The Camaraderie Foundation launched its $2 million ‘Saving Lives, Saving Families’ campaign this month to be able to assist 1,000 veterans.
The need is simple: Veterans and their families need access to private counseling and community support.
The Camaraderie Foundation aims to facilitate access to these services and encourages service members to seek help — without feeling judged or isolated by doing so. But the problem is not so simple: There are about 25,000 veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and similar struggles in the state alone — and the foundation can currently only support 300 of them.
That’s why Neftali “Nef” Rodriguez, executive director of the foundation, created the “Saving Lives, Saving Families” campaign. The campaign is running throughout June in accordance with PTSD Awareness Month, and the goal is to raise $2 million to reach 1,000 post-9/11 veterans and family members who need counseling, emotional and spiritual support.
“We are currently funded to serve 300 veterans; that’s good and a great goal, because every year, we’ve steadily increased,” he said. “If you look at the statistics, Central Florida has the highest density population of post-9/11 veterans. You have one-and-a-half million living in Florida, and out of that, 76,000 are post-9/11. One-third, or about 25,000, have some type of cognitive readjustment issue. Twenty-five thousand, and we can serve 300? There’s a big dynamic there not being captured.”
Rodriguez got involved with the foundation in March. A 33-year army veteran, he has seen the effects of PTSD firsthand with his son.
“I’ve experienced it as a family member,” he said. “It’s something that was near and dear to my heart. PTSD is a family issue too and doesn’t affect just the veteran. … A lot of the treatment methods involve drugs. They’ve got to tweak and adjust them, and while they’re doing all that, they (veterans) still experience the PTSD, and some get aggravated with it.”
At the foundation, 82 cents of every dollar goes directly to the veterans. The foundation also has a database of more than 280 counselors that assist veterans. There is no charge to veterans or families for services provided, including family fun days, counseling, community support and mentor leadership.
Through it all, the goal is to get veterans and their families the emotional support they need and to let them know they’re not alone, providing a sense of camaraderie.
“They’ve done so much for us already, and these guys are coming home trying to transition, and I understand, having gone through it myself,” Rodriguez said. “We come back with a different mentality, and it’s a different way of doing things, and it’s difficult for us to fit back in and get people to understand. The thing I like is that I’ll have veterans come up and say, ‘Man, you saved my life.’ I love hearing that, the ‘You guys got me back on the straight and narrow (path)’ testimonials. … It’s all about serving the veterans. … I don’t want to turn anyone way, and that’s my mission.”