VHA 2020 Finalists – Veteran Hero Awards

CONGRATULATIONS 2020 FINALISTS!

Veteran Advocate/Case Manager/Social Worker or Caregiver

Someone who advocates for Veterans, Veteran issues, in their personal life, career, or transiting from Military to civilian life. Social Worker and/or Case Manager who goes above and beyond for the Veterans they serve Family Member/Spouse/CNA/LVN etc. who cares for a Veteran.

Apolonio "Apple" E. Muñoz III

Organization National Veterans Foundation

Position Community Outreach Coordinator

Story

Apolonio “Apple” E. Muñoz III CPSS, a disabled US Army Combat Veteran with one tour in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003. Apple as he is known by many, has been linked to the Veteran Community throughout Southern California since 2008, shortly after moving to the area from South Texas where he was born and raised. He is an openly gay Veteran (honorably discharged in 2004 under DADT) and has dedicated most of his adult life to being a peer advocate for All of his fellow Brothers and Sisters in Arms. Apple’s day job consists of directing the Outreach Program with the National Veterans Foundation (NVF), as their Community Outreach Coordinator. In this role he is the public face of the NVF’s Outreach efforts throughout Southern California. In addition to providing services and information on our “Lifeline for Vets” crisis hotline, Apple you can be found representing the NVF at various Stand Downs & Veteran Job & Resource Fairs throughout Southern California, as well as meeting with various public officials as he works to combat Veteran Homelessness. In September 2017, Apple was appointed to the Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) representing the Service Planning Area 7 communities (where he lives) as well as the Veterans & LGBT sub-populations county-wide. Through the LEAB he has the ear of the policy makers, sharing first-hand experience and knowledge on what it is like to be homeless in Los Angeles. Some of the work he has done is advise the City and County of LA on how to align their current programs & services with thew needs of the community, he was recently interviewed to be featured in LAHSA’s revamped DV training for new & current service providers. Apple is a Licensed Life & Health Insurance Agent contracted with several reputable providers (part-time), a Certified Veteran Peer Support Specialist, an ASIST Certified Suicide Prevention Specialist, a VA Certified Community Integration Specialist, and is also certified in Mental Health First Aid. He has also received numerous recognitions from local non-profits, the State of California, LA County, and the US Congress for his advocacy and work with the LGBT & Veteran Communities. But that is not all: he’s a volunteer, advisor and board member with several local, regional and national LGBT and Veteran non-profits.
Charles Henry

Organization Jacqueline Smith Foundation

Position Director of Military Outreach

Story

Charles Mario Henry Sr, is a medically retired combat veteran who is also runs a financial consulting business he founded in 2012 after medical retirement. He is a father of three and continued on serving the city of San Antonio and state of Texas as a veterans advocate as well. He mentors transitioning veterans in business start up and assisting them with services and resources after their transition from military. From 2011 to present he served on many boards and served over 1500 veterans himself with his own funding before accepting position as Director of Military Outreach in San Antonio Texas in 2020 and board of directors with the Jacquilene smith foundation, a nonprofit organization serving active duty and veterans as well as their families. Charles is truly remarkable and travels the globe serving communities in need. His work is well documented and he believes in life of service. Charles doesn’t do it for the accolades he is a servant leader and community leader as well as business leader globally. Charles was selected for prestigious service leadership corp of mission continues where the top 70 veterans in the nation traveled and served different communities in asset based leadership in 2020. During COVID19 Charles ventured into PPE and supplied the city and schools with mask, equipment and sanitizers in early stages when no supplies were available. He has donated over 1 million to the community since 2012 and continues to serve and be a role model for every veteran in highlighting what you can achieve after military service. Charles after he goes through each program with wounded warrior project as alumni he then advocates for other veterans to utilize their service as first hand experience of these programs. Charles was also selected for Storm the hill in Washington DC for veterans legislation and lobbying work for veterans throughout the nation. Charles also was selected to Aipac for veterans outreach between American veterans and Israel. He truly deserves to be recognized for his hard work and continuous dedication to serving military families, active duty and disabled veterans when they return home not only to texas but throughout the nation in many states he travels to on his own dime to help veterans in California, Michigan, Illinois, Washington DC, South Carolina, Georgia, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and many others. This is only a tip of the ice berg of what Charles has done and continues to do for the nation. The categories he fits into are many as veteran owners, veterans advocate, veterans non profit, veterans mentor and veterans volunteer. He literally fits all 5 of those categories.
Jesus LozaCruz

Organization Orange County Rescue Mission

Position Recruits veterans, families, and others living on the streets and under bridges to come into the Orange County Rescue Mission two year program to restart their lives.

Story

I regularly serve and minister to the staff at Orange County Rescue Mission. I met Jesus some years ago in this capacity. He has seem extensive combat in his military service and suffers from PTSD as a result. Yet daily he goes into the places where homeless veterans and sometimes with their families to offer them a chance at a better life. Daily he puts his life in danger in these places to help fellow veterans. On one occasion the local police were getting the homeless out of a deserted former military building that the homeless had taken over.. one came out shooting and was shot by the police beside Jesus. This triggered Jesus into PTSD big time. I helped him work through this episode and he was soon back on the street reaching out to veterans with the same determination and not thinking of his own safety just as he did in the firefights of combat. I also am a veteran and he shows the same spirit as in war but this wR is for the lives of homeless veterans. Provided by Dr. Harold Rhoades, Psychologist
Erika McInnis

Organization Community Career Development, Inc.

