HOLIDAY ― Hoping to leave behind the sad chapter of a leader who sullied their organization’s name, the board of directors of Veterans Alternative this week posted a letter to the community and clients apologizing for their “inaction” over the last several months and announcing new leadership.
“As a Board, we want to stand together with the victims of harassment and violence and assure you we will not tolerate this type of behavior in our organization,” the statement said. “While we cannot change the past, we are moving forward with new leadership in place and a strong commitment to accountability, transparency and integrity.”
Veterans Alternative, a not-for-profit organization which provides alternative therapies and community engagement for veterans struggling with a return to civilian life, was co-founded by Brian Anderson, himself a decorated veteran. Last month, Anderson was convicted of battery of massage therapist Mariah King. He is currently serving a 120-day jail sentence. He also faces a felony drug charge for a controlled substance authorities allege he possessed on the day of his conviction.
Three other women who worked for Veterans Alternative in the past came forward after King filed her police report. They each said Anderson had made unwanted sexual advances towards them.
Anderson resigned as the charity’s chief executive officer on the day of his trial. Two other leaders of the organization, Pat Fried and Chris Sowell, are now sharing the job of interim chief executive officer.
Fried said Wednesday that the board insisted on making the public statement to the community to demonstrate it was deeply committed to its core mission of helping veterans and stressing that “accountability, transparency and integrity are vital to our organization.”
Also gone from the Veterans Alternative leadership team are former board chairman Thomas May and former vice chairwoman Patricia Thompson. Fried, Sowell and all other Veterans Alternative employees joined together to hire a lawyer to represent them and to seek the ouster of May and Thompson in the weeks leading up to Anderson’s trial.
They argued the two had “engaged in a pattern of conduct with the sole goal of protecting Mr. Anderson and his personal interests, instead of exercising their fiduciary duties.”
May and Thompson turned in their resignations last week.
The Veterans Alternative statement also thanked its staff, volunteers and donors for continuing their support of the organization “through the public struggles over the last year.“
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New members added to the board of directors are Steve DeMatos, a combat veteran and long-time supporter of the organization, and Nicole Stroebel, with over 25 years in nonprofit leadership, They will serve as the co-chairpersons for Veterans Alternative.
Fried said that with the changes, “our entire staff now feels 100 percent supported by the current board members.”
May shared his resignation letter with the Tampa Bay Times. In it, he said “I believe it is the best course of action to allow the organization to move forward and for my family and I to focus our efforts elsewhere. I do so with a pure heart and truly wish the organization, the staff and volunteers all the best. I genuinely hope that Veterans Alternative continues to be a long-term provider of the much needed services and I will never besmirch or befoul it’s efforts.”
He also said that previously, the board had discussed other options for the future of Veterans Alternative in case the staff resigned or if the board were forced to temporarily or permanently shut down due to lack of funding.
Fried said that Veterans Alternative has gotten positive reaction to its statement this week. She said the staff has been honest with clients throughout the last few months about their challenges related to Anderson.
Janel Norton, who co-founded Veterans Alternative with Anderson but left in 2017 because no one would take action on concerns she had lodged about him, said she also hopes that the organization can now start to move forward.
She visited the office of the charity last Friday for the first time in months. Norton said that there was a different feeling there now. “Everything felt light, like the place had been set right,” she said. Even a client who was leaving after a therapy session was joking with the staff.
“I’m really hopeful that the new board and the new staff can restore the reputation,” Norton said. “I know that what they do really works and it’s needed. It is so needed.”