When starting any new venture or program, it’s always great to have a support system of others going through the same experience. That’s why Homes For Our Troops created the Veteran Action and Advisory Team (VAAT) in 2014. The committee consists of the following HFOT Veterans and caregivers:
- Army SGT Steven Curry (2016 HFOT home recipient)
- Marine Capt Cameron West (2015 HFOT home recipient)
- Marine Sgt Julian Torres (2014 HFOT home recipient)
- Army MSG Eric Marts (future HFOT home recipient)
- Marine Cpl Kevin Blanchard (future HFOT home recipient)
- Marine SSgt Matthew Wheeler (future HFOT home recipient)
- Courtney Schumacher (wife of HFOT home recipient Jon Schumacher)
- Marine Sgt Adam Kisielewski (2011 HFOT home recipient)
The purpose of the team is to provide guidance to fellow HFOT Veterans and staff. The members give the organization reliable – and honest – feedback on anything ranging from product selections to layouts within the homes. Additionally, the VAAT members provide HFOT with insight to the Veteran community and are a resource for HFOT Veterans dealing with challenges.
Kisielewski, a HFOT board member and the team’s president, says the VAAT has been successful since its inception. “We have used our collective experiences as home recipients to help the organization improve the quality of new homes and added more functional adaptive features,” he says.
Kisielewski says one of the team’s biggest achievements so far is convincing the organization to start a retrofit program, which brings some newer improvements into the program’s older homes. However, the most meaningful aspect of serving on the committee, he says, are the interactions the members have with their peers.
Kisielewski will be transitioning off the team in the summer; Curry will take over in his place. Curry says he plans to continue the VAAT’s mission of serving fellow HFOT Veterans and providing support to the HFOT staff. “The VAAT is an avenue for HFOT Veterans to voice their opinions and concerns,” he says. “It is also a go-to resource for Veterans looking for help with non-HFOT issues that are common in the Veteran community.”
Marts, who has been on the committee since it formed, says it is important for an organization like HFOT to have a board like the VAAT as Veterans in the program may feel more comfortable going to a peer with an issue or concern verses the organization. “They can be on the same level as another Veteran,” he says. “It’s a great way to send information up and down the chain.”
The members of the VAAT are selected based on military experience, geography, professional experiences, and types of injuries. Courtney Schumacher, wife of HFOT Veteran Jon Schumacher, brings a caregiver’s view to the board. “These families face many obstacles on a daily basis, which will never change. What can change is how they handle them,” she says. “The pressures and the responsibilities of life can wear you down without a proper support network. Since the VAAT team is assembled with Veterans and caregivers, it allows different perspectives which ensures the best support possible.”
Serving on the VAAT is also a way for HFOT Veterans to give back to the organization that has given them so much. Even before joining the program, Curry says he knew he wanted to get involved with HFOT. “Being a VAAT member gives me a way to help the organization, my fellow HFOT Veterans and future applicants,” he says. “I hope that by being a part of the VAAT I can have the most direct impact on the HFOT mission and the Veterans they serve.”