Position Business Development Associate

Story

Erika Mc Innis is a US Army Reservist who dedicates her Civilian life to Veteran Services. Erika is the Lead Business Development Associate for the Veteran Employment Related Assistance Program. She seamlessly assists veterans with securing employment and breaking the barriers to employment. Barriers to employment include Homelessness, Mental Illness, Legal System Navigation, and anything else a Veteran may need, Erika is also the Lead Business Development Associate for the California Community Reinvestment Program. Linking Veterans & the re-entry Population with Employment Services, Life Coaching, and Financial Coaching Referrals. Erika works hard to serve those who have served before her. She has been serving in the United States Army Reserve for a total of 6 years and counting. She is an officer at the South Gate American Legion Post 335. She serves as the Historian on the board of officers. She is currently taking classes to become a Peer Support Specialist so she can better serve the Veterans on her case load. Erika always serves her Veterans with a smile and treats them like they're human not just another number on her case load. Erika Mc Innis is the definition of a Veteran Advocate.
Jade Smith

Organization Orange County Goodwill Tierney Center

Position Outreach Supervisor

Story

Jade has been working in the Orange County community for over 20 years and has been directly working with active duty and veterans for the last 5 years. She is currently the Supervisor of Outreach Services at the Orange County Goodwill Tierney Center for Veterans working with our veterans in Tustin, CA. She is currently the Co-chair for the Orange County Military and Families Collaboration Housing Working Group. With 15 years’ experience working within the homeless provider community she brings support to this instrumental group in working with agencies, coordinated entry system and the Veteran’s Affairs in housing veterans/families. As the granddaughter of a WWII Marine, she is passionate about going above and beyond to assist our veteran clients with case managing, emergency assistance, linkage referrals, housing and incarcerated veterans in the HUMV program in the OC Jail. She not only pushes to support veterans, but also their spouses and children who need help for advocating during stressful times.

Veteran Business Owner/Entrepreneur

Veteran business owners/entrepreneurs in any industry.

Roberto Arnold

Organization Alpha Prime Consulting LLC

Position Founder

Story

Roberto is a US Army Veteran, He served for over 15 years in which he was able to travel the world multiple times to include Iraq and Afghanistan. Roberto is the Founder of Alpha Prime Consulting, a firm that focuses on helping small businesses in the development of their company from inception to growth with an emphasizes of educating business owners in infrastructure, leadership, management and governess. He is the Co-Founder and Chief of Operations of Imperio Technologies, a firm that specializes in Business development. Imperio focuses on helping small businesses that are starting up, struggling, and seeking growth with their executive leadership- all through the power of Artificial Intelligence. He is continuing his education with the University of La Verne with a Focus on Business Management. He graduated from Westwood college with an AA in Criminal Justice and BAS in Business Management. He completed a cohort with University of John F. Kennedy in Chamber of Commerce Leadership sponsored by the CA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. His affiliations with chambers of commerce range from local across southern California, as well as National such as US Veterans Chamber of Commerce. Roberto continues to contribute as a Vetreprenuer in the community helping Veterans launch their businesses and mentors them as well. He serves as the Commander of Post 30 American Legion in Pomona, CA. He is the current Director of Veterans Affairs with Casa De Adelanto Initiative to help veterans in need ranging from homelessness, disabilities, career enhancement, peer counseling, and entrepreneurship.
Kerri Jeter

Organization Freedom Sisters

Position Founder, CEO

Story

My wife started Freedom Sisters to share women Veteran Stories. It started as a podcast and has quickly grown and evolved to more. In her first year, she already has diversified her platform with a live event and will launch an Magazine App that is interactive and innovative to amplify more women Veterans. As she has continued to sit down week after week to share some really incredible stories of women from all branches and all eras of service, maintain a full-time job and still find time for our family, she has gone above and beyond to ensure the success and the healing of her sisters-in-service. I am proud to see her walk out her higher purpose, help the Woman Veteran Community, and do it all with minimal resources and still find time to thrive. Her creativity is endless and her compassion is contagious. She has helped other organizations and even found time to help host multiple rallies for the #iamvanessaguillenact. She has donated her talents for the cause. The thing I am most impressed with is that others believe in her visions as well, she did a call for writers and had over 30 women Veterans interested in being contributing writers and trust my wife to lead them well. I know she will and I know the Woman Veteran Community will start being heard in new ways as a result of her efforts, vision and relentless drive. Thank you for your consideration. Marcellus Jeter Retired Master Sergeant, US Army.
Shad Meshad

Organization National Veterans Foundation

Position CEO

Story

Shad started the first 100 vet centers across the nation. His foundation has been around for 35 years. He has taken me into his family and allowed be to develope and discover and become all that I can be.
Manny Montanez

