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September 8, 2014

Steve Peck – A Life Dedicated to Helping Veterans

by bfoster2004
Stephen PeckForty-five years ago the war in Vietnam was raging and draft notices were going out by the tens of thousands daily. Among those to receive a draft notice was Steve Peck, who, like many other college students, had a temporary deferment. But after graduation, Uncle Sam told him it was time to report for duty.

Peck’s mother, Greta, first wife of movie star Gregory Peck, told Steve she could arrange for him to skip out and stay with family in Sweden, but he wasn’t very politically aware and wasn’t opposed to serving. “I certainly didn’t want to use my father,” said Peck, even if his famous Oscar-winning dad and humanitarian might have been able to get him out of military service.

So Stephen Peck was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 and served as a Lieutenant in the 1st Marine Division near Da Nang from 1969 to 1970. When he came back, he pursued what he thought would be his long-time career. He enrolled in a graduate school cinema program in 1972 and went on to become a documentary filmmaker.

But his life changed in 1990 when he made a film about a group of homeless veterans living on the beach in Venice, Calif. Back then, there were few services for veterans outside of the VA, and almost none for homeless vets. After that, Peck knew he had to do something to help other fellow veterans; to become an active participate in solving the problem rather than an observer. So he went to University of Southern California and earned a degree in social work with the goal of devoting himself to helping veterans.

In 1993 Peck joined U.S. VETS, a nonprofit organization serving homeless and at-risk veterans. The organization partnered with a housing developer at that time and started it’s first site, the West Side residence in Los Angeles -a place veterans could go and get the services they needed to stabilize themselves.

In 2012 Peck was named CEO of U.S. VETS, which now has 11 facilities in six states and the District of Columbia and it serves more than 2,000 veterans each day. They have helped 3,000 veterans find housing and more than 1,000 veterans obtain full-time employment yearly. The estimated number of homeless vets at the time he became CEO, was 60,000 homeless vets. Twelve percent, or 7,200, lived in the Los Angeles area.

As a Marine officer serving in Vietnam, Peck learned a few things about war. “You face enemy fire, you engage the enemy. If you don’t go where the trouble is, you cant solve the problem.”

As the CEO of U.S. VETS, Peck takes the fight to the front lines. “Our job as I see it is to engage the enemy at home in the U.S.- the enemy of homelessness, disillusionment, and disappointment-to let these men and women know that there is a path forward and that we support them and are tremendously grateful for their contribution to this country and the sacrifices they have made.” he said in recent newspaper interview.

But Peck knows the demand for services nationwide is growing dramatically as thousands return from multiple deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He also recognizes the Veterans Administration will not be able to answer the need.

He estimates 20 percent of all vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder but only 40 percent seek help. “Crunch those numbers and it mean roughly 250,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan will go untreated and that translates into thousands of fractured families, lost jobs and more homelessness,” he said.

To stem the tide, Peck and his staff began going to college campuses and into the streets in search of vets needing help but either didn’t known it or didn’t know where to turn. U.S. VETS is building a network of contacts on greater Los Angles college campuses where several thousand vets are taking advantage of the G.I. Bill.

“We owe it to veterans who are sent out there to serve this country, to help them when they come back and that there will be sufficient money set aside for them to re-integrate back into society. I feel we have an obligation to do that,” he said.

Read more from Veterans Today

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