Local Organization is Helping Veterans In Need
Writer / Tyrel Kessinger
Some people can’t see themselves doing anything other than good. Hank Patton is one of those people. As President and CEO of USA Cares since 2015, he’s made it his singular duty to help those in need, specifically the post-9/11 veterans his organization assists. An Army veteran himself, Patton came to his current position after several years in state government, in the conservation arena of Fish & Wildlife. But he saw the work USA Cares was doing, heard the call to his “giving heart” and made the jump.
For a non-profit that has served more than 100,000 clients and dispersed nearly 15 million dollars, USA Cares had a rather humble beginning, Patton says.
“USA Cares was incorporated back in 2003 based on a joint effort between Kroger and Wave3 TV,” he says. “They created a ‘Support The Troops’ yard sign that they sold for $5 and they raised far more money than they thought they would. They worked with some folks to disperse that money to folks in need and they actually raised about 120,000. USA Cares was incorporated, then as KentuckianaCares, for a way to disperse that money and establish a vetting process to make sure the right families were getting that money. Immediately they found a need. They saw that there was more need than just in the Kentuckiana area, so they reincorporated this USA Cares and started providing immediate assistance to post-9/11 veterans in crisis. And it’s been that way ever since.”
Since then, USA Cares has faithfully and steadfastly continued its mission in helping the men and women who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” to fight for and protect our country. According to their website, veterans’ applications for assistance are accepted 24 hours a day, seven days a week
“When they come to us they have to certify that they are an honorably discharged veteran,” Patton says. “They have to prove their post-9/11 service and they have to have a documented need. We don’t help people who just call and say ‘hey, I’m going to be late on a payment,’ we have to have a documented need that they are behind, that there is a risk of foreclosure or risk of repossession. Once we have that, we start the advocacy work with the lending vendor and try to work out those situations.”
As such, there are four basic areas that Patton and his organization deals with among veterans seeking help with USA Cares.
“There’s combat injured, folks injured in the line of duty,” he says. “We don’t pay treatment of PTSD or traumatic injuries. We take care of the family’s bills, the veteran’s bills. We take away the barrier for them seeking treatment. We also work in the career transition lane. As veterans transition out of the military, we help them find jobs, offsetting costs for interviews, travel, relocation.
“We do housing assistance, dealing specifically with rent and mortgages, keeping the family under a roof, helping the family offset mortgage payments that are behind. We work with the lending institutions to get the loans restructured so that it takes some of the pressure off the veterans.
“Lastly, we do emergency assistance, which is the thing nobody thinks about,” he adds. “Electric, gasoline, gas in the home, cell phone payments. Folks who think cell phones aren’t important, well, turn yours off. Most people communicate with a cell phone now.
“We help with those because we see so many veterans have gotten themselves into a bind and because they are a proud group of people veterans typically don’t reach out for help until they critically need it. And we see these folks as being in critical need. Again, everything we do is about the veterans and their families.”
USA Cares has long maintained a simple and direct mission: help veterans in need immediately. While USA Cares never gives money directly to veterans or their families, they pay off all qualifying debts within 48 hours, something Patton is extraordinarily proud of.
“Our watchword is right now,” Patton says. “Once we start the process, as soon as all the qualifications are in, we move right then. We’re very proud of that, being immediate, right now. Understand, most of the folks we see, the wolf is at the door. The sheriff has tacked the eviction notice on the door. There’s been a number of cases, I can’t even tell you the number, but an inordinate amount of cases that we’ve literally stopped people.
“Everything we do is because of the compassion folks have, both corporate and individuals, to help service members. We’re pretty proud of what we do with that money and the responsibility in which we deliver the services. And the bottom line is that these are grants not loans. There is no expectation of being repaid.”
All the money given to veterans and their families (which Patton calls a hand-up. “We don’t consider anything we do as a handout,” he says.) has to come from somewhere and for USA Cares it stems from the compassion and community outreach of many people, especially corporations.
“Everything is donated from corporate partners. We take no government funds of any kind,” Patton says. “Everything is done through local business support, corporate support. Some of our largest contributors are Hardee’s, USAA, and Fort Knox Federal Credit Union.”
As with most non-profits, fundraisers are another bread and butter tool for the philanthropic outfit. Throughout the 10 chapters of USA Cares that branch through the United States, they organize and host a variety of events to supplement the donations and gifts.
“We do motorcycle events, we do fishing tournaments, we do our annual gala in July, we do social media fundraising,” he says.
And there’s also a lot of other ways folks can be involved with USA Cares and it’s all listed on the website and our other social media sites.”
While USA Cares has been a lifeline for veterans and their families for nearly 15 years, long before Patton came aboard, it’s still reassuring to know it’s being led by someone with such conviction in the never-ending campaign to lift America’s service men and women out of tragedy and supply them with hope.
“I’m just honored to be able to give back to the veterans and service members that I served with,” Patton says. “And with the folks that are giving all for their country right now and have answered that call to be in war for the last 16 years. I’m blessed to be here and I’m very proud to be a part of this organization.”