BUFFALO (WKBW) — During the month of November we are dedicated to telling the stories of the heroes who live among us in Western New York as part of our Buffalo Strong Veterans initiative.
For the last 14 years WNY Heroes has provided support and essential resources for thousands of local veterans and their families. "We want everyone to feel comfortable, we treat them like family, you are family", said Chris Kreiger, the President and Co-Founder of WNY Heroes, Inc.
"In the military they break you down and they build you into the warrior that they need", said Krieger. "There is no boot camp afterwards to transform you back into the loving father, son or brother."
The goal of WNY Heroes, Inc. is to ease that transition, helping to eliminate the hardships that many veterans face when moving from combat back to civilian life. "That can range from illnesses to PTSD, to Traumatic Brain Injury, to depression and suicidal thoughts", said Kreiger. "There is a wide range of what veterans deal with coming back home."
It's a struggle that Krieger knows all too well. As a Veteran himself, Krieger returned from the Iraq War in 2004 suffering from a traumatic brain injury and unable to work. Facing financial difficulties Krieger then lost his home, putting his family in a desperate spot.
"I'm not ashamed to admit it. Days in and days out, nights in and nights out, I contemplated suicide all the time because everything just began to snowball", said Kreiger.
But out of darkness, hope, and the creation of WNY Heroes, Inc. in 2007 which offers resources based on Krieger's personal experiences.
In 2020 the non-profit awarded more than $420,000 in rent and mortgage relief for Veterans through the Heroes Bridge initiative. Other programs include matching Veterans with service dogs that the organization trains, to providing food and clothing to families during the holidays, to simply offering a sense of community.
"A lot of times Veterans are reaching out for camaraderie", said Lynn Magistrale, Program Director for WNY Heroes, Inc. and Iraq War Veteran. "The biggest thing is finding friendship that we all miss after out time in service".
Amanda Yauch, Jessica Hannah and Renie Boyln are all part of the organizations female Veterans group and say they have found friendship and support at WNY Heroes, Inc.. "I could say i didn't have friends, but now I do. They drag me out of my house kicking and screaming", said Yauch with a laugh.
The group just had more than 80 participants come together for a women's weekend retreat. "I knew when I went I could just be free. I could be who I was", said Hannah, who is a Veteran of the Navy. "I didn't have to be this person or that person. I could let every emotion flow.
"I found it difficult to take my skills into the civilian world. I speak a different language", said Boyln, a Navy Veteran. "I found my family. I hung out here so much that they gave me a job"
A family and community of Veterans, many from different eras, coming together to support each other through shared experiences. "You embrace it", said Hannah. "You enjoy those moments of laughter, you enjoy the moments of sadness as well. We know we have each other regardless"
Veterans helping Veterans in an organization founded out of personal hardship.
"WNY Heroes, Inc. is my therapy", said Krieger. "If I can focus on another Veteran, and do what we can to help them in their dark moment, then my therapy is complete.
The Buffalo Strong initiative is honoring Western New York veterans and their families this November with a special edition t-shirt and hoodie, "Buffalo Strong: Honor, Respect, Perseverance." To order one, click here.