BUFFALO, N.Y. — Chris Kreiger grew up on Buffalo's West Side in a military family and said he knew ever since he was a child that he wanted to join the Army. Kreiger joined the U.S. Army in 1997. In 1999, he served alongside North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces securing mass grave sites in Bosnia through Operation Joint Forge. Then during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, he was hit by multiple roadside bombs and suffered a traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, and epilepsy. But those were just his physical problems.
"Nobody who goes in with the mindset to serve their country comes homes with the mindset that the next battle they're fighting is for your benefits," said Krieger. "We ended up losing our home. We lost everything we had that we call the American Dream. I wanted to do something to make sure it doesn't continue to happen to men and women."
So, in 2007 Kreiger created WNY Heroes - a veterans' assistance organization - with the main mission to provide financial assistance to veterans, and to ease the transition from combat to civilian life.
"This is about keeping veterans in their homes, their utilities on, making sure they have a roof over their head and food on the table because when I came home that was the big worry and the struggle."
The first program they created was Heroes' Bridge. It provides the veteran with up to 4 months rent, mortgage and utilities.
Then he developed more programs based on his own experiences. Kreiger said he was so cash-strapped, that he found he often had to deny his two small children the joys of activities and gifts and he did not want other veterans to have to do the same. So WNY Heroes started the Little Heroes program, to help pay for extracurricular activities.
"We can tell veterans, 'you don't have to tell your children no anymore. If there's an extracurricular activity he or she wants to take, reach out to us and we can help fund that for you so that you can tell your kids yes.'"
They also had backpack giveaways and Adopt-A-Heroes family for the holidays.
There's also Peer-to-Peer counseling, female veterans programs, and scholarship programs. During the pandemic, WNY started drive thru food distributions weekly and now they're continuing it every other Tuesday and 1,500 veterans take part.
Kreiger is particularly proud of the Pawsitive for Heroes program which he launched in 2014. They use incarcerated veterans, among others, to train rescue dogs, who will in turn rescue the veteran who becomes its owner.
"We have trained so far over 140 service dogs in WNY. We train them up and we give them away to veterans free of charge. We don't ask for a dime," said Kreiger.
Learn more about the Pawsitive for Heroes program and partnership with the Buffalo Sabres, click here.
WNY Heroes will be unveiling it's new expanded space on East Delevan Avenue in Buffalo next month which includes meeting spaces, a new service dog training school, and space for mental health providers, social workers, and nurse practitioners. A one-stop shop for veterans who need help, but might be afraid or ashamed to ask for it. He says soldiers are constantly told they need to be self-sufficient and it's not alright to ask for help, and that's why it's even harder to do so on the home front.
"You're not wrong for asking for help. It takes a bigger person to ask for the help, then to stay secluded in a dark corner and just forget about the world. There is a home for you. There is a place and it's right here at WNY heroes. Let us help you change your life," said Kreiger.
In 2021, WNY was able to distribute $600,000 to local veterans at 84 cents on the dollar according to Kreiger.
"Veterans try to repay us in some way and that's not what we're about. This isn't about having to repay anything. We do it because we know that there's a need out there that's not being met," said Kreiger.
WNY Heroes has a paid staff of only 5, and functions mostly with the help of volunteers. Kreiger thanks the community for donating and volunteering to make it all possible for WNY Heroes to carry out it's mission.
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