2020 Veterans Grant Contest

To recognize the sacrifices veterans have made for our country, the law firm of David Resnick & Associates is awarding cash grants to men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

“On Your Side, Fighting For You.”

That’s the motto at David Resnick & Associates. It also applies to veterans. While our firm fights for injured victims in the courtroom and at the negotiating table, veterans were on our country’s side, fighting to protect all of us. We believe it’s time to honor deserving vets. Check our Veterans Grant page to learn the latest submission details.

We are proud to announce that we have chosen our winners:

Typically we give out three prizes each year but this year we could not choose only one third-place winner and are giving them each the prize amount for third place.

  • 1st Place: Cait Koffarnaus
  • 2nd Place: BriGette McCoy
  • 3rd Place tie: Steven D. Anderson
  • 3rd Place tie: Pedro Ortizcastaneda

1st Place – Cait Koffarnaus

“On September 6, 2011, I went in to work for the Nevada Army National Guard. My commander asked us to meet him at an IHOP near the armory to discuss the PT program redesign. It took a man wielding an AK-47 and 80 rounds to kill my entire command team in a total of 9 seconds. After 4 funerals in 1 weekend, 10 children who lost a parent, the grief of 3 widows and the devastation of 8 parents, I began carrying the hefty burden of survivor’s guilt and PTSD. After 9 years, 9 surgeries, over 2 years in a wheelchair, 300 plus hours of physical therapy, I am still not considered a combat veteran because I was shot twice in the United States.”

Cait served at the Nevada Joint Force Headquarters as a Human Resource Specialist from November 2005 – October 2013, when she was medically retired due to the injuries she sustained in the attack. She also received the Valley Forge Cross for Heroism for her quick thinking and actions to help two of her fellow military members that were seriously injured.

Despite her own injuries, Cait remains upbeat and is persistent in her goal to overcome her injuries so she can continue to live a normal life with her family.

I became acquainted with Cait through a non-profit, Project Kenny. I train service dogs and Cait was recommended to receive one of our dogs. I had the privilege of handing over “Scout,” a yellow Labrador retriever. Scout was still a little rambunctious and I was worried that Scout may be too much for her to handle. Again, her professionalism and huge heart kicked in, she worked with Scout to continue Scout’s training and they have become an incredible team. Again, in Cait’s words,

“Scout is the kind of creature that makes you think dogs are angels in disguise. She will quietly lay at my feet when she can tell I’m upset. She gives me a kiss and a look of love before she’ll take a bite of her food. She comforts my children when they’re sick and she wasn’t trained to do that. She realized (after a few short months) my stress is directly tied to the health and welfare of my family; by helping them, she is helping me. She walks astride my wheelchair and other assistive devices as easily as she walks beside me on two feet. She was trained to adapt to my mobility needs as well as nightmare interruption and PTSD support. For these reasons, she’s a comfort to me in restaurants and other public places. When you are a victim of homegrown terrorism, it’s hard to feel safe anywhere.”

There is so much more to the Cait’s story though. Besides overcoming her own physical and mental injuries, she is an incredible wife and mother. Her husband is also in the National Guard and will soon be deploying overseas for a year. He deployed several times during their marriage and Cait has managed the household through thick and thin. She has two amazing boys that despite their disabilities, they live an active normal life thanks to her parenting skills. Her youngest son is legally blind and her older son also has learning challenges. She is a strong advocate for her children and despite their learning challenges, they excel in school and enjoy life, including many family outings to the mountains with their parents.

Any one of these obstacles may have caused many to despair. Through it all, Cait not only survives, but she thrives. After receiving her service dog, Scout, Cait started volunteering for our non-profit, Project Kenny, to write grants so other veterans could also receive a service dog. She is also the secretary for Project Kenny. Her attention to detail and writing skills are amazing. She helps keep the entire board organized and on track. Her enthusiasm is contagious and she is a joy to have as part of our organization.

However, Cait encountered yet another life obstacle. She was just diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and is facing surgery. I agreed to take over her duties while she undergoes surgery and recovery. This grant was the very first one I ran across and I immediately thought of Cait. Her heart, her service to our country, her dedication to helping other veterans, and her dedication to her family make her a truly deserving veteran to receive one of your generous grants. Shortly after adopting Scout, her service dog was diagnosed with a bladder problem and requires medication for the rest of her life. Project Kenny offered to take the dog back, but Cait would not hear of it and she pays for Scout’s medication as well as all the other costs associated with owning a dog. This grant will help offset the cost of Scout’s medication.

Cait is an inspiration, not only to me, but to veterans, people with debilitating injuries, mothers, and every woman that has ever served. Cait is smart, mentally strong, articulate, beautiful both inside and out, but most of all she loves. She loves her God, her family, veterans, children, dogs, and in turn, everybody around her loves and admires her for her big heart, her strength and her determination.

2nd Place – BriGette McCoy

She is not only a 100% service-connected woman veteran of color, having served as an Army Data Telecom Specialist during the Gulf War era, but also is a national leader in women veteran issues, education, communication (with specific STEM interest/training), and empowerment.

BriGette is an extraordinary representative of not only women veterans but of all veterans. She has continued to serve her fellow veterans for the past 11 years without compensation as the Founder and CEO of Women Veteran Social Justice Network, based in Atlanta GA.

I have known BriGette for over ten years, first as her Clinical Training Director with The ArtReach Foundation, Inc. (providing expressive arts therapeutic interventions to veterans), and subsequently in her capacity as Founder and CEO of Women Veterans Social Justice Network, Inc.  As co-chair with her on the Inaugural and Second Women Veterans National Conferences in April 2014 and March 2015, I served with her in all aspects of these live and electronically-broadcast conferences.  I have also worked on her team for this year’s two national Moral Injury and Women Veterans and Chaplains Conferences (livestreamed due to the COVID pandemic). Finally, I have served as an Advisor, Ambassador, Board Member, and Internship Director of WVSJ Network and consider BriGette a colleague and friend.

BriGette single-handedly built, and has subsequently managed, a national electronic network of Veterans through her nonprofit, Women Veteran Social Justice Network, Inc.  She connects daily via all channels of technology with the largest number of Veterans and Veteran Service Organizations of anyone I know (currently 22,000). She is committed to the instruction of adults in technology, recognizing the power of technology in communication and learning, and opportunities for those who learn to use it well.  She has produced a series of podcasts on/by women veterans, has partnered with government (e.g. FEW) and civilian groups to meet the needs of working women veterans, homeless women veterans, and student veterans. She distributes personal care bags all over Georgia to men and women veterans in need, runs retreats for veterans and their children, and networks with scores of other veteran organizations and the VA to meet their needs. She hosts fundraisers of all kinds to support the organization’s mission (identify, connect, empower).

As a service-connected disabled woman veteran, she has chosen not to “sit and collect a check”, but to lead and empower others in embracing their best selves, and finding resources to help them achieve their goals. Her passion for the work draws others to help her. But her organization has been long overlooked in organizational funding grants, which I suspect is in part the result of her serving an underserved and under-recognized population of women veterans.

BriGette is generous with her time and talents: she will come ready to work, ready to listen, and ready to share with others what she knows.  She is fearless and engaging as a spokesperson for Veterans and minorities.  She handles difficult issues with knowledge, thoughtfulness, and humor. Having seen her run a national organization from her laptop and phone, she is capable of working and partnering with other organizations at a distance, and meets deadlines.

BriGette also serves on other nonprofit Veteran Boards (e.g., Warrior Songs out of Michigan; Protect our Defenders out of DC, etc.) and was the first woman to serve on the Atlanta Mayor’s Veterans Affairs Commission, now serving as the Vice Chair. She has created a podcast series featuring women veterans discussing their military and post-military experiences. She organized the first (and only) double issue on Women Veterans in the online magazine, Combat Stress, in which all articles were written by women veterans (including her own articles).  She is a sought after speaker at national conferences, rarely receiving compensation. Much of the success of her organization and women she serves has come out of her own pocket. This award would be of great help toward upgrading her nonprofit’s technology and providing a stipend for an intern to help her.

And finally, BriGette is a survivor of rape while she served in the military (by her team leader). After she reported her assault she was invited to leave the Army. She lived through a period of untreated deep depression, PTSD, and TBI that led to homelessness while she was caring for a young daughter. She found the resources for help and the internal resiliency to move on to leadership for other veterans. She completed her BS in Psychology, ThM in Pastoral Care, and has just graduated with an MS in Technology. She is frequently asked to appear on television and radio to share her message of hope and empowerment.

