The “Veterans Can Do” Foundation is a non-profit organization based out of northern California that focuses on helping disabled veterans not only navigate complicated VA claims processes but also gets them out on the water to surf as a form of both mental and physical therapy. They have only been running for about 14 months so they’re a fairly new organization but the message and intention are something we are stoked to see. It was founded by Brandon Miller, a disabled veteran himself, as a way to help his fellow veterans. We chatted with Brandon to see how it all came about and if you’d like to follow and donate to the “Veterans Can Do” Foundation, click HERE!
P5: Hi Brandon! So how did the idea of the “Veterans Can Do” Foundation come to fruition?
Brandon: As a disabled veteran myself, I’ve helped other veterans navigate the VA claim process and identify/locate what services they offer to get help. About 2 years ago, I took out some buddies I met at the VA surfing. We spent a lot of time discussing our experiences, the VA and wakesurfing that day getting to know each other. None of them had ever been wakesurfing and it took a minute, but once they got up and dropped the rope, the ear to ear smiles gave me the idea to start the nonprofit here in Northern California.
P5: Were you an avid wakesurfer before putting the foundation together? Can you tell us some about your military background?
Brandon: We bought the boat in 2021 and it was the first time I really tried wakesurfing and couldn’t get enough. The “Can Do” in our name comes from my time as a Navy Seabee. That’s our motto. Our logo incorporates the Seabee mascot with a twist. I replaced the tools with a wakeboard. I was a heavy equipment operator “EO” in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMBC) 3 stationed at the Seabee base in Port Hueneme, Ca.
P5: How many events does the organization put on a year? Where do they usually take place?
Brandon: We’re still fairly new since our 501(c)3 was approved and we’ve only done 4 events so far. We also partnered with another nonprofit for a larger event recently at Folsom Lake, CA. Ideally, we want to be out on the water a few times a month during the boating season. With so many lakes up here in northern California, we are lucky to have a lot of options. Our VA services are year round, typically meeting up at the local roundtable or having a Teams call. As we continue to grow, we hope to be doing more events in Socal and Oregon as well.
P5: How many veterans usually come out to each event?
Brandon: I try to keep it to a max of 4-5 per boat as most veterans have never had a chance to wakesurf and allows us time to coach up everyone. The first few events we had a little more and while everyone fit on my VI24, it was tough to give everyone enough time on the wave. Luckily, Sally and Mike Mello at Mello Marine are our biggest fans and have just grabbed the nearest boat on the yard and brought it out when we need 2 boats.
P5: Have you ever had any professionals come out to coach before?
Brandon: Yes! We are lucky to have an Olympic Snowboarder and pro wakesurfing coach Mr. Andy Finch in our backyard. Our partners at Mello Marine put us in touch and he’s been a huge supporter. In fact, he even brought some Phase 5 boards to the last event we did. Having someone like Mr. Finch step up for the veterans is a pretty cool thing to see, I mean here you are being pulled behind a boat your first time with all your focus to just keep from face planting and then there’s this guy on his foil coaching you up and showing you how to balance in real time 10’ to your left! It’s a sight to see for sure and he has everyone dropping the rope. The energy this guy generates on the boat with the veterans is pretty amazing.
P5: Not only do you get these veterans out on the water but you also help them with their VA claims, correct? Can you tell us a little about that?
Brandon: Yes, it started for me in 2009 when I had been out for 10 years and never knew I qualified for benefits. I had a random ER doctor ask me how I got hurt and then asked me why I was there and not the VA hospital nearby. That’s when I began my VA claim and it took a long time to land where I am now. Over the years, I’ve shared what I learned the hard way with others and helped connect people with their local resources. Today, we partner with our Counties Veteran Service Officer (VSO) holding workshops and step by step help. We’re proud to say that we’ve helped over 52 veterans either establish or increase their benefits and get access to funds to make their home ADA accessible for service connected injuries.
P5: Thanks for talking with us Brandon. If there are vets out there reading this that want to get in contact, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Brandon: Thank you Jeff and the P5 team for giving us an opportunity to share our mission. Best way to contact us is firstname.lastname@example.org or through our IG page @veteranscando!