The cabbie didn’t say it, but Smith knew his refusal had to do with the fact that he was a solder. He started walking home on the Van Wyck Expressway until another cabbie offered to take him the rest of the way home.
“We were baby killers and rapists and druggies, that’s how we were kind of described,” said Smith. “I felt a little bit of the abandonment of my country for me.”
He notes that things have gotten better since he served. People welcome today’s returning soldiers as “warrior patriots.”
However, reintegration can be difficult, so Smith and a few other vets founded Vets Helping Vets in 2008 with the primary goal of helping combat veterans get counseling, medical assistance, housing and more.
“Veterans tend to open up a little bit more to a fellow vet than to a civilian,” said Smith.
One of his goals as president is to address the needs of female vets, a group whose needs are too often neglected.
“We don’t want it to be the old boys club,” said Smith. “If our sisters need help, we want to help them.”
The problem is a lack of steady financial assistance. Vets Helping Vets is in the process of becoming a 501(c)3 organization, but until all the papers come together, it can neither qualify for government funding nor hold fundraisers.
“People kind of know we're out there, we just haven't made a big, big impact, but it's only a matter of time,” said Smith. “The more voices that we have out there, hopefully the better we will be heard.”
For more information about Vets Helping Vets or to make a charitable contribution, contact Smith at 347-768-1972 or firstname.lastname@example.org.