For twelve years I have volunteered as a Psychologist with active duty military personnel and Veterans (as Consultant at Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Augusta, and serving on several Boards and as an Advisor to WVSJ Network). I know of no other veteran who so passionately supports and serves fellow veterans as completely as BriGette. She needs the funds for her organization, and I strongly recommend BriGette as one of your award winners. In 2020, the Medal of Honor Foundation recognized her and WVSJ Network with their Community Service Award. I hope you will give her similar recognition.

 

3rd Place – Steven D. Anderson

First and foremost, I would like to thank David Resnik & Associates for providing this scholarship opportunity to veterans like myself. I believe that supporting veterans who are pursuing education is an honorable endeavor. Throughout my diverse education, civilian career, and military service, I have seenveterans supporting their communities and industries in exemplary ways.

Raised as a Navy brat, with both grandfathers serving in WWII, military service was instilled in me from an early age. My father’s service stations growing up included San Diego, Naples, D.C., Sicily, and Norfolk. I spent half my high school in Wisconsin and half in Richland, Washington. Upon my graduation, there was no hesitation in my mind to accept a 4-year ROTC scholarship at the University of Wisconsin over the opportunity to be an NCAA swimmer.

During my last year as a student, I participated in the Simultaneous Membership Program, where I enlisted with the 229th Horizontal Construction unit of the Army National Guard. As a cadet, I was selected to attend the Army Sabalauski Air Assault School, where I completed all three phases and earned my wings. In 2011, I received my bachelor’s degree in Biological Systems Engineering and commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army National Guard, joining the 229th as a Platoon Leader. I was a distinguished graduate at the Engineer Basic Officer Leadership Course (E-BOLC) in Fort Leonard-Wood, Missouri. While completing the course, I was the top pick for Marine Engineer Dive Officer course but had to decline due to a scheduled deployment with the National Guard. One year later, I deployed with the 229th in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

During our 9-month tour overseas, our platoon was assigned multiple high-profile construction and deconstruction projects in support of a regional consolidation effort of joint military bases. My platoon became well-known in Regional Command South for our efforts on several projects, including expanding a Special Forces Forward Operating Base (FOB) to make room for a team of Navy SEALs, constructing a new expansion in a strategic location for a fleet of Apache helicopters, de-constructing a Special Forces outpost in a highly targeted area, and training Afghan National Army construction assets. Myself, my platoon sergeant, and one of my squad leaders earned Bronze Star medals for meritorious service for our efforts on the tour.

Upon return from the tour, I started my civilian engineering career. I began as a Customer Engineer for 3 years at Nelson Global Products, developing exhaust systems with prime on-highway truck manufacturers including Navistar. Alongside my work, I was a swim coach for a USA Swimming team May 22, 2020 in Stoughton, WI. Here, I also began training for 3 consecutive Ironman competitions. I then transitioned to a job as a Manufacturing Engineer for Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) in Middleton, WI. As a Manufacturing Engineer, I became proficient at electromechanical systems and worked in a multi-disciplinary design team to develop new and innovative theater networking products and lighting equipment.

During this time period, I continued my service as an Engineer officer with the WIARNG. My first assignment upon returning from overseas, was as the Executive Officer (XO) for a Wheeled Sapper (Combat Engineer) unit that had a secondary mission as a rapid-response search and extraction team—CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP). As XO, I directed all search and extraction operations through multiple training exercises with civilian fire, police, medical, and government personnel. As one of the few qualified Air Assault graduates in the state, I was selected to attend the US Army Pathfinder course in Camp Blanding, Florida in collaboration with the Florida Army National Guard. I was a proud graduate of one of the most challenging schools the US Army has to offer.

My next assignment was as Brigade and Battalion staff levels, where I served as an Engineer Liaison for the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and as an Engineer Plans Officer with the 724th Engineer Battalion. I worked closely with subordinate unit commanders to provide them with mission planning support. During this time period, I was selected to be part of a small and specialized National Guard team called to State Active Duty response to devastating flood damage in the northern region of Wisconsin (Operation Northern Devastation). I worked alongside a civilian engineer from the WI Department of Transportation to make damage cost assessments and liaise with local governments to garner the justification for national FEMA funding. Two years later, I was again called on to support a similar mission after flooding once again devastated local roadways and infrastructure.

