn more and to develop additional skills and certifications. In December 2018, Lisa completed intensive training through the Veterans Administration and is now a VA Certified Peer Support Specialist. Because of her own recovery experience, Lisa knows that she cannot enable "her" vets. Instead, she coaches and empowers, helping them find their own strength to overcome their circumstances and to seek recovery and self-sufficiency. She does, however, advocate for, and assist her clients when it comes time for them to move into housing. She often drives the agency's "box truck" to other organizations to pick up furniture and other housewares to outfit the veteran's new home. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of being honored with a Hero Award than U.S. Army Veteran now Veteran Liaison with MHA, Lisa Costa. She is a shining example of compassion for our forgotten service men and women struggling to stay alive on the streets of the United States. Lisa has found her passion...a deeply meaningful career making a difference in the lives of those who served our country and deserve our utmost respect and gratitude.
Ernest Cowell

Organization Los Angeles National Cemetery Support Foundation

Position President


He is the only Veteran from 3 (Three) Wars I ever met, and modest with it. He was 16, booths on the ground in "the Theater of the Pacific", then in the Navy for Korea & Vietnam. He also served the Ronald Reagan Sea Cadets Corp for 20 years. That was a 6 days a week and every second Sunday.job. Copied from the original in England, BUT in England they get paid for that job. The Kids from that program still stay in touch. He is still working for Veterans as President of the Los Angeles National Cemetery Foundation and as a Dept. of Defense volunteer with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in Southern California.
Roger Crockett

Organization Western Digital Corporation

Position Vice President, Human Resources, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion


Responsible for the enterprise's worldwide D&I strategy as well as program development and deployment, including programs for recruiting and retaining key talent, and strengthening leadership capabilities. Working across Western Digital's various business units to create an environment that embraces the many dimensions of diversity and fosters a genuine culture of inclusion.
William "Bill" Cunningham

Organization Building Emergency Response Teams (BERT)

Position CEO


William F. “Bill” Cunningham is the CEO & Developer, of BERT (Building Emergency Response Teams), a certified Disabled Veterans Business Enterprise (DVBE). Founded on 9/11/2008 BERT delivers and develops FEMA and OSHA Workplace Violence and other Mandates for Safety Teams internationally (Trains the Trainers). Before he was inspired to develop BERT, Bill had a satisfying 35 year career as a Nationally Certified Paralegal, working in litigation support and management. Before that, he launched his adult life adventure in the United States Coast Guard. He served as permanent crew aboard the USCG Barque Eagle, and has continued to enjoy the challenges of being a professional tall ship sailor. Bill has had a life-long passion for serving his country, community, and veterans’ organizations. He is currently the President of the Orange County Chapter of the US Veterans Business Alliance. He has also recently been a volunteer for the Veterans Outpost at the Orange County Rescue Mission, and is serving as a theological committee member of the Orange County Veterans Collaborative. Most recently, he is beginning a liaison position with the California State Military Reserve. In addition to his veterans work, Bill serves on the Board of Directors for Leadership Tomorrow OC and is active at his church which meets at the Newport Sea Base of the Boy Scouts of America. Bill lives with his wife, Holly, in Orange, California and enjoys being a dad to his grown children and granddad to his active grandchildren. Please accept this nomination in recognition of all of Bill's efforts - Respectfully, Brian Andersen, CEO, Telecomprehensive Solutions
Michael Davis

Organization Homeless Veterans Outreach Ministery

Position Founder


Richard Luisi is an Army veteran with multiple deployments to Iraq. Together with his wife, Kelly Luisi, they built a veterans non-profit that, in their first calendar year of operation, won the City of Oceanside's "Veteran Non-Profit of the year in 2018. In that year they got 50 veterans off the streets and into housing and a better life. I am one of their first rescues in Dec 2017. As I understand it, they are now well over 75 veterans saved. When Kelly found me I was in the middle of a suicide attempt. She had not yet dealt with someone suicidal, so it was a big test to her. She was very soothing and helpful. When all others turned me down for help she went right into action and ended up restoring my faith in humanity. This is a non-profit that means non-profit. No one in the organization takes a salary. Richard is a mortgage broker and supports Kelly and two older sons, one in real estate and one in college. All help out. This is one VSO that takes their role very seriously. Kelly's brother was in the army in Iraq and, at 23, was killed in action. She as a true hear to help, not profit. She is tireless in her efforts. I can see how this family is making a big dent in the homeless veteran population. 75 men and women that served our country are now safe and settled due to heir love and compassion. If any veteran deserves this recognition it is Richard Luisi and his wife Kelly. They are doing great things and leaving other VSOs in the dust. Due to the way they handled helping me, my faith is restored and I now volunteer to help them.