The American flag reflects off the helmet of US Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Williams aboard Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 23, 2012. US Marine Corps photo by Meghan Gonzales.
Lying in his hospital bed at Walter Reed Medical Center, Clint Trial — a Marine and 22-year veteran who spent the majority of his career in special operations — accepted that his long road to recovery was just beginning. Less than 48 hours earlier, while hunting for a high-value target in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, Trial stepped on an IED, triggering an explosion that severed both of his legs. Thanks to the courage of his fast-acting teammates, Trial was now alive, stable, and back in the United States. But the hard work of recovery still lay ahead. Lucky for Trial, he wouldn’t have to walk that long road alone.
More than 45,000 nonprofits in the United States exist to help veterans. Many of them are specifically dedicated to helping wounded veterans. As with anything, not all those organizations are as upstanding as they purport to be. Trial — like many of the roughly 52,000 veterans wounded in our nation’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan — learned the hard way that some nonprofits don’t live up to their promises. A select few prey on both wounded veterans and the generosity of Americans who donate their time and money to help those who served.
To ensure those who donate to veteran nonprofits can trust their money is going to the right place, Trial helped compile a list of reputable organizations that live up to their word. We’ve done our homework, met with catastrophically wounded veterans, and created a guide highlighting some of the best, most trustworthy veteran nonprofits. This list is not comprehensive — countless more organizations are doing amazing work. Still, these eight stand out for consistently offering life-changing support to veterans in need.
Cyclists for The Ride for Semper Fi are presented with special dog tags after they finish their ride in San Diego. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot.
When it comes to charities, few are as well-respected among veterans as the Semper Fi & America’s Fund. Trial calls them “best in class.” They were founded in 2003 by a handful of military spouses with the simple goal of helping wounded Marines and sailors coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That mission quickly expanded to support families of wounded service members. In its first year as a 501(c)(3), the Semper Fi Fund raised more than $5 million.
A modest group of five volunteers started the organization around one of their kitchen tables. They wanted to do something for the men and women coming home from overseas, so they began greeting newly wounded veterans with care packages and words of encouragement. Those initial acts of charity quickly grew.
In 2012, the organization expanded to help veterans and families from all military branches. Semper Fi & America’s Fund now provides one-on-one case management, transition programs for veterans leaving active duty, and integrated wellness programs to treat various combat injuries. As of last year, Semper Fi & America’s Fund has supported more than 29,000 service members, veterans, and military families.
They continue to keep administrative and fund-raising costs to a minimum and have managed to maintain an average of 7% overhead since 2003. To date, the Semper Fi & America’s Fund has given veterans more than $280 million of assistance.
Nearly 2,000 West Point cadets and U.S. Military Academy leadership members participated in the 18th annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run/Walk Sunday in Manhattan. US Army photo by Class of 2023 Hannah Lamb.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Brooklyn firefighter Stephen Siller was off-duty when he learned planes had struck the Twin Towers. He donned his gear and began driving to Manhattan, only to find the Brooklyn tunnel was already closed. Not to be deterred, Siller strapped his 60 pounds of gear to his back and continued toward Ground Zero on foot. He was killed when the towers collapsed.
In his honor, Tunnel2Towers was founded later that year and remains dedicated to helping catastrophically wounded veterans, first responders, and Gold Star families. One primary way they help is through building mortgage-free homes for qualified recipients.
“I can’t give this foundation enough praise,” said Clark Cavalier, a Marine veteran who lost both legs to a Taliban IED in 2011. “At my previous home, there were quite a few challenges. Thick carpeting made it hard to roll on, and nothing was at the right height. The microwave and stove were too high to reach. This home changes all that.”
Cavalier is just one of more than 600 catastrophically wounded veterans who have received a mortgage-free smart home from Tunnel2Towers. The smart homes are designed to meet the specific needs of each veteran. They include automated doors and lighting; wider halls, doorways, and showers to accommodate wheelchairs; and cabinets and stovetops that can be raised and lowered as needed. Each home also comes with a backup generator.
Every year since its founding, Tunnel2Towers has received the highest possible rating from Charity Navigator — the leading charity assessment organization. For every dollar they receive, 95 cents go directly to their programs. After more than 20 years of serving those who served, Tunnel2Towers continues to set the standard for how to give wounded veterans their independence back through customized homes.
Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die.
