Looking out for disabled vets

Patrick Stiner was still wrapping his head around it last
week.

He was back in North Idaho.

Safe, with housing, and with new motivation to continue cancer
treatments.

All of that, Stiner said, is thanks to a veterans group he had
never heard of before last week, The Guardians Foundation.

“I’m still shocked,” the combat veteran said last Monday,
sitting in the Coeur d’Alene Press office.

When he had arrived as planned at a hospice in Key Largo, Fla. a
few weeks ago, it wasn’t all he had expected.

He wasn’t in as bad of shape as the other folks there, he
realized. And he was flooded with calls from friends he didn’t know
he had back home in North Idaho, prodding him to return.

“The more I dwelled on it, the worse I wanted to come back,” he
said.

But Stiner, who had been working as a homeless shelter volunteer
in Post Falls, lacked the resources to do so. A call to Veterans
Affairs resulted in “an unpleasant conversation” where it was clear
the group couldn’t help him, he said.

“I was in the position that I was going to hitchhike back,”
Stiner said.

But that very day, he received a call from a man named Erick
Zook in Coeur d’Alene, who had heard about his situation.

Zook explained that the group he volunteers with, the Guardians
Foundation Inc., might be able to help.

“For all the hard work he’s done helping the homeless shelter,
the favor is being returned to him,” said Zook, himself an Iraq war
veteran. “We help any and all veterans in need of services.”

He assured Stiner the group would have him home in a few
days.

The group came through, Stiner said.

“At 11 o’clock at night, they called and said, when you get up,
go here, here and here and everything will be in order,” Stiner
said. “In a span of four hours, they had all the arrangements
made.”

The group’s organizer, Coeur d’Alene resident Mike Shaw, said he
had simply dialed different businesses for donations. He purchased
a bus ticket for the three-day trip for Stiner, wired him over $100
for food and other traveling expenses, and even arranged for
members of a local Veterans of Foreign Wars in Florida to drive
Stiner to the bus station.

“It’s what we do. We give our donors an opportunity to
facilitate an organization that is constantly looking for
situations to help veterans and their families,” said Shaw, a
National Guard staff sergeant who created The Guardians Foundation
last September, after returning from Iraq. “We use techniques that
large agencies can’t do. We’re pretty aggressive.”

By 8:30 the next morning, Stiner said, he was on a bus.

When he arrived in Kootenai County a few days later, the
Guardians found him a home in Spokane, and bought him a new
phone.

Now accepting the cancer treatments he was determined not to
bother with before, Stiner said he has a plan for what to do with
the extra time.

“Work for the guardians,” he said. “I’ve already
volunteered.”

The Guardian Foundation’s goal is simple, Shaw said. To find
quick solutions for disabled veterans with specific needs that, for
some reason, the government isn’t able to address.

Typically efforts involve finding corporate sponsors to procure
items or fund a service, Shaw said.

“We’re kind of a bully pit of a 501(c)(3),” he said.

So far, the group has helped a veteran procure a new hot water
tank after his own busted, Shaw said. It helped another veteran
procure a hot tub he was told was necessary for treating a spinal
cord injury.

“We target the actual need,” Shaw said.

After he returned home from overseas, he explained, he wanted a
way to help other service men and women he could relate to.

“I decided that if I form an organization that helps individuals
who have the same emotional feelings I’ve gone through, I’ll be
able to walk the walk and talk the talk,” he said.

Zook, a disabled veteran of the Iraq war, said the Guardians
Foundation is helping him find housing so he can move out of a
homeless shelter.

“It’s making a great change in my life,” Zook said, adding that
volunteering for the nonprofit full-time is keeping him out of
trouble after he’s had trouble finding a job. “Being able to get my
life straight.”

For more information go to: theguardiansfoundation.org.

Shaw admitted that the group is still in its infant stages,
trying to set up an official office for folks to come in and
request assistance face-to-face.

But he couldn’t turn away veterans he’s already encountered who
need a leg up.

“We’re just way ahead of schedule,” Shaw said. “I had no idea
the demand was that great.”

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