Organization EG Montanez Construction, Inc

Position RMO/President/CEO

Story

I met Manny Montanez in 2018 through the US Veterans Business Alliance, where we both served on the Board of Directors. He is a decorated Vietnam Veteran, dedicated husband, father, Catholic, and veteran advocate. He most recently led the way for the County of Orange's approval of the Veteran Employment Preference Program, as well as approval of the Disabled Veterans Business Enterprise (DVBE) Program. He continues to lead in mentoring veteran entrepreneurs to success. Manny Montanez, President and CEO of EG Montanez Construction, Inc., based in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., is a commercial and industrial general contractor, who focusses on delivering quality general contracting services to the federal government, military installations, universities, and public works agencies throughout California. Construction services include general contracting, HVAC, roofing, site concrete, construction management, tenant improvements, and modernization and site development. Recent projects completed by EG Montanez Construction, Inc. include laboratory renovation and flooring installation at VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, student housing renovation at California State University, Northridge, and roof installation for Southern California Edison. Born in Billings, Mont., and growing up in a construction family, Montanez always dreamed of running his own construction business. But, as often is the case, life got in the way ... at least for a while. After his first year of college and at the height of the Vietnam War, Montanez enlisted in the United States Army. Graduating as Staff Sergeant from the Armor Non-Commissioned Officers Academy he received orders for Vietnam where he was a Tank Commander, Tank Section Leader assigned to Alpha Troop's 1'1 Platoon, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Montanez was severely wounded in combat operations near the Cambodian border on 8 January 1969. Montanez was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart, but it would be over a year before he could walk again. After his recovery, but still physically limited, Montanez went back to college at the University of Denver for under-graduate and Columbia for graduate school, where he studied business and finance. Montanez's career path took him into the banking/ corporate finance focused on capital equipment and business aircraft financing/leasing. He spent over twenty-one years working for MetLife Capital and its predecessor, Seattle-First National Banks, Seafirst Leasing division. But, years later, during a visit to the VA Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., Montanez learned that the Department of Veterans Affairs was actively searching for disabled veteran owned contractors. So, in 2008, Montanez worked on his strategic business plan and launched EG Montanez Construction, Inc in April 2009. Starting a new company was difficult and there are still challenges, particularly when there is a shortage of work, but insurance, licensing, and other costs must be paid. Still, Montanez has grown EG Montanez Construction, Inc. to five employees, with an estimated annual revenue of $3-$5 million. And under Montanez's leadership, the company is very well positioned. While COVID-19 certainly affected business this year through project delays and other disruptions, the company was fortunate enough to be able to support its employees without having to take on additional debt. Montanez's success over the years has allowed him to pursue his other passions, like giving back to the community and doing volunteer work to help those less fortunate than him. He remains active and engaged with the disabled veteran community by donating his time, money, and resources to support veterans. Montanez has served on the board of the Disabled Veteran Business Alliance and was formerly the vice president of its Orange County Chapter. He is currently on the legislative committee for CalVet's Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) Advisory Council, and Veteran Strong USA, www.veteranstrongusa.com with primary focus of working on veteran, especially, disabled veteran assistance in areas of housing; business; property tax legislation to California's approximately 1.8 million veterans. The organization was founded by Manny and his sister Guadalupe Barrera and is made up of volunteers, like Montanez, who help assist veterans with a variety of issues, including accessing healthcare, jobs, education, and VA benefits. Additionally, Montanez has served as a board member for the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) and he has twice chaired the CHOC Walk, CHOC's largest annual fundraiser. Montanez has supported the Orangewood Children and Family Center, chairing their first ever Promise Ride to raise funds for the Orangewood Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports current and former foster youth in Orange County, and, was the interim western region director and is a long time member of the Orange Coast Chapter of Legatus, an international organization of Catholic business owners, and CEO's.
Natalie Oliverio

Organization Military Talent Partners

Position Founder

Story

Post 9/11 Navy veteran, founder + CEO of MTP. Helping companies all across the country hire veterans and spouses into meaningful careers. Also offering free Mentorship to military members, veterans, and spouses. MTP also offers a scholarship based transition cohort Online to better prepare those for military and career transition.

Veteran First Responder

Veteran who is a Fireman/Police Officer/Sheriff/EMT/Paramedic/Nurse/Doctor etc.

Kathy Shih

Organization Providence Healthcare

Position Urgent Care LVN

Story

Kathy is a veteran who served 6 years in the US Air Force. During her time in the Air Force, she worked as Security Forces K9 handler, searching for explosives with her K9 and supporting law enforcement operations. She has deployed twice overseas to the middle east, supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn. Kathy has provided security for President Obama and the first Lady during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. During her last year in the Air Force, she served in South Korea, protecting assets and securing Osan Air Base installation. Since getting out of the Air Force, Kathy's willingness and need to serve was not done. She now works as a Nurse, assisting patients with care in the Urgent Care Setting as well as Skilled Nursing. She is more than deserving of a Veteran Hero nomination.
Hannibal Snyder

Organization Operation DPIMA

Position DP Giver 1

Story

Bryan “Hannibal” Snyder served as a combat medic with the 1st Cavalry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom and was wounded in action in 2007...afterwards, he hasn’t done much of note besides have a butt load of kids, develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, and anger many of those around him. He’s truly the a low life in the most endearing way. A vote for him is a vote to support your local dirtbag.
Martin B. Spann

Organization U.S. Army Ranger Association, Southwest Region

Position U.S. Army Colonel (Retired), Member

Story

I served 30 years in the U.S. Army with COL Spann to include three voluntary combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also served with COL Spann in the LA Riots and the military response to the Northridge Earthquake. He was my supervisor when I served 15 years as a Special Reserve Officer with the Los Angelest Police Department. His biography is below: Martin B. Spann is a 40-year military veteran serving on both active and reserve duty. He began his military service by joining the United States Marine Corps in 1974. He served 5 years and was discharged. He entered the Army National Guard and was commissioned at the United States Army Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He has commanded at every level from a rifle squad to an Infantry Battalion. Martin retired from the U.S.Army Reserve in 2015, as the Chief of Staff of the 76th Operational Response Command in Salt Lake City, Utah with the rank of Colonel. Martin’s joint experience includes serving as the Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Special Police Commandos, Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq from 2004 to 2005; he also served as the Multi-National Force – Iraq Liaison Officer to the Iraq Minister of Interior, Multi-National Force- Iraq in 2008; and from 2010 to 1011 he served as the Senior NATO Advisor to the Afghan National Civil Order Police, which is the lead police organization in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. His awards include three Legions of Merit, the Soldier’s Medal for heroism, the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for Valor, two Bronze Star Medals for Merit, the Purple Heart Medal for combat wounds, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. His campaign medals include the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. In 2010 he was inducted into the United States Army’s Officer Candidate School’s Hall of Fame. He is a retired Los Angeles Police Officer. He worked at the L.A.P.D for 26 years where he held various supervisory positions. His L.A.P.D. awards include two Police Medals for Valor, the Police Star for Heroism, and the L.A.P.D’s Life-Saving Medal. He is married to Alexa Spann and they have two children.
Shannon Stacy

Organization Hollywood American Legion Post 43

Position ER Doctor Torrance Memorial Hospital

Story

Shannon entered the US Navy as a doctor. She served with the US Marine Corps as a Naval Flight Medical Officer. Shannon and her husband Pete Lisowski (USMA 02) have a 2-year-old son and a baby girl on the way. Shannon is also a model for Pinups for Vets out of Los Angeles and a member of Hollywood American Legion post 43.
Tamatha Wright

Organization Department of Veterans Affairs

Position Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Story

After spending almost 6 years in the US Air Force and another 4 years with Mayo Clinic Tami started with the VA back in 2000. Tami currently works as a Primary Care and Emergency Department Social Worker. As a licensed Clinical Social Worker she provides services for veteran populations in a variety of areas. She is a thoughtful and meticulous provider always going the extra mile not only for her patients but also her coworkers. This is where she stands out. Back in 2018 she had a near fatal medical episode that changed her life. After several heart surgeries and the placing of a defibrillator pace maker she returned to work. She could have easily retired or quit working all together but said "she was not done helping veterans" Tami has such drive and determination that seems to be never ending. He can do attitude and desire to "keep serving" is truly what makes her a hero. Ask any of her co workers or her patients and they will all tell you the same thing, she works hard, never gives up and makes her patients feel like they are the only person that matters at that moment and gives them 100% of her focus and energy to resolve their issues. She works hard and gives so much and never asks for anything in return.