After two years on staff, I was offered command of the 950th Route Clearance Company in Superior, Wisconsin. This proved to be one of the greatest challenges and honors of my military career. Commanding a company requires a dedication like none other. I had the privilege of working with incredibly talented and experienced NCOs and officers through a plethora of challenges that arose, while maintaining a high level of training on a constantly evolving threat. Upon completion of my command tenure, I was assigned as the Battalion S4, where I made my decision to halt my military career and follow my passion for space.

I was accepted into the graduate school of the University of Arizona, where I recently completed the first year as a candidate for a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. When I applied to the program, I was expecting to utilize the Post-911 GI Bill to partially fund my education. Unfortunately, I was notified after I had accepted the university’s offer that I did not qualify for the GI Bill due to the timing of my deployment. This was a devastating blow, but I decided to move forward with my education as a selffunded student, regardless of being denied the veterans benefits.

As my fiancée works to find employment in this difficult time-period, I am forced to provide for the two of us and our rescued pit bull, Dak. Thankfully, I found employment through a research lab and I had made wise investments before I became a student. Grants such as the David Resnick & Associates are crucial avenues of support for veterans such as myself, who are working to support myself and others. Thank you for the support you provide to veterans pursuing education and for your consideration

3rd Place – Pedro Ortizcastaneda

I would describe my time in the Marine Corp as a time of “great sharpening.” The Marine Corp, places the highest expectations on its Marines. Everything has to be earned, nothing is ever given and every Marine is held accountable for every misstep. Their intense culture places an immense amount of pressure; however, it is this pressure that sculpts us in becoming great leaders. There were countless times when we spent weeks trying to escape the desert heat. Others, when the freezing rain and snow made death seem like a pleasant gift. Many nights where three hours of sleep was the norm. We faced the harshest environment, the worst living conditions yet it’s the times of misery and unfortunately tragedy that forced us to grow.

The moment of tragedy was on September 17, 2017. My unit was conducting a training operation that would prepare us for an upcoming deployment. My team was assigned as the assault squad to infiltrate an enemies headquarter. The mission was clear and routine for us. We were using AAV’s to transport to the drop location, where we would move by foot onward. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t fit in the AAV assigned to my squad. I was the odd man out and assigned to an empty AAV behind them. I didn’t mind it, who wants to be transported in a crowded 150-degree metal box while wearing a full combat kit anyways. It turned out to be both a blessing and curse. Approximately 40 minutes into the movement the AAV stopped, I was instructed to stay in while the others worked on an issue. It was here when I heard a loud shockwave followed by screams. I quickly opened the back hatch to see what was going on. I turned and saw the AAV in front of me, the one I was supposed to be on with my squad was engulfed in flames. I don’t remember much after that moment. It was only through dreams and talks that I’ve been able to recollect my actions from that day. I remember being overcome with fear as I bolted towards my squad. They were locked in and I had to open the back hatch for them. As I arrived, the hatch slammed open and three Marines stumbled out, blocking the rest from getting out. I grabbed Marine after Marine by their flask and threw them as far as I could to clear room for the rest to get out, fearing that the AAV was soon to explode again. I don’t remember much after that. Everyone in my squad made it out alive, a handful were airlifted out for emergency care. The others carried on, as if nothing had happened.

This event was the highlight of my career in the Marine Corp. We often speak about how we would react in times of tragedy. Would we freeze in fear or would we allow our training to take over, allowing us to do the extraordinary. Since the accident I’ve gained great insight of who I am and what I want to do with my life. I don’t regret my time in the Corp, I’ve learned, grown and become a leader of character that strives to help others. That is why I’m pushing for an education that would place me in a position to help others. I specifically enjoy the thought of attending law school and becoming a lawyer so I could defend those that can’t. Why do I deserve the grant? I believe that I deserve the grant because I’m doing what I believe is the right thing to do in order to improve my community. Academia is expensive and any financial help will ease the burden and allow me to pursue an education that will place me in a position to help those that are in need.