America Supports You: Fund Helps Families' Comeback from War
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2006 In the past six months, the eight volunteers of "Operation Family Fund" have given $300,000 in grants to military families in need.
Mike Cash speaks at the 10th Annual Radio and Records Inc. Talk Radio Seminar Mar. 12, 2005. Cash is founder and chief executive officer of Operation Family Fund, a nonprofit group providing grants to the families of servicemembers who have been killed or wounded. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
Operation Family Fund provides grants with no strings attached to the families of servicemembers who have been killed or severely wounded, said Mike Cash, the group's founder and chief executive officer.
"The most memorable moment is when I make the phone call and usually talk to the soldier himself who's been severely injured or his spouse," Cash said. "They begin to cry and explain to me the financial pressures they've been under. So the $5,000 or $10,000 is going to help keep their house payments up, their car payments up, the utility bills, and things like that."
Speaking from his office at Naval Air Systems Command, at China Lake, Calif., Cash said he founded the all-volunteer nonprofit organization in April 2003. The 25-year civilian Defense Department employee said he encountered a problem while trying to donate money to the family of a Navy pilot killed off the coast of Afghanistan.
Cash said he wanted to give money to help support the pilot's family and allow them to spend it any way they saw fit. He called each of the service-connected nonprofits -- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, Air Force Aid Society, and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance. Each group gave him the same answer: Their charters only allow them to give funds, typically on the order of $100, to families for particular purposes. They are unable to give grants of thousands of dollars for general use.
"They actually challenged me," Cash recalled. "The CEOs of those nonprofits challenged me to go ahead and see if I could start something like that. So basically I took that challenge."
After a slow start the first year, the fund has grown exponentially, helping more than 50 families to date, he said. Six of the group's eight volunteer fundraisers normally put in three hours a week, while Cash and the group's financial officer work two to three hours per day seeking donations.
Cash said lasting partnerships between his group and the people who work directly with the injured veterans are key to the fund's success.
He said his group works mostly with Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, social workers and case managers. "They refer the families to us," Cash said. "In fact, we have a number of social workers that actually help them make the grant application and send it to us."
That keeps families from being bogged down by paperwork in such stressful times, he said.
One of the group's frustrations has been maintaining communication with case managers and social workers who have the most direct contact with the troops and know what help they need, Cash said. "We still have a lot of work to do to get the word out," he said.
Over the past three years, the group has been able to expand its services beyond its original scope. At first, the organization only granted funds to troops wounded or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, but lately it has helped soldiers injured in Africa and Bosnia. Soon, Operation Family Fund hopes to expand even further, Cash said.
"Recently we've had several requests to provide some financial support for (troops) injured in the line of duty," he said. "We're looking at modifying our charter to include those injured in (the continental U.S.) and training exercises."
Cash said the group is prepared for a long haul. "We have a very long term commitment to this," he said. "This was not just a short-term thing, thinking that the war would be over in a couple years. I committed at least a minimum of 10 years to help these families."