By Stephanie Gaskell
Pay it forward.
That's what a group of veterans is doing with a $20 million class-action settlement from the Department of Veterans Affairs over a massive identity-theft suit.
They're donating about $13 million to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Fisher House Foundation, two New York-based charities that help families of fallen and wounded troops.
"When I first heard about it, it just really knocked me down. It's indicative of the kind of men and women they are," said Fisher House CEO Ken Fisher.
About 20 million veterans sued the VA after an employee's laptop with their personal information was stolen in 2006. The vets argued that the VA didn't do enough to protect them after discovering the sensitive data was missing.
"The veterans are very glad to have done this. These two are the most substantial organizations around," said plaintiff John Rowan, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran from Middle Village, Queens. "But the bottom line is, we had to make sure the VA doesn't do this again."
The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund raises money for families of soldiers killed in combat. It also helped build the renowned Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and the soon-to-be opened National Intrepid Center for Excellence, a traumatic brain injury hospital in Bethesda, Md.
There are 45 Fisher Houses across the country, located next to VA hospitals to give families of wounded soldiers a place to stay while they're being treated.
"It's just an incredible gift," said Chairman Arnold Fisher, whose uncle, Zachary, founded the organization in 1991. "Veterans have been forgotten about by many people of this country. They're the ones who deserve the credit."
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski