Florida Veterans for Common Sense began in Sarasota, Florida in 2002 during the run-up to the Iraq War. As the drumbeat for war intensified, three Vietnam era veterans questioned the government’s position that the war would be short and easy and that the Iraqi people would greet American troops as liberators. Also, like Vietnam they noticed “intelligence” used to justify the war appeared to be propaganda and not based on reliable information. As they talked about the impending invasion with others, these three veterans learned they were not alone in their opinion and that, in fact, many other veterans shared their concern about another counterproductive war.
Knowing that other veterans shared their concern, the three veterans sought local veterans groups to speak out against the invasion. What they found disappointed them. Not only were other veterans groups not warning against the folly of invading Iraq, they were promoting it. As a result, these three veterans sought out and easily found several other like minded veterans and they decided to form their own organization to express their concerns publicly and effectively. The initial group met informally to consider ways to influence public opinion in opposition to the Iraq invasion, to take positions on other important national security issues and to help the troops and veterans.
They decided that a central theme of the group was needed and they choose to dedicate their actions towards informing the community on matters affecting national defense, active duty military and veterans’ issues. The small group had little political or media experience, but the members encouraged each other to speak out against the Iraq war and endeavored to inform candidates for political office with facts and analysis that supported a reasonable basis to oppose the war. After the Iraq invasion, the group noted that, like Vietnam, the returning soldiers were not appreciated by the public like they deserved. Worse, our own government failed to give the returning soldiers the medical and psychological care they needed. The group also noticed that, like Vietnam, American soldiers were fighting and dying in a country half way around the world without a clearly defined mission as if nothing been learned from the Vietnam War. Many members believed that continuing the Iraq occupation was not in the best interest of the United States or that keeping soldiers in Iraq made America safer. The group debated vigorously the conduct of the war and a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq.
In time, a consensus emerged that the United States should completely withdraw from Iraq at the end of 2007.
During this time, the group operated as a voluntary association as an affiliated chapter of Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans advocacy group.
In 2007, FLVCS made major steps. We incorporated Florida Veterans for Common Sense Inc. (FLVCS) as a 501 (c) 4 non-profit, tax exempt veterans advocacy organization. In addition, we also established a non-profit, tax exempt 501 (c) 3 corporation, Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund Inc. (FLVCS FUND) to serve our fellow veterans more effectively. Both are committed to the original Statement of Principles that establishes the mission for both corporations.
In the legal arena, FLVCS lawyer members have donated thousands of pro bono hours helping fellow veterans. In that regard, we worked with Chief Judge, Lee Haworth, to support the Courts Assisting Veterans Program (CAVS) in Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit (Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto Counties). For our efforts, the Sarasota County Bar Association awarded FLVCS its prestigious Distinguished Service Award for 2011-2012.
In appropriate circumstances, the CAVS programs endeavors to help veterans who come in contact with the criminal justice system obtain the help and services they need. The program is entirely voluntary and has helped hundreds of veterans. A coordinator is assigned to help the veterans and to identify and to make available community resources for the veterans such as social service agencies and the Veterans Administration. As a plus, veterans who are not in legal trouble are often identified and helped before an issue escalates to a level requiring judicial involvement.
In 2012, FLVCS was instrumental in setting up the first homeless veterans Stand Down in Sarasota County in partnership with the Court System, Jewish Family and Community Services and Salvation Army. Each year since then, FLVCS has continued to be a sponsor of the Sarasota Stand Down and FLVCS members, and non-veteran FLVCS friends, volunteer to help with the Stand Down.
In 2014 and led by women FLVCS members, we initiated work on the first ever Florida statewide Women Veterans Conference scheduled for the weekend of April 14, 2015 at Lido Key Beach Resort in Sarasota. The purpose of the conference is to empower women veterans and to establish a statewide network of women veterans. The conference is designed to help women veterans network, find jobs, start a business, and enhance personal growth. In addition, it will include opportunities for fun and relaxation like massage, facials, and tai chi.
Participating in FLVCS is not all work as we believe it is important to build camaraderie with social activities as well as service. Each year, FLVCS holds a birthday party celebration to honor the founding father, Thomas Paine, a patriotic veteran of the American Revolution who wrote the pamphlet, Common Sense, which called for an independent United States, and the American Crisis Papers that sustained the revolution and American ideals during the hard Revolutionary years.
Each year at the party, we award the FLVCS Thomas Paine Award to an individual, or organization, that has made a special contribution to our community, state, or nation consistent with the FLVCS Statement of Principles. The recipients have been:
- Rob Lorei, commentator, radio, and TV host who always speaks truth to power.
- Waldo Profitt, A WWII veteran who was a long time editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune and in that position was a forceful advocate for the environment and limitations on phosphate companies that despoiled Florida’s unique environment.
- Bob Rosinsky, the Executive Director of Goodwill Industries, established and encouraged programs to assist veterans with the Goodwill organization.
- Rhana Bazzini, at age 81, walked in the steps of Granny D, from Sarasota to Tallahassee to end corporate personhood and to get money out of politics.
In 2007, FLVCS, recognized in accord with the Pentagon, that climate change presented real and present danger to our national security. Since then, FLVCS has worked to educate ourselves and the public on the issue. In 2014, we established an Environmental Working Group within FLVCS and it has compiled an extensive report on climate change and the national security challenges resulting from climate change. The report is comprehensive in that it not only identifies the problem, but sets out specific ways in which individuals, organizations, and our society at large can reduce carbon emissions to slow climate change.
Thanks to the generosity of Collings Foundation Freedom Flights, our members have enjoyed rides on WWII B-17s and B-24s. These flights have had particular importance for our WWII members.
As veterans, we support the founding principles of the United States of America. We hold these to be liberty, equality, human rights and democracy consistent with U.S. Constitution that we swore an oath to defend. In accord therewith, we organize a patriotic observance every year on Flag Day to reinforce these principles for ourselves and public at large.
FLVCS members and friends participate in Veterans Day parades and observances along with our Color Guard.
FLVCS and FLVCS FUND continue to help our fellow veterans. We believe that the Courts Assisting Veterans program has established a positive record that not only keeps veterans out of jail and prison, but help to successfully integrate deserving veterans into our communities as contributing citizens. We therefore advocate for full funding by the Florida legislature to establish statewide veterans courts, or a program like Courts Assisting Veterans (CAVS), in every Florida county.
If you like FLVCS activities and projects, join with us now. We promise you’ll have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to our nation, state, and communities and be proud to work with us.