Veteran Service Non-Profit

Any nonprofit that serves the needs of Veterans/Active Duty/Reservists. Including Faith Based Organizations/Schools/Hospitals, etc.

Michael Barrett

Organization Working Wardrobes

Position Director Of VetNet

Story

Michael is a 20 year Marine Corps veteran who, while he was in was a Drill Instructor, became combat wounded and stayed in for another 12 years to retire as a 1st Sgt. He is currently the Director Of VetNet which is a program within Working Wardrobes in Santa Ana, CA. Everyday he goes above and beyond to assist our veteran clients. He gives the leeway to his associate to where they can provide additional assistance to those in need. He not only pushes to support veterans, but also their spouses and children who need help with resume review, job training, and job search assistance. I feel he is always locked and loaded and willing to do what it takes to help find those in need, gainful employment. While 2020 has presented many challenges for our Organization, beginning with the complete loss of our building due to a devastating fire on Feb 2nd, followed shortly after by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Michael has remained focused and has been the true definition of resilient in the face of adversity! He has led his team with unabated resolve and has implemented measures that have allowed continuous support those truly in need of all services our Program provides. Since the Fire and the onset of COVID-19, he has managed to successfully provide Program services to over 280+ clients, placed 45 Veterans into job placement thus far this year, and continues to remain a servant Leader to his team, partner agencies, and most importantly to the Clients he serves! His guiding philosophy is a belief that people are more powerful than the barriers they face and that all clients share a common desire to achieve success. The greatest measure of their success is hearing a client say, "I got the job!"
Kenneth Cates

Organization Fort Hood Area Habitat For Humanity

Position Executive Director

Story

Ken is an amazing mentor, leader, father of 7 girls and still pursues his passion of helping Veterans and the community. Ken has always been a kind man and if he doesn’t know the answer he will find it. After serving over 20 years for our country he understands what it means “No Man Left Behind”. Ken deserves this award because he has persevered through trials and has overcome these trials. Ken rolls up his sleeves and stands side by side with homeless veterans and helps them find a solution. His dedication and determination comes with humility and he isn’t ashamed.
Shirrell McCarey

Organization Amvets Post 77 & DAV Chapter 66

Position Amvets - Judge Advocate

Story

The endless energy that Ms. McCarey has is awesome. These are some of the organizations and positions she has held or hold to this day: • US Naval Commander, Active & Reserves, Retired - 1977-2012 • Mental Health Advisory Council, Secretary Vice Chair, President Chair - 2001-Present • Mental Health Advisory Council, Lifetime Peer Support Specialist - 2013-Present • Dept. of Behavioral Health San Bernardino, Veterans Sub Committee - 2010-Present • CA Women’s Leadership Council Board Member Representative for Inland Empire and all High Desert Area - 2017-Present • Commander of DAV Chapter 12 (First African American Female in 98 years) - 2018-2019 • Deputy Chief of Staff to Mr. Michael Baca - 2017-2019 • State Executive Committee Alternate Commander to Mr. Johnny Barnes, Secretary District 11 - 2019-Present • Committee for Employment for the DAV National Council Advisor to Chair Mr. Richard Dykens DAV - 2018-Present • Assistant - Women’s Veterans Coordinator for Ms. Penni Turner Brown - 2018-Present • Advisor - Women’s Veterans Unity Group CEO Ms. Ann Duson - 2015-Present • Judge Advocate for Amvets Post 77 - 2018-Present (Amvets first all-female Post in History) • VA Loma Linda Veterans Advocate - 2000-Present • Lecturing Knight for Elks Lodge 1877 Victorville - 2018-Present • Chairman for Elks National Foundation - 2018-Present • Delivers Food & Supplies to Veterans & Civilians: North to Palo Alto CA & Baker CA, South to Baja CA - 3/20/20-Present • Parade Organizer for the San Bernardino Council - 2016-2019 • Provost Marshall for Amvets National Foundation, Garden Grove - 2017-Present
Nathaniel Miller

Organization Heroes Deserve Help

Position CEO/President and Founder

Story

Heroes Deserve Help donates computers and technology to: Veterans in need who are sponsored by a Veterans Resource Organizations. Over the last few years Nat Miller's organization has have donated over 2K computers in OC and over 3K in all technology categories in Southern California over 6 years to Veterans in need. not to mention the fact that his tireless efforts to work late into the night to get a computer ready for a Veteran, or to get a Veteran Resource Center food is just a normal everyday thing. The lives changed because of this organization are immeasurable! He also assists other Veteran Service Organizations with technology while also assisting their Veterans.
Thomas Salazar

Organization Jobs.Vision.Success

Position Vocational Rehab Coordinator

Story

This veteran will give the shirt off his back. My professor would call him a charismatic leader, in where he influences large corporations to give back to the veteran community, the Robin Hood of our time. Mr. Salazar goes out of his way to provide needed supplies for the veterans of the community. While working for JVS, he provides needed training for his brother and sisters from the military and the guidance of applying correctly for employment, while also training them in new skills. He is also a full-time student, dedicating himself to educate his talents to be also a successful team leader. As a leader, he focusses on finding the talent within his team and train them in different hats to be more efficient. He creates new contacts that can introduce participants to new career paths, exploring employment activities, creating certification courses, developing community events, and even engaging his team and other organizations in giving back to the community. He has learned to network with organizations and develop strong partnerships to assist the veteran community.

Veteran Service Officer or Mentor

Anyone that assists above and beyond to help our Veterans with obtaining their benefits, support etc., and/or who mentors Veterans in their personal life, career, or transiting from Military to civilian life.

Ryan Farrell

Organization U.S.VETS

Position Veteran Talent Specialist

Story

Ryan transitioned from the Navy as a former Navy Diver in 2017 and came to work with U.S.VETS as a Veteran Talent Specialist. Ryan is dedicated to helping his clients obtain civilian employment and has even gone above and beyond to help veterans submit applications for higher education in grad school programs. Ryan works tirelessly to provide learning and development material that informs veterans about trends in employment, how to optimize their chances of getting recognized by recruiters and how to utilize different platforms to do their job search. Ryan takes time to conduct one on one mock interview sessions so that his clients are well prepared and are the obvious choice for the job. In 7 short months, Ryan has placed 30 veterans into gainfully employed positions and for that I am incredibly proud and honored to work with him!
Tim Kunze

Organization Veterans Legal Institute

Position Legal Administrator/VA Specialist

Story

Tim Kunze is our organization’s Legal Administrator/VA Specialist. Mr. Kunze joined us at the Veterans Legal Institute four years ago and his service has been nothing short of extraordinary. From when he began volunteering, Mr. Kunze has served over 80 clients and has worked beyond 4,000 hours at our organization. Mr. Kunze’s life of service began shortly after he received his bachelor's degree in music education when he decided to serve his nation and begin his military career. He started his career in the Army Reserves and following officer training school he joined the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the 68th Bomb Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. After five years as an administrative officer, he cross-trained into information systems and spent the next five years at the Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama as a computer programmer/database administrator. Upon leaving the military, Mr. Kunze has worked as a Software developer and has recently turned his side job as a live music contractor, into a full-time position that he currently operates. Mr. Kunze is also on the board of two local orchestras. When he entered civilian life, Mr. Kunze started developing symptoms of an autoimmune disease that could only be traced back to exposure to toxic substances during his military assignments. Tim filed his own claim in 2010 which was initially denied. He then filed a Notice of Disagreement which resulted in a service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but denial, again, for his neuropathy. That denial is currently under appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). When Mr. Kunze saw an article in the Orange County Register about VLI, he was inspired to contact them to offer the expertise gained from his dealings with the VA. Once he began volunteering a situation like his own came up. A widow came to the organization because the VA had denied her Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Mr. Kunze tried several lower-level venues to get the VA to grant the DIC. When those failed, VLI ended up filing an appeal. While the appeal is still in progress, Mr. Kunze is confident he made the right call. The evidence is overwhelming that her husband, a Vietnam Veteran, died as a result of complications from Agent Orange exposure. The world needs more people like Mr. Kunze. People who seek justice without expecting anything in return. The actions of Mr. Kunze have a positive ripple effect. This effect is not only seen through the widow receiving her justified compensation, but also in society as a whole because it demonstrates that as long as you have a supportive individual like Mr. Kunze by your side, the world is already a better place.
Jeffrey Pagano

Organization University California Irvine (UCI) Student Services

Position Convener OC Veterans & Military Families Collaborative/Program Manager

Story

Jeff Pagano is a US Marine Corps veteran and a Second Lieutenant in the California State Guard, serving as the senior recruiter for the Army Component Command. I first met Jeff at the Tierney Center for Veteran Services where he served as the Manager of Operations for Veteran Services. He quickly became a mentor, battle-buddy, and friend. Currently serving as the very first program manager of the UCI convener program for the Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative, Jeff works alongside the partnership’s steering committee and its 10 working groups organized around veteran needs to improve their collective-impact model approach. Most recently Pagano served as the veteran services manager at the Tierney Veteran Services Center | Goodwill of Orange County. In his military career, Pagano served on the Presidential Helicopters Security Team for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. During his almost two years as the Program Manager for the Convener OCVMFC, Jeff has accomplished invaluable accomplishments for the benefit of all veterans and their families in Orange County. Currently convening and leading the Orange County Veterans & Military Family Collaborative (OCVMFC) as an Executive Board member, leveraging UCI talent and resources to build cooperation and collaboration between 100 non-profits serving veteran communities in Southern California • Within the first 90 days, implemented a 21-member Steering Committee strategic planning retreat, resulting in an OCVMFC 5-year organizational strategic plan and an action matrix • Working with the OCVMFC Executive Committee, assisted in the development of leadership for their 10 Working Groups and their 3-year strategic plans. • Maintained donor relationships and wrote grants and performance reports • Aided in development of the OCVMFC Older Adult Veteran Task Force addressing the growing needs of our underserved veteran population over the age of 50 • Developed, in collaboration with the OCVMFC PR Working Group, marketing and outreach tools to include: OCVMFC’s website (ocvmfc.info), printed collateral, Established and social media portfolio to include Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn • Produced a 1 day HR symposium at UCI educating companies and HR Managers on the value of hiring veterans while dispelling false narratives. 21 employment experts and companies volunteered their time to this event including Northrop Grumman, UnitedHealth Group, LA Metro and Crown Equipment • Le a committee that researched, reviewed and is recommending a case coordination platform for OCVMFC inter-service case coordination • Executed 4 successful OCVMFC General Meetings with over 100 in attendance for each, which included influencers from the veteran, academic and government agencies focusing on veteran suicide, homelessness, non-profit board development and strategic planning. While serving as the Manager for Operations, Veteran Services at the Tierney Center for Veteran Services, Jeff also served as the interim director for one year. Jeff was able to accomplish so much as a mentor to veterans, as well as establishing one of the premier veteran serving organizations in the county. Jeff served as the Division manager directing Outreach, Vocational Rehabilitation, Employment Services and Vocational Assessment departments. • Restructured, developed and managed 4 operational teams consisting of 20 employees • Increased veteran employment from 125 in full time positions per year to over 280 making the Tierney Center the number one veteran placement agency in Orange County • Improved average starting wage increase for veterans from $12.50 per hour to over $25.00 per hour through relationships and training • Improved collaborative and strategic relationships with other veteran service providers resulting in over 900 partner referrals per year • Led Peer Navigation Teams to identify, outreach and follow-up with over 240 veterans per month • Assisted in writing government and private grants resulting in over $500,000 in funding • Voted in as member of the Steering Committee with the Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative • Voted in as the Vice President of Veteran Business Network of Orange County, developed business social mixers from 40 veterans in attendance per month to over 120 • Created successful peer navigated outreach and marketing campaigns reaching and connecting with over 8,000 veterans though non-traditional approaches • Launched a regional Vocational Rehabilitation program and created a SOP in for other Goodwill franchises in California for program implementation. Jeff is a major leader in the Orange County Veterans and Military Families as the Program Manager for the Convener, served as Vice President for the US Veterans Business Alliance, Orange County Chapter mentoring veteran entrepreneurs, has served in numerous CEO positions in his private businesses, and is Vice President for the Jeanette Bertea Hennings Foundation, His recent volunteer work in the California State Guard has made incredible contributions towards establishing the Army Component Command's Recruiting Program, and General Staff Operations. He remains Always Faithful "Semper FIdelis" in his dedication to Orange County's Veterans and their Families.
Cory Vigil

Organization Strong Families Strong Children

Position Peer Navigator

Story

Cory, a Persian Gulf and OIF Navy Veteran, has dedicated his life to helping and supporting his peers for the last 7 years. As a full-time peer navigator with Strong Families Strong Children, Chair of the OCVMFC housing working group, and providing assistance to veteran inmates in the HUMV unit at the men's jail. Currently he takes on the role as Veteran Service Officer with Newport Beach American Legion 291. As a veteran who struggled with transition, he knows the importance that critical needs assistance can support. While going through the ups and downs of life, Cory has managed to lead by example and never give up. Since taking on this role with AL291, the legion has been able to continue assisting veteran families with financial and peer to peer support to ensure their stability on the other side. Cory's contacts within the service provider community allow him to have a wider impact on those in need and this position allows him to continue his life's work.
Wayne Yost

Organization Veterans of Foreign War 9934, Dana Point, CA

Position Commander

Story

I have known Wayne for over 5 years and witnessed first hand the exemplary performance not only as Commander of VFW 9934, Dana Point, CA notably his extensive volunteer role outside the Post in support of Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, CA and the VA Hospital in Long Beach, CA, I have partnered with Wayne numerous times in serving our Veterans hosting special yearly events, securing corporate donations and community military support in respect to our Veterans and their families.

Veteran Volunteer

A Veteran volunteer or someone who volunteers to serve Veterans.

Lisa Diggs

Organization Blue Star Families

Position Volunteer

Story

Lisa’s Nomination #1of3 Since 2017, Lisa has stepped up to help and support the needs of our Military Spouses and Families, through being a Representative of Blue Star Families Volunteer Ambassador Program. She has made sure that local museums and venues are open to serving our military and Veteran Community though the Blue Star Museums and Parks Program, as a volunteer she presented plaques if appreciation to our partners. She spend many hours getting the word out about our COVID-19 RUSS survey to help families in need of support in areas of food, emergency services and housing, by getting the information we were able to help these military spouses and their families. In 2019 she was also very active in getting out the Military/Veteran Community Readiness Survey to find out what needs that Veterans and their families needed in transitioning into civilian job and life. Also she did ambassador duties of reaching out to Starbucks and Macy's to have outreach and commitment to them helping our families and spouses with fundraising for the many programs. Also Lisa is active in her local City if Riverside neighborhood engagement programs, such as HEAL Zone to help low-income families to have nutritional foods and active living activities in their Community. She is a 6th-8th grade Title One Teacher in a middle school, and she volunteered with the Family Resource Center to make sure that the families and students in need get school supplies, food, clothing and toiletries so that they can be ready for the start of a new school year, as well as Volunteer during the school year to insure that these families thrive all year. She volunteered at the Thanksgiving event and Operation Christmas child to make sure homeless and foster Families get food and clothing as well as toys. She is always looking out for her fellow neighbors, especially seniors and Veterans in need. During COVID-19 pandemic she checks in on her seniors and Veterans weekly, taking food, bread, toiletries and toilet paper to them. Nomination #2 Lisa participates in various volunteer activities to support military families in her community. She is very dedicated to her work! Nomination #3 Lisa volunteers for multiple organizations to support military families and veterans in her community!
Wayne (Russ) Dohrmann

Organization American Legion/Long Beach VA

Position Volunteer

Story

Wayne (Russ) Dohrman served in the Army, stateside and the national guard in artillery from 1970-1976 in both Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He has stayed involved in the life of veterans since that time, coming alongside vets in numerous ways. He has been a part of the American Legion for many years and his current responsibilities include being Vice Commander, membership director: Squadron Commander, and Son of The American Legion(SAL) working at the Veterans.Resource.Center, at the Huntington Beach Central Library in his service to veterans. He is also a volunteer at the Long Beach VA, working with the Patient Center Care and on leadership teams responsible to Walt Dannenberg, President Long Beach VA. Wayne (Russ) is also a part of the Community Emergency Response Team(CERT). Most recently, he has been asked and responded by being part of a virtual training focus group at Hoag Hospital and by direction of the Huntington Beach Fire Chief, hands out masks at the Huntington Beach Pier on Saturdays and Sundays. He works with the Faith Based Working Group with (OCVMFC) THE ORANGE COUNTY VETERANS & MILITARY FAMILIES COLLABORATIVE. In his community, Wayne (Russ) also has volunteered at First Christian Church Huntington Beach, for many years in the Community Resource Center serving veterans and those who have encountered life setbacks with rent, food and utilities. He has also participated in two homebuilding trips in 2015 and 2017 to Chile and Ecuador for families who lost their homes from earthquakes and tsunamis. He has been amazing in his dedication to veterans and the community with tireless energy, an infectious smile, easy manner and focused attention. It is with pride Wayne (Russ) Dohrmann is nominated for the Hero Awards!
Doris Ipolitto

