An Air Force veteran is giving back to and assisting the veteran community, one tweet at a time.
“We are a unique, one-of-a-kind, social media-driven, veteran nonprofit,” Gretchen Smith, founder of Code of Vets, says. “We operate purely on Twitter and a few other platforms, but primarily we are Twitter-driven.”
“We have assisted roughly 5,000 veterans and I have raised $6.5 million in the past four years, so it’s something that has become very effective,” Smith says.
Smith also highlights some of the struggles that veterans face on a daily basis, saying:
When our veterans come home, especially our combat vets, and they transition back into civilian life, they’re carrying a load that’s unique to our community and it’s difficult for them just to come back and fit back in if they’ve witnessed their best friend, or the buddy who’s covering their flank on the right or their left, get blown up, shot, killed. …
It’s something they carry with them the rest of their lives. Some of them have had to kill others in order to survive or to protect the man on their left and right.
Smith joins this Veterans Day episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss her organization, what veterans face daily, and how you can help.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Samantha Aschieris: Gretchen Smith is joining the podcast today. She is a U.S. Air Force veteran and founder of Code of Vets. Gretchen, first and foremost, thank you so much for your service and for also joining us today.
Gretchen Smith: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to share a mission with you again.
Aschieris: Of course. Now, I want to dive right in to just that. Today’s Veterans Day, and I want to start with some of the work that you’ve been doing to help the veteran community here in the United States. Can you tell us a little bit about Code of Vets?
Smith: We are a unique, one-of-a-kind social media-driven veteran nonprofit. We are 501(c)(3). We operate purely on Twitter and a few other platforms, but primarily we are Twitter-driven. We have assisted roughly 5,000 veterans. And I have raised $6.5 million in the past four years, so it’s something that has become very effective.
We’ve grown throughout the nation because of the type of reach that we have, given the platform that Twitter offers, and it’s just been an incredible journey these past few years to be able to assist thousands of veterans.
Aschieris: Yeah, it’s really been incredible to watch. I follow you on Twitter and there’s always so many different veterans that you’re helping. There’s always such a community effort to help these veterans. Why did you start Code of Vets in the first place?
Smith: My dad is my inspiration. He was a combat vet. He served in the Vietnam War, and when he returned, he just never was the same. My dad told me that he left a piece of his humanity, his soul, back in the jungle, and he tried so hard for so many years to find peace, to make peace with what he had done, what he had witnessed, but he was unable to be successful, and we lost dad to his battle with PTSD.
Aschieris: Wow. That’s so, so sad, and I’m so sorry for your loss. I want to talk more about some of these issues and challenges, battles that veterans face when they come back to the United States, that they face on a daily basis. Can you walk us through some of these challenges that veterans face and how can people help?
Smith: Absolutely. When our veterans come home, especially our combat vets, and they transition back into civilian life, they’re carrying a load that’s unique to our community and it’s difficult for them just to come back and fit back in if they’ve witnessed their best friend or the buddy who’s covering their flank on the right or their left get blown up, shot, killed. It’s something they carry with them the rest of their lives. Some of them have had to kill others in order to survive or to protect the man on their left and right.
So they carry this, they try to bury it, they try to suppress it, but in the end, it always eventually ends up surfacing in a variety of symptoms and ways that impact their day-to-day life.
So what we see is the veterans who are struggling to keep a job, to keep a marriage together, to keep a family intact, to pay their bills on a regular basis, these are the ones that we are try to reach out to, to let them know, you do not have to walk this path alone. There is help. There is hope. Let us get you to a facility or find a support group where you can feel like, “You know what? I can share my journey with these other men and women who have walked this same path.”
Aschieris: Yes. I wanted to ask too, when you talk about being able to help these veterans who might be struggling to pay bills or may be struggling to pay rent, how do you find them, basically, and how do you vet them?
Smith: Well, our reputation is out there now. The vets have shared it with each other, families. We are out on social media. I have roughly 600,000 followers on a variety of social media platforms. And just given the fact that we’ve been around for four years, five years total, but four as a nonprofit, we have let our veterans know and families and friends, “Hey, send these veterans to our website so that they can fill out the ‘vet in need’ form and be vetted.”
My partner, Dr. Cindy Walter, vets each and every one of these vets that come through our system, she sends them to me to raise the funds, to share their story, and to get them their assistance in real time.
Aschieris: Now, when we talk about veterans, especially on Veterans Day, what do you think is being missed or isn’t talked about enough regarding veterans in America?
Smith: Veterans right now are really floundering and struggling with the inflation. Veterans Day also brings up a lot of memories for our vets. It’s important for us to let them know how much we honor them and how much we care about their service.
Some of them are lone wolves, some of them don’t really seek out attention or they won’t reach out for help. … Sometimes we’ll have a family member reach out.
So if you’re in a local community and you see a veteran sitting at a table eating breakfast or whatever, having a coffee, pay for it, and just pay it forward and don’t even say, “Thank you for your service,” but do something small like that just to make them feel like, ‘You know what? Somebody in here cares about me and that matters.'” It goes a long way. It motivates our vets. It just boosts their spirits.
And I have so many stories behind the scenes where these vets tell me little things like this and out in real life that really matter to them.
Aschieris: Gretchen, I also wanted to talk about, as I’m sure you know and our audience knows, we just had election night this week. We are heading into a new Congress this January. Are there any policies or actions that you’re hoping are taken in order to help our veterans?
Smith: Absolutely. We have found one consistent weakness that continues to broaden as the economy is stuck in this historic inflation, and that is rent has increased drastically, anywhere between $200, $600, $800 for our veteran community. They cannot absorb these type of increases on their limited budgets. So the [Department of Veterans Affairs/Department of Housing and Urban Development] vouchers are not keeping up with these increases.
So I’m out there pushing this and talking about this, but we need our Congress to take action and to make sure that these vouchers can be increased to meet the needs of these veterans.
We are seeing an increase in homelessness because of evictions, because the VA vouchers are not keeping up with inflation, and that is huge in our community right now. We are just seeing this whole new level of explosion of evictions and homelessness.
Aschieris: Now, Gretchen, just before we wrap-up, if our audience members want to know more about Code of Vets or how they can help, how can they do that?
Smith: Please go to codeofvets.com the website, donate $1, $5, $10. When you have thousands of donors giving across the country, it adds up quickly, and that’s how we function. That’s the heartbeat of Code of Vets, is just getting those grassroot donations in. Follow us on our social media site, especially our Twitter, @CodeofVets. They are all @CodeofVets. Go find us. Share these missions. The further they get out there, the more that we can put them into the more donors’ eyesight and increase these donations.
We are really battling right now as a charity because of the economy. People do not have the discretionary funds they used to. So please get up there, share the missions, respond to us if you have a veteran that’s in the local community that’s worth sharing, and just let us know that you could be boots on the ground. That’s another great way. We’re very informal about that. You could take a bag of groceries. Just be out there, be in the moment with us. It’s in real time.
Aschieris: Absolutely. I will make sure to include a link both to Code of Vets for the website as well as the Twitter page so our audience members can take a look at that. I’ll include that in the show notes. Gretchen Smith, thank you so much for joining us today. Again, Gretchen Smith of Code of Vets. Thank you.
Smith: Thank you, Samantha.
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