A few years ago, I was intrigued by the many news stories I was seeing about the new “tiny homes” helping homeless veterans around Kansas City. I reached out and connected with the Veterans Community Project, and the more I learned, the more impressed I was by the impact that the VCP is having. One number really stood out: over 90% of the veterans whom the VCP work with are able to get back on their feet and reacclimate into society.
Today, both my family and Keen Wealth Advisors are grateful supporters of the Veterans Community Project’s newest initiative, the VCP Veterans Navigation Campus. It’s a real honor to welcome VCP Co-Founder, Chief Project Officer, and retired U.S. Army Specialist Brandonn Mixon on today’s show to discuss how his remarkable team is transforming cities across the country and making sure that none of our heroes get left behind.
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“I need to continue the mission.”
At 18, Brandonn joined the Army looking for a sense of brotherhood and family. At 21, he was serving our country in Afghanistan, feeling like he had found his tribe and his purpose.
And then his life changed forever.
While unloading an aircraft, Brandonn fell two stories and landed on his left shoulder and head. Most of us would spend the next month in bed after something like that, but Brandonn took some ibuprofen and tried to go back to work.
“I didn't think anything of it,” he remembers. “21 years old, I'm in the best shape of my life. My job in Afghanistan was a crew chief on Blackhawks. Our job is really intense, really tight knit. There's 12 of us for all of Afghanistan. And so when I initially had an injury, I popped back up like, ‘Nope, I got a mission. I need to continue the mission.’”
Three months later, despite ongoing pain and some bad headaches, Brandonn was on a routine flight when he spotted incoming fire. The pilot dove the Blackhawk to safety. Brandonn was thrown from his seat and felt his shoulder pop. He was sent to a U.S. military base in Germany where CT scans revealed traumatic brain damage, crushed vertebrae, and a dislocated shoulder. He was sent to the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for extensive rehab.
“I'm seeing guys that are disfigured, burn victims,” Brandonn says. “And I'm like, dude, I have my two arms, two legs, I'm doing okay. I don't need to be here. Just get me away from here. Let me go back.”
Unfortunately, Brandonn’s injuries were so extensive that he was medically retired from the Army and sent home to Kansas City. Describing the transition from active duty to early retirement, Brandonn says, “It was like, ‘Here's this severance pay, and by the way, this is how you do interviews. Good luck in Kansas City.’ That’s really fast paced, but not tailored to my needs. I know I'm struggling with mental health issues. And I kept thinking in my head, the only thing that's going to solve this is to take my own life. I don't want to be a hindrance to my wife. I don't want to be a hindrance to my parents. I don't want to be a hindrance to my battle buddies because that's how I viewed myself.”
“Why are you guys so happy?”
Brandonn’s wife could tell that he was hitting a new low. So she connected Brandonn with the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I went to this event and I met some other vets that were really happy,” Brandonn says. “And I'm like, why are you guys so happy? I hated this part in my life. And they told me, ‘We help other veterans.’ I was like, I love that. I love the way that makes me feel. I made really good friends with some of those guys at that event. We started a big chat group because we're all about helping veterans in the community.”
Often those chats turned into Brandonn and his friends scrounging up resources to help veterans who were falling through the cracks.
“A lot of dishonorably discharged veterans, a lot of reservists, a lot of National Guard veterans do not qualify for any types of veteran services,” Brandonn says. “Meaning, they could say, ‘I'm thinking about committing suicide. I needed to go to the VA.’ Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, the VA just says, ‘You don't qualify for our services. We have to turn you away.’ And then you don't see any other organizations saying, ‘I'm willing to help you.’ That’s because a lot of these organizations take federal funding, which limits who they can and can't help.”
Brandonn and his friends decided that the best way to address this glaring need was to start their own nonprofit, independent from federal funding. “We knew we wanted to do some type of transitional housing,” he says. “A lot of veterans, when they transition out of the military, they just go live on the streets because it's a lot easier for them. That's the military mentality. So we created the Veterans Community Project, literally building the first tiny house in my driveway.”
“We have their back.”
Today, Brandonn and his team have built 49 tiny homes in Kansas City. Their operation is now expanding with their newest initiative – The Veterans Navigation Campus which will be modeled after the centralized location on military bases which help service members with military matters. The key difference is that this campus will focus on civilian life and will create a straight line to life-changing support including housing, emergency assistance, mental health, legal aid, substance abuse, healthcare, job skills / workforce training, VA navigation and more.
The VCP’s model has been so successful that it attracted the attention of former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a retired National Guard Captain who abandoned a promising political career when he opened up about his struggles with PTSD and mental health. Jason had a bold vision: take the VCP national. In January, the VCP broke ground on a new project in Longmont, CO. Brandonn says that 4,000 cities have reached out to the VCP about building new facilities, and they’re currently working on plans in St. Louis and Sioux Falls. But as this incredible organization continues to grow, it remains focused on helping one veteran at a time.
“If you know somebody who’s struggling, we have their back,” Brandon says. “Don't leave them behind. Step in the trenches for a bit, help them out, and say, ‘I know this great program. Let's figure out how to get you involved in it,’ or, ‘Let's figure out how to bring VCP to our city.’ Because you guys can make that impact and change your life as well.”
For more information on how you can support the Veteran’s Community Project, visit:
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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