As a Lieutenant in the 1st Marine Division near Da Nang, Vietnam, Steve Peck learned a few things about war. “ You face enemy fire, you engage the enemy. If you don’t go where the trouble is, you can’t solve the problem.”
As the CEO of U.S. VETS, Peck is still taking the fight to the front lines. “Our job as I see it is to engage the enemy at home in the U.S.—the enemy of homelessness, disillusionment, and disappointment—to let these men and women know that there is a path forward and that we
support them and are tremendously grateful for their contribution to this country and the sacrifices they have made,” he says.
Peck’s involvement with veterans’ issues began more than 20 years ago, when as a filmmaker, he worked on a documentary about a group of homeless veterans living on the beach in Venice, Calif. Back then, there were few services for veterans outside of the VA, and almost none for homeless vets. Since its establishment in 1992, U.S. VETS has grown
to include 11 facilities in six states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 2,000 veterans each day; in one year they will help 3,000 veterans find housing and more than 1,000 veterans obtain full-time employment.
That kind of help was not available for returning Vietnam vets. Without strong support from family, friends or government, many vets drifted into homelessness and addiction, like Jim, one of the vets Peck met on Venice beach more than 20 years ago. Jim had serious PTSD from combat in Vietnam, so he had a hot temper and got into a lot of bar fights. He hit the wrong guy once and the guy pulled a gun and shot him, paralyzing him from the waist down. He also had a Silver Star, given to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was living
in his car when Peck got to know him. “His wheelchair was parked outside the car door and his Silver Star was in the glove compartment. I became a social worker to save guys like him,” Peck said.
After earning his degree in social work from USC, Peck referred the first veteran to Westside Residence Hall, the first site developed by Cantwell Anderson in the early 90s. He has not stopped since. In 1996 he joined U.S. VETS full time as Director of Community Development. In August of 2010 he was named President and CEO.