The Special Operations Care Fund (SOC-F) was founded in 2013 to provide medical and financial support for special operations veterans and their families. Their programs include free-of-cost treatment for traumatic brain injuries, 10-day camps for Gold Star children, and counseling. They also maintain an emergency fund to help special operations veterans during emergencies.
“SOC-F keeps knocking it out of the park. Their services are for a very small demographic, but the way they are structured as a fund is probably the best way that it can be done,” Trial said. “They keep it running with the right people, and that attracts more good people. The team and the donors, they are all industry leaders. More importantly, they genuinely fucking care about the people they’re helping.”
SOC-F foots the bill for expensive TBI and PTS treatments such as MeRT neuromodulation procedures and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. These innovative treatments are often not covered through the VA and can cost upwards of $40,000 per person — a price most veterans cannot afford to pay.
SOC-F intentionally maintains a quiet social media presence. They typically don’t allow cameras at their charity events. For them, the reason for attending their events is to give back to the special operations community, not to rub elbows with powerful business leaders. SOC-F relies on growing its positive reputation among the community they serve rather than self-promotion.
A US Army soldier igniting waste in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the HunterSeven Foundation.
The HunterSeven Foundation is the leading veteran organization for understanding and treating toxic exposure. They take a proactive approach to helping veterans identify health issues related to toxic exposure and providing them with the necessary resources for treatment.
“We specialize in research, but also do a lot of work in advocacy, policy work, and the provision of immediate needs,” said Keith Dow, HunterSeven’s director of outreach and care coordination. “If somebody comes to us with health concerns, we have a policy not to turn anyone away. So, if it’s not within our wheelhouse, we try to refer them to the best partner organization that we know.”
While many organizations simply dole out funds to veterans in need, HunterSeven emphasizes the importance of educating veterans and healthcare providers. Service members often experience various strange symptoms that healthcare providers don’t realize are connected to toxic exposure. Nearly half of their funding goes toward education, research, and raising awareness. The rest goes directly to their Immediate Needs Program.
“The Immediate Needs Program helps with travel and lodging, care costs, and, most importantly, second opinions. Usually, we see one of two things: either a veteran receives a diagnosis, or they have a variety of symptoms and can't get any answers as to why,” Dow said.
Thanks in large part to HunterSeven’s advocacy and research, the passing of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act brought awareness, not just to the dangers of burn pits, but to all types of toxic exposure veterans face.
“We’ve worked hard to dispel the burn pit boogeyman,” Dow said. “Service members who spent time in shoot houses, or working on flight lines, for example, are also at risk. Burn pits became a sort of catchall, but there are other things causing these weird cancers in otherwise perfectly healthy young men and women.”
Garreth Hoernel, left, and Nick Cimmarusti spar on July 10, 2021, at Patrol Base Abbate, near Thompson Falls, Montana. Photo by Hannah Ray Lambert/Coffee or Die.
Patrol Base Abbate was founded in 2020 by Marine and Sangin veteran Maj. Thomas Schueman. The organization is named after Matthew Abbate, a Marine Scout Sniper and Navy Cross recipient who was killed in action in 2010.
When three of his subordinate Marines committed suicide in a single month in 2019, Schueman felt compelled to act. After learning that non-combat veterans are actually twice as likely to commit suicide as those that did serve in combat, Schueman recognized the need for an organization that provided opportunities to all veterans — with no stipulation as to who was welcome other than having served.
“I looked at the organizations out there, and to be a member, you had to be special operations or wounded — you had to check all these boxes,” Schueman said on the Black Rifle Coffee Podcast. “But that’s, like, 1% of the 17 million veterans who served. The data shows suicide is not strictly a special operations or wounded veteran problem. So I thought, ‘What if we lift all the barriers and just say if you raised your right hand, you’re in?’”
The goal of Patrol Base Abbate is to provide a community to veterans to combat isolation and disconnect — the leading causes of veteran suicide. The organization has a wide array of clubs, from book clubs to hunting clubs. There are local chapters in more than 40 cities across the country, and a single patrol base in Montana that hosts annual retreats.
Mason Rodrigue, a former machine gunner and Marine veteran, attended the annual Fight Club retreat in 2022. He struggled with the notion his service didn’t matter since he did not serve in combat.