Organization Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary

Position Erie County Cdippolit24ouncil Auxiliary President

Story

It is my pleasure to nominate Doris C. Ippolito for the Veteran hero Award. Doris, also known as Dee, is a life member of the Veterans of foreign Wars Auxiliary, joining under the eligibility of her late husband Philip Ippolito, who served in Korea during the Vietnam conflict era. At the 2018 State Convention, Dee received the Department’s Auxiliary Extension award for mentoring and revitalizing Auxiliary No. 2940. She currently serves as Auxiliary President and Secretary and is President of Erie County Council President. In 2017-2018, Dee was awarded County Council President of the year and also runner-up Auxiliary President of the year in her membership group. Dee actively participates in all Auxiliary programs, evidenced by the many program awards her Auxiliary receives each year. Appointments on the District level include Patriotic Instructor and Americanism Chairman, District 6 Program Coordinator and Mentoring for Leadership Chairman. Department of New York Chairmanships include Cancer Grant Fund, Veterans & Family Support, Mentoring for Leadership and “Buddy”® Poppy/VFW National Home. As Veterans & Family Support Chairman she received the Department’s Membership Program Outstanding Recruiter Award and was named President of the Year in her Membership Group. At the National Convention in Orlando, Florida, she earned the third place Outstanding Performance Award, new Auxiliary organizer citation for her role in organizing Newstead Memorial Auxiliary 3180 (Erie, CC, D6), and National Membership award for securing 20 or more new and rejoined members. The Buffalo Veterans Treatment Court was established in 2008 under Judge Robert Russell. The motto is “leave no veteran behind.” This court is specifically designed to assist veterans charged with non-violent criminal offenses. Doris Ippolito actively volunteers for Veterans Court and was recognized on March 28, 2017 for outstanding leadership and dedicated service to our country and our courts by Honorable Paula L. Feroleto, 8th Judicial District Administrative Judge. Buffalo Veterans Court serves as a model for similar programs throughout the country. Dee is a volunteer on Mental Health Council at Buffalo VA, and the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Lounge. Doris Ippolito is the epitome of a Veteran Volunteer and is deserving of this award.
Toni Lavacot

Organization Veterans Legal Institute

Position Volunteer Paralegal

Story

Toni joined our organization after she finished her paralegal program at UCI. She started volunteering part time in our office and quickly became essential to our operations! Since we've gone remote due to COVID, she started volunteering full time and we greatly appreciate the work that she does. She not only does traditional paralegal work like document preparation, but goes above and beyond for our clients. She's made house calls, takes after hours calls and texts to ease our clients' worries, and has even gone to a food pantry on behalf of a disabled Navy vet and personally delivered food to his home. Toni is a model individual whom we should all strive to be. "I know I'm Toni's husband, but I wanted you know how much work Toni is really putting into her volunteer work at the VLI. She has been working some long hours since mid-January this year. I figure well over 1000+ hours of volunteer service so far helping attorneys defending our veterans. It’s not uncommon to have Toni working at 10’oclock at night on a Saturday. This includes doing interviews with our veterans, helping them through both legal and personal issues. The veteran’s love talking with Toni and sometimes call her just to talk. I'm proud to be married to her, she is really special." --Michael Lavacot
Lisa Milner

Organization American Legion Tulsa Post 1

Position Past Commander/Chaplain

Story

Everyone knows her Legz, she has never told me how she got this nickname; but when you see her, you kind of just know...lol She started volunteering helping veterans when she once became the veteran who was in need of help. It was in October 2004 and she was looking at losing her home and she was advised to go to the American Legion and seek help. They did, they helped her to find a new place to live and paid her first-month rent and deposit because I was still a bratty kid back then. They even came out and helped us move from one end of the town to the other side of town from a 3 bedroom house to a 2-bed room apartment and they loaded everything up and unloaded and they took me to get something to eat afterward to allow her to think for a little while. She has just the day before buried someone we both cared for deeply, he too worked for the government and died on the clock. After a few days if her pity party she got up and got dressed and made some chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies and came down to the Legion to say Thank you, the very next day she was working as a trainee for as a Service Officer. soon she would rise up in the Post through various officer positions and she became the 1st black female Commander in the state of Oklahoma, then she was selected to go to the National American Legion College in Indianapolis. She not only helped veterans and their families.; she also visited schools and talk with the students about being in the military as a woman, about learning about the Constitution and The Bill of Rights, and how to properly respect the Flag, and about bullying. When she learned about the Ms. Veteran America competition, she decided to enter it, never thinking she would make into it, much less that she would be a Top 25 finalist at her age then. She only got involved to help bring awareness to how woman are treated that become homeless, she said she never dreamed in a million years she would get that far into the competition. It was hard to find sponsors for her because no one around here had ever heard of this program. She went to D.C. for the Finals, and that was as far as she got as a Top 25 Finalist. But she said it wasn't about her, it was about the message to the public. As each of the women was practicing their catwalk, the committee would assign a different song for each woman based on their personality. Her's was RESPECT, by Aretha Franklin, she said she was hoping it would have been a more modern song, but she accepted it. She had received a Congressional Citation for her community service volunteerism from then-Congressman Jim Bridenstine, who now works for NASA. Back in 2010, she moved away from her home town of Tulsa, Oklahoma to Zena, Oklahoma, it's the rural area between Jay and Grove Oklahoma. It takes her 2 hours to drive into Tulsa from there, it's way out in the boonies, dirt roads and she lives in a broken down, raggedy mobile house. She says it has potential, just like her and she can at look see it looking like something that it was never supposed to be, just like her. Sometimes critters find a way to get in and scare the daylights out of her when she walks upon, but she's not moving even with the crazy rednecks that at first tried to scare her away. She also volunteers at her church food bank and soup kitchen. But, this past couple of years she has had some major surgeries, so it kind of slowed her down. This summer from June and July, she has had 2 more surgeries and this past month August she was involved with a head-on collision car accident and this has stopped her from doing her physical therapy on her shoulder, it is driving her crazy, but she is stubborn and is doing her version of exercises to keep it from stiffening up on her. She's waiting on the V.A. to finally release her to get back to her actual therapy sessions. She also has a new job as becoming the American Legion's very 1st superhero., she will still be doing her job in the schools or when schools return to some form of normalcy again, but she will be dressed in a superhero costume in hopes that the children will be more interested in learning about our great country. But with the COVID, it has been a blessing since she has had these 2 surgeries this summer and then the car accident; this gives her time to recover fully and get back into her what she calls superhero shape. I haven't seen the costume yet, no one has, she's waiting she says for the right time. She is a service-connected disabled veteran, but if ever get to she see her in action, you could never tell. She is also Teaching veterans how to overcome health issues by taking care of their bodies and because since they know how she once was when she first got into the V.A. health care system with all of the pills and pain patches and how she is now, hardly ever taking anything, they listen to her. She has this dream of one day owning an old steam-paddle boat and turning it into a natural wellness clinic for veterans and first responders, its an 8-week course, where they learn everything about how the body reacts to various things. She is always finding these types of courses and if she has the money she goes and she asks questions she tries the things on herself and if she gets good results she shares them. I have a homeless outreach ministry called For The Least of These and I see lots of homeless veterans out there and when they ask me my name they look at me and ask me if she is my mother, I say yes, they tell me how she helped them or tried to help the, how she always greeted them with a strong firm handshake and she would actually listen to them and at the end of the meeting, she would ask them if they believed in prayer and she would pray for them right there on the spot and then she would end it with a huge hug and a book called the Desire of Ages. They would say how that was more important than her just filing a claim for them. So, even if you don't select her, I just wanted you to know about her and maybe you can tell someone else how helps veterans with their broken down-home, that could come and help her with hers or maybe someone who looking to invest in the steamboat wellness clinic ideal. She also loves finding broken furniture taking it home fixing it up and giving it away to some veteran who is looking to fix their home up. She doesn't make much money and what money she has, she uses it mostly on fixing things in her house or paying off a huge debt she acquired while taking care of her mother, during her mother's last 2 years. But, she is much moved by many people because of her heart and how she tries to help people, even if she's in the store and she sees a person wearing a military ball cap she always walks over to them and either shakes their hand or she gives them a hug, complete strangers and they look puzzled by her actions, but she says he hopes one day when she gets old ( she will turn 58 this November 12, 2020) that some young person does the same for her and not assume she's wearing her husband or boyfriends' cap. She is my mom and she never ceases to amaze me with things she thinks of and tried to do and because she instilled into me a sense of patriotism and volunteerism as a youth and what a real good Christian man is supposed to be, I am the young man that I am today. and I know she would be mad at me for nominating her for this, but; I think the whole world should know about this amazing woman, don't you? Thank you for taking your time out to read of a little bit of the many sides of this woman everyone affectionately calls Legz and that Legz with a "z" on the end, because her legs are extra long...lol

