This oldie but goodie interview was recorded in 2014 for the Las Vegas International Press Club. Hosts Frank Spady (Veterans Chat co-founder) and Leonard Wright talk with Shad Meshad, the founder and president of the National Veterans Foundation.
Shad is an incredible advocate for veterans. As a Vietnam veteran Medical Service Officer he provided counseling to soldiers in the field. When the war ended Shad kept counseling Vietnam veterans. One of his biggest accomplishments is the co-founding of the VA’s Vet Center program. There are now over 300 of these facilities in the United States.
To this day Shad Meshad is one of the most sought-after authorities on Trauma Therapy, Combat Stress, and readjusting issues for those making the transition from military to civilian life.
This interview has been edited slightly for readability. At the bottom of this interview is the recorded audio version.
Interview with Shad Meshad, Founder and President of the National Veterans Foundation
Frank: Yeah! Shad, you out there?!
SHAD MESHAD: I’m out there.
LEONARD: Hey! Shad!
SHAD MESHAD: How is Big Frank?
FRANK: Hey, what’s going on Shad? Talk to me!
SHAD MESHAD: Baby, it’s great to hear your voice. I love listening to the conversations but we’ve had about 14, in the last two hours, crisis calls from all over the country. One from Vegas and we’re just rocking here, baby.
FRANK: Hey, let me introduce you. You guys just hear the voice of a great man on the phone here. We’ve got my man, Shad Meshad. I call him Shad Meshaddy. He hates it because I can’t pronounce his last name but I tell you what, he lives in the tent half the time. He’s out there on the shad. He is the president and founder of the National Veteran’s Foundation.
Great guy, he’s out there helping all the vets from all over the United States. Shad, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about the foundation? I’m very proud. I just got nominated to the Board of Directors for the National Veterans Foundation.
SHAD MESHAD: Hey, baby. Congratulations coming on the board. We need an airborne ranger combat vet as they’re related but we’ve been in business now since ‘85. We’re going on our 29th year in November with the National Crisis and Information Hotline for all war veterans and their families and children nationwide.
We’ve been rolling since 85 and big time, since 86, 87. We’re now…obviously with these two ten year wars, one I guess is kind of over, we’re still in Afghanistan. We’re trying to deal with all the reintegration problems of our men and women coming back.
Once they take that uniform off, they become…as we say, “invisible”. That’s what we do every day. Whether it’s mental health, medical, it’s jobs, it’s education. We cover the whole gambit. Our line, you can ask or talk to us about anything.
World War II, all the way up to well, Frank knows that we actually get some calls from the combat zone periodically in Afghanistan. We’re pretty well out there, so to speak. But we should be out there.
Everybody that serves as a vet should be out there. That’s out where the veterans are.
FRANK: I think the one thing that really impressed me is that not only do they operate the suicide hotline but another thing is they help vets maneuver their way through the VA, trying to help them get their benefits; they try to help them just to maneuver their way through the maze.
SHAD MESHAD: Well, navigation is everything whether you’re in the Navy, the military. You remember the old night cop, of course, Frank? If you don’t have navigation in the system, it’s like the largest bureaucracy in our country, is so unuser friendly. That’s how I see it.
To navigate and particularly coming today, even during air, about 40 plus years ago to navigate such a bureaucracy that’s not user friendly, doesn’t set well, particularly with war fighters that come back and they’re told, “Hey, here’s your health care system. We’re going to transition you back in or whatever.”
You’re standing up at the castle and you need a sledgehammer to get attention and even that, you may have a nine month to a year and a half way. You’ve heard all the horror stories but the bottom line is we have to get them in the system.
It’s a mega billion dollar institution annually and the only way they can get their claims or benefits, even though there’s some horrific stories about getting those, that’s the only place we can go so we do. We spend a lot of time helping them navigate so their GPS point on hanging in there.
The other thing we do, Frank, is we tell them, “Don’t stand still.” My jump master said, if you’re standing still, you’re backing up.”
FRANK: That’s right. I heard that.
SHAD MESHAD: We don’t like these guys waiting 18 months just doing nothing and drinking and getting in trouble waiting to either be accepted or denied on a claim. I say, “Look. While you’re waiting, you gotta be moving forward. You gotta be doing something. You gotta get involved.”
You’re already five, ten years behind your peers. We’re already talking about this is the only war in our history where we’ve had multiple tours. Three, four, five, six. That sergeant killed two weeks ago was his eighth tour.
FRANK: Why are they taking so many tours, do you think?
SHAD MESHAD:: Because we don’t have a draft and they have to recycle. As long as you’re keeping the war machine there, you’ve got to have soldiers. As long as 12 years in Afghanistan, 10 years in Iraq, National Guard Reserves and what little regular Army that we have are military.
What are you going to do? You can’t send robots over there. At least not this day in age. Maybe in 30 years but it takes boots on the ground. Believe me; you know what I’m talking about.
FRANK: I know, I know. What are some of the things that…I know myself, when I personally come over there and visit your facility and saw you guys…by the way, tell all the guys there I said hi. I think you got a couple ladies there that are tough. I think a couple of them tried to arm wrestle me. Got some tattoos on the side of them.
SHAD MESHAD: I’m tellin’ ya, man.
FRANK: Tough. You got some tough ladies by the way.
SHAD MESHAD: They’re staying 24 years in the Air Force, setting up our women’s program. You know 13 percent of our fighting force now are women, Frank.
FRANK: I know, there’s some tough women.
SHAD MESHAD: We didn’t know anything about that back then.
FRANK: We got about two minutes to go and I want to make sure that everybody knows you’re privately funded. You’re not lucky like the VA, where they just open up the doors and Barry walks in and says, “Hey, by the way, this is a take the money out of my pockets.”
What’s the best way that we could help you out? I know we got a PayPal button. In fact, I think they can go to the radio station and there’s a link back to the website. What’s some of the things we can do?
SHAD MESHAD: Well, first of all, the support…our hotline. We’re trying to get up 24-7, as you know. There’ s no human being that just has problems 9 to 5, Monday through Friday and we’re only funded for that. We want to get up to 24-7.
We’ve got to raise a million dollars this year to get that up. Hiring, which I’m hiring mostly combat vets and training a pair of professionals to operate the phones with back up…
FRANK: What’s that 800 number? Do we have an 800 number?
SHAD MESHAD: Toll free. Toll free. 888-777-4433. Our website is NVF.org. Very simple. NVF for Natural Veteran’s Foundation, dot org.
LEONARD: Perfect. I can’t believe it! It’s actually unbelievable. The Las Vegas International Press Club has completed its first episode! Thank you so much for sharing the mic with us.
FRANK: And Shad, you’re going to be back every Friday. Is that what I hear?
SHAD MESHAD: Airborne, all the way.
FRANK: Okay. You tell them. Five, ten, we’re off the air and thanks a lot, all you veterans out there! We love ya!
CLICK BELOW TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO OF THE INTERVIEW