Local Hero: Sgt. Joe G. Leal

Sgt. Joe G. Leal

"The words homeless and veteran should never go together. So no red tape is how I operate, helping save our lost at any cost. Hooah!"

Sgt. Joe Leal knows first hand what it's like to be caught in the trenches of survival. He experienced homelessness as a youth, and served in the U.S. Army in the Bosnian and Iraq wars, where he was injured, for four years. He spent the next six years in uniform facilitating a program that helped veterans and their families successfully transition from combat to civilian life for the U.S. Army Reserves. Sgt. Leal continues to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves as a civilian, and has dedicated 17 years of his life to doing what he loves to do - helping his fellow soldiers and their families.

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Cognizant of the recent surge of homeless veterans, Sgt. Leal set out on his next mission. In 2010 he founded Vet Hunters Project (VHP), a nonprofit organization headquartered in El Monte that is dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness among veterans and their families. VHP provides veterans with necessities such as food, clothing, funds and blankets. It also provides housing for the forgotten veterans, either in a home to call their own or in a fellow veteran's home. VHP is a search and rescue operation - a team of volunteer veterans search for homeless veterans on the streets, under bridges, alleys, riverbed and abandoned buildings. When the team finds a homeless veteran, it provides the necessary supplies. The volunteer team is comprised of veterans who have fought in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under Sgt. Leal's leadership, VHP continues its path to success by raising awareness about homeless veterans to the public. In 2011, VHP helped organize the 1st Annual San Gabriel Valley Homeless Veterans Stand Down, which housed, fed, clothed and informed homeless veterans about the variety of services available to them. VHP team members also completed two major bike rides that searched and rescued homeless veterans: a 1,900-mile trek from East Los Angeles to St. Louis and a 2,700-mile bike ride from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. In 2012, VHP team members once again pedaled their way from Los Angeles' Skid Row and arrived in Washington D.C. VHP's grass roots efforts have provided housing and prevented homelessness to more than 1,200 veterans and their families.

Sgt. Leal has been honored for his dedication. His most recent recognitions include a Certificate of Recognition from California Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park), Senate Recognition from California State Senator Ron Calderon (District 30) and Certificate of Recognition from U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-El Monte). Sgt. Leal has also been decorated with the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, NATO (Bosnia) Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal (M), North Atlantic Treaty Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.

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