Retired Colo. veteran committed to helping other 'broken' vets
By LISA WALTON | The (Colorado Springs, Colo.) Gazette | Published: March 21, 2014
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Dennis McCormack has been retired for 20 years, but the list of dates and meetings in his little black schedule book would suggest otherwise.
Since retiring from Fort Bragg's 18th Airborne Corps, the former Army chief warrant officer and helicopter pilot has divided his time among half a dozen organizations dedicated to helping soldiers, veterans and military families cope with war, death, deployments, and day-to-day life.
After 26 years in the Army, which included four long tours, three in Germany, one in Greece, and three deployments to Vietnam, McCormack understands the challenges of military life, and the struggles of phasing out of it.
"We have a duty and an obligation to help this generation, especially to transition back into the civilian world," McCormack said. "You know these young men and woman, we take them out of society whole, and too often we put them back broken."
Broken is how he felt coming home from Vietnam.
"We were the throwaway generation," he said, adding that soldiers needed help, but had few places to go and get it. He doesn't want history to repeat itself. In fact, he's worked hard to make sure it doesn't.
McCormack spends most of his time working with The Home Front Cares, a 10-year-old organization that provides emergency financial assistance for military families that fall behind on their mortgage, utilities and or car payments.
He serves on various committees with the organization, runs two programs and sits on the board of directors, which meets once a month.
In January, the organization provided more than $50,000 in financial assistance to military families in Colorado Springs, McCormack said.
Once a week, McCormack attends Veterans Trauma Court, a jail diversion program for veterans and active-duty soldiers who are facing lower level felony charges. Soldiers in the program have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury.
He's a peer mentor for the program, which has more than 100 soldiers, including a veteran who recently lost his job. He's on the verge of becoming homeless, McCormack said. As the man's mentor, McCormack helps him find work and food and is working to get his case transferred to his home state so he can return to his family, who are paying his rent while he struggles to find a job.
Service members who successfully complete the program can avoid convictions that would get them kicked out of the military, McCormack said.
"The recidivism rate for those who have completed the program is zero, which is huge. It's unheard of, "he said.
McCormack has also been active with the El Paso County Homeless Veterans Coalition for the last 15 years. The coalition hosts Colorado Springs's annual Stand Down event for homeless veterans.
The recent event in October saw almost 200 attendees, the most of any other year, he said, including 14 women and one with five kids. The event aims to connect the homeless veterans with services and resources in the community - something McCormack has done year-round in multiple organizations for years.
"That's what we do. We're connectors. We find them, and we help them," he said, adding that many service members and their families come for help at the 11th hour, after financial, mental and emotional issues have evolved into crisis, he said.
"These are tough kids. They are used to taking care of themselves and taking care of other people. For them to ask for help, things normally have to get pretty bad before they'll do it," he said.
It gets to be too much for some soldiers, who are strongly considering suicide, another issue McCormack works to combat as a board member for Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention.
His commitment to so many organizations for so long is why retired Army Lt. Gen. Ed Anderson nominated the vet for the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross's Hometown Heroes community service award.
"I don't think I've ever seen, and don't think I ever will, someone as committed to the welfare of service members and their families," said Anderson, who previously worked at The Home Front Cares. "I gave up a long time ago trying to keep up with Dennis McCormack."