“I went to the Middle East, and I didn’t get the combat I thought I would get,” Rodrigue said. “I struggled with that when I came home and I realized that wallowing in this idea of being ‘less than’ doesn’t serve the men whose legacy I want to uphold. […] I hate the idea that my brothers might feel that their service didn’t matter, because it mattered to me. That is why [Patrol Base Abbate] means so much to me.”
Clint Trial jumps in the spring of 2022 for the first time since losing his legs in combat three years prior. Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company.
Fisher House provides free housing for families of service members receiving care at military hospitals. These “homes away from home” allow family members to be with their loved ones while they receive medical care for extended periods.
Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher founded the organization in 1990. It has since helped more than 305,000 families, saving them more than $360 million in out-of-pocket costs for housing and transportation.
Trial is intimately familiar with Fisher House. They provided his family with a place to live while he was still healing from his catastrophic injuries.
“After I was wounded and moved from Walter Reed to Texas, there wasn’t an option to live in base housing,” Trial said. “I was still knee-deep in rehab, heavily medicated, and needed to be in a very controlled environment. My wife, daughter, and I were able to live in the Fisher House for over a month during that transition.”
Trial is quick to point out that Fisher House also provides housing for situations beyond treatment for wounded veterans.
“For any veteran who has spent an extended period in a base hospital, Fisher House can be extremely helpful. I also used it for the birth of three of my kids. It’s right next to the hospital, and I could go there just to catch a little sleep while we were in limbo. Some people don’t realize it is not a DOD thing — it’s a nonprofit. I can’t speak highly enough about them.”
The Marine Recon Foundation team pose with wounded teammates during the annual Wounded Recon Teammate and Family retreat in Montana. Photo courtesy of Jose Tablada.
Recon Marines consider themselves consummate silent professionals. For that reason, the Marine Recon Foundation walks a fine line between remaining quietly humble and letting the world know they exist. It’s difficult, but the foundation’s president, Pep Tablada, and the rest of the Recon community like it that way.
“We rely on outside organizations to tell our story. Putting ourselves in the spotlight is just not our style — in fact, it’s frowned upon. We have to thread the needle a little to let people know why they should donate to the organization,” Tablada said.
Marine Recon Foundation’s primary goal is to support all generations of Recon Marines and Special Amphibious Reconnaissance Corpsmen. They accomplish this through a variety of programs, ranging from business grants, assistance with job placement, and education benefits to combating issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, and suicide. They also host annual retreats for Gold Star families of fallen Recon Marines and sailors. All of the work they do is accomplished through an all-volunteer staff.
“None of our staff or board members are compensated. That’s a point of pride for us,” Tablada said. “I’ve found that in this world of nonprofits, that is not often the case. Our staff is entirely volunteers working second careers, but we’re all in because we believe in the mission.”
Black Rifle Coffee Company's Tim Pachasa and Mat Best represent BRCC during the check presentation to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Retired Maj. Gen. Clay Hutmacher is the president and CEO of SOWF, and Cole Hauser serves on the board of directors. Photo by Benjamin Pennington/Coffee or Die.
Few charities do more for the children of fallen special operations veterans than Special Operations Warrior Foundation. SOWF is dedicated to giving children of deceased special operations veterans every opportunity to pursue higher education. As they put it, they provide “cradle-to-career” support.
SOWF was founded in 1980 to support the 17 children whose fathers were killed during the Iranian hostage crisis. Since its founding, SOWF has grown, helping pay for the education of nearly 2,000 Gold Star children. They offer preschool funding, tutoring, and private K-12 tuition assistance. SOWF also covers the full cost of tuition to the university or trade school of the child’s choosing.
Alicia Sims, whose husband, Jacob, died while serving as a pilot with the 160th SOAR, received financial aid from SOWF for four of her five children. In the wake of Jacob’s death, SOWF helped Sims plan for the future.
“Knowing [SOWF] is just an email away if we were to need anything education-wise, it puts my mind at ease,” Sims told Coffee or Die in 2020. “Because I don’t have to worry about what to cut this month to pay for tutoring or anything like that.”
Their support also allowed Sims to pursue her own goals.
“Because my youngest gets to go to preschool, and I don’t have to worry about daycare, it’s allowed me to better myself to further my own career so I can take care of myself and my kids, and not have to rely on other people.”
Sims is one of many Gold Star spouses whose children have been given access to higher education thanks to SOWF. Last year, SOWF covered the cost of tuition for 210 students. Charity Navigator has given SOWF a four-star rating for the last 16 years.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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