Veteran/Military Family Friendly Employer

Employers who hire Veterans/Active Duty/Reservists/Veteran Spouse/Military family Members.

Mark Casper

Organization Tech For Troops

Position Executive Director

Story

A Marine Corps Veteran and Executive Director of Tech For Troops, Mark Casper embodies the gung ho attitude to hire veterans. Early on in his tenure, he made the decision to only hire veterans into the T4T IT program. These veterans are mainly homeless or impoverished or veterans who just departed active duty. Veterans who are searching to better their lives and T4T is here to help support that desire. The vision is to broaden veteran opportunities by hiring additional veterans with a continued focus on individualization in the process. Building a relationship with each veteran is a huge part of our mission. T4T is a lean organization with 7 total employees and feel that they will need to scale up to 12-15 by mid-summer 2021. Casper says that each veteran on the T4T team is instrumental in serving the mission. He knows there is a definite gap between leaving the military and moving to the civilian workforce. We want to work to capture as many new veterans as possible before they fall on hard times and can’t get out. Through our lived experiences of working with veterans and documented research, veterans need a broader foundation of support early in their separation from the military. T4T would like to offer a more comprehensive program that connects opportunities to provide support for veterans by providing a straightforward approach to building their skills. The goal is to provide these opportunities in the training facility and also offer these skills through online training for those veterans in need but not hired who are out of the area. The program is called The Military to Civilian Bridge Program. He believes that this is T4T’s opportunity to stop veteran homelessness and poverty before it begins. Each hired T4T Veteran is part of an IT team that triages, wipes and potentially refurbishes computers to “gift away” to other in need veterans. There are other skills taught such as soft skills and logistics to supplement the IT skills. Through the T4T IT Program, graduates have been hired on Ft. Lee in the Network Operations Center (NOC), at Markel Insurance and at the Pentagon. T4T is also a Virginia Values Veterans (V3) certified employer that reports the number of veteran hires each quarter.
Donald Fleming

Organization Tuskegee Airmen

Position President

Story

MM2 Donald Fleming served in the US Navy for over 20 years. Although he served his country during the Viet Nam War he didn't stop serving his country there he continues even today serving as President of the Inland Empire Tuskegee Airmen. He has served in this position for over 5 years. You can often see Mr. Fleming mentoring at schools, speaking at community events, senior seniors and etc. sharing military stories and the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition he is often traveling with and taking care of our original local Tuskegee Airmen that served during those years. This year Mr. Fleming had a major stroke himself however it did not keep him down. He continues to speak to youth over the internet and check on others via the internet. Mr. Fleming has remained very faithful to the term "military serviceman" and I am proud to nominate him for this award. His community service includes speaking engagements, working to support the Soroptimist as a helper, driver for veterans and seniors and you can count on him to assist in handy man jobs.
James Mai

Organization Bristol Bates

Position Chief Executive Officer

Story

James Mai is CEO of Bristol Bates LLC in Irvine, California. Under his leadership the company has successfully worked with the Department of Veteran Affairs and other government agencies. The company is Veteran friendly and managed, through their division Bristol Bates USA, they actively recruit, hiring and advocate for Veterans reentering the civilian workforce. As a son to adopted parents with a family history of service dating back to the Civil War, James carries on the family tradition supporting active duty and veterans,