For Giovanni Rivera Soto, service to our country is in his blood.
“I have three uncles that served in Vietnam, grandfather served in the Korean War, and my dad served 20 years in the Army,” he says.
Soto was recruited by the Marine Corps in Puerto Rico and shipped off to basic trading on Paris Island.
Then in 2006, he got the call and was sent off to Camp Habbaniyah in Iraq.
“I played more of a support role,” he says. “I wasn’t in a firefight. I was more of coordinating on the radio.”
But for Soto, like many others who serve, the ugliness of war had its toll.
“Hearing the firefights on the radio, seeing from far away the IEDs blowing up my friends...witnessing friends coming back scarred, maimed,” he recalls.
“As cold-hearted as it sounds, you have to shake it off and continue on with the next day, the next mission.”
By the time Giovanni got back to the states, the images weighed on him. “A human being can only hold so much in.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder sent his life into a spiral, affecting his family life, his mental health, and his finances.
“Not being able to sleep, checking behind yourself so much. I was behind on my light bill, I was behind on my homeowners' association, my mortgage.”
That’s when he found the folks at the Wounded Veterans Relief Fund.
The organization steps in to fill in the financial gaps for veterans, taking away a burden that only adds to the stress.
Michael Durkee is the executive director, and a veteran himself.
“It’s also healing for me to be able to give back,” he says.
Despite only four full-time employees, his organization is making a difference.
“Since 2009, we’ve helped over 9,000 veterans and their family members in the state of Florida.”
Giovanni says the extra help meant everything.
“In less than 30 minutes, they paid for my light bill,” he says.
For veterans like Giovanni, it can be life-changing.
“So that that financial crisis doesn’t turn into frustration and that frustration turns into anger towards their spouse and then that trickles down to their children.”
“It allows a veteran a little bit of space for them to breathe.
That breath of fresh air that has made a world of difference.
“Wounded veterans relief fund…they make it family,” he says. “They really do.”
For more info on the Wounded Veterans Relief Fund, visit here.