An Iraq War vet who almost lost it all is on a mission to help families who served
As a result of financial and physical difficulties from his wartime injuries, Chris Kreiger lost his home; he founded WNYHeroes to make sure families like his get the support they need.
Many people have a “defining moment” in their lives; I’ve had several, not the least of which was having my military vehicle struck by multiple IEDs (roadside bombs) during my ten years in the Army as an Iraq war veteran. I also did tours in Bosnia (1999-2000), Ground Zero (Sept. 11-Dec. 1, 2001) and in Iraq (2003-2004). My defining moments come with life-long reminders: debilitating injuries culminating in a stay at a poly-trauma brain center in Richmond, Virginia. As a result, my family’s “American Dream”—the big house, swimming pool, two cars, etc.—evaporated. We lost everything.
With our lives in shambles, my future livelihood in serious doubt, my constant worry became: How would I keep a roof over our heads, put food on the table or clothes on my family’s back?
I was given assurances that I would receive 100 percent temporary disability to hold me over until I was back on my feet. However, after applying, I was denied my 100 percent. Worse yet, none of the banks I approached for help were interested in my plight. In a desperate attempt to salvage our “American Dream,” we even conducted a fundraiser, but couldn’t raise enough to save the house.
I started to grow angry over what happened, watching the change in my family, especially my young boys. Going from what was ours to “No, you can’t run around, jump, or scream” for fear of being evicted from our two-bedroom apartment.
I came to realize that I was not alone. There were many veterans who also applied for their military benefits and had been denied.
It was scorched earth time I figured; I didn’t care who I offended, I was setting out to rain hell. “Do what you want to me, but do not screw with my family,” I thought to myself during my darkest days.
But the media recognized the injustice in my situation; my story made the news, from TV to radio to newspapers. Even the Reader’s Digest did stories about what happened to me and how we were treated.
Eventually, a woman reached out to me, stating that she had been following our story in the media and wanted to get together for coffee. After several meetings WNYHeroes, Inc. was born. The nonprofit organization, based in Western New York, started in 2007 with the aim of sustaining the dignity of our heroes returning home from war.
Our main mission or focus is to ensure our military families maintain their dignity even after military service is over. We stop our families from being evicted or foreclosed on and if they are homeless, keep them from living on the street, by finding them housing.
WNYHeroes will pay the mortgage, rent and utilities or buy food for up to four months. In the beginning, we were only able to sustain a family for just one month.
Today we have eight different type of assistance programs, all running successfully. We do not now, nor ever have, receive a dime of government subsidy.
Every public official loves what we do, but the minute we ask for funding, they seem to disappear. We have been operating solely off of private donations and fundraising. We also offer service dogs to our returning heroes at no cost to them. Everything is covered by our organization. However, they must be referred to our program via their medical caregiver. We also receive referrals from the Veterans Administration hospital, the courts, and state and local law enforcement.
Here at WNYHeroes, we treat everyone like family. We are here for the entire family, not just the veteran. It takes the entire family to serve our country. We treat them with the same dignity, respect and love as we like to be treated.
During his service in Iraq, Kreiger’s vehicle was hit multiple times by roadside bombs, one of which left him seriously injured towards the end of his tour. Further complicating his short- and long-term recovery, Kreiger experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Kreiger was released from the military in 2007, and in 2008 was sent to the Veterans Hospital Polytrauma Brain Injury Center in Richmond, Virginia, where he spent five weeks receiving care for the injuries he incurred, including medical attention to control the seizures resulting from TBI.
Today, as the co-founder of the nonprofit organization WNYHeroes, Inc., Kreiger works tirelessly to provide the support, assistance and resources—financial, physical and emotional—that veterans need following service to our country.