Rick Collins knows first-hand the challenges veterans face when transitioning back into civilian life.
The Del Mar resident launched Veterans 360 in 2011 after losing four friends, all members of the military. Two died in combat and two took their own lives.
“That was the catalyst,” said Collins, founder and executive director of Veterans 360.
The Del Mar-based nonprofit organization is a one-to one advocacy and support program for young veterans transitioning back into civilian life. Veterans 360 offers help through engagement, education, advocacy and healing.
Collins aims to connect and engage with young veterans as early as possible in their transition process, in an effort to prevent homelessness, substance abuse and suicide.
“We’re engaging young post-9/11 veterans,” Collins said. “They’re the most vulnerable. They’re the most at-risk. They’re struggling.”
In recognition for his work in the community, Collins recently received the 10News Leadership Award.
“Sometimes it’s good to be recognized for the sacrifices that we make,” said Collins, a veteran of the British military. “I’ve made a lot of sacrifices over the last five, six years myself. It’s just nice to be recognized for it.”
On Veterans Day, Collins is launching a new campaign to connect the community with veterans: Carry the Challenge — One.
Carry The Challenge is a transition and post-traumatic stress disorder initiative of Veterans 360. Carry the Challenge — One will challenge people to positively impact a young veteran’s life. Whether hiring a veteran, buying a cup of coffee for a veteran or simply offering a hug to a veteran, Collins is not telling people how to participate, only to positively impact a veteran’s life.
“It’s a program we want to go viral, but it’s a lot different from other campaigns,” Collins said. “It’s 100 percent positive.”
In addition to positively engaging a young veteran or a family member of a veteran, Collins also asks that participants give them a Challenge Coin and encourage them to contact Veterans 360 if they need support with PTSD or transition challenges.
“Asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s totally acceptable,” Collins said.
“We’ve got to find a way to give a positive message to these young vets so that they understand there is no shortage of support,” he added. “That’s a complete myth. There are people all over this country ready and willing to help these young vets. But the stigma, the process, the challenges they have prevents them from getting help. Veterans 360 and Carry the Challenge’s role is to make it easy for them to get help.”
To register for the challenge, visit www.CarrytheChallenge.org.