Photo: Bumble Dee/shutterstock
Photo: Bumble Dee/shutterstock

Even a cursory examination of giving for veterans reveals one constant: The majority of private donors to veterans have served their country, or have a family member who served.

Recently, the foundation of a San Diego-based real estate executive who served in the U.S. Army reinforced that pattern with a major investment in two leading research institutions. The Epstein Family Foundation, created by ConAm Group founder and executive chairman Daniel J. Epstein and his wife Phyllis Epstein, has given $10 million to the RAND Corporation to launch a new research institute at the nonprofit think tank focused on veterans’ policy. RAND is partnering with the University of Southern California (USC) on research and to amplify findings.

The project’s findings may have national implications on the way veterans’ policies are formulated on a whole host of issues. The gift is just the latest from the foundation to support the veterans community, and yet another instance of a former service member honoring the ties that bind.

A new research institute centers veterans’ needs

Through the foundation’s support, the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute will address the complex issues facing veterans and military families, including homelessness and suicide. At its core, the institute’s agenda will involve gaining a better understanding of how military and post-service experiences affect immediate and long-term housing and healthcare needs. On a policy level, RAND hopes to leverage its relationships to influence local and national decision-making.

According to Carrie Farmer, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the new institute’s co-director, that means partnering with “both national and regional veteran-serving organizations” to maximize geographic diversity. Formerly the study director for a comprehensive assessment of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), Farmer will work alongside Rajeev Ramchand, an epidemiologist and expert in the field of substance and mental health disorders in service persons.

The Santa Monica-based Rand Corp will partner with the University of Southern California to conduct research, disseminate findings and educate the veteran community. When announcing the gift, Daniel Epstein expressed confidence in the collaboration’s potential to generate solutions that meet the “special needs of our service members.”

Farmer said that research findings will be released as they’re available, with the first set “expected within a year.” Meanwhile, the foundation hopes other donors will meet them halfway there. The institute is actively seeking $10 million in additional funding to aid further development and impact.

Established giving relationships 

Headquartered in San Diego, Daniel Epstein’s ConAm Group has more than three decades of property management under its belt, and boasts an expansive real estate portfolio that includes 50,000 fee-managed and ConAm-owned apartments nationwide. Recent records show that the Epstein Family Foundation made qualified contributions of $1.7 million in 2018 and held assets of $22.7 million.

The foundation’s support for the new institute is only its latest partnership with RAND on behalf of the veteran community. Epstein funded a podcast, Veterans in America, that discusses RAND research developments. The foundation also invested $1 million in a project to place homeless veterans in permanent housing and supported the first RAND Congressional Fellowship in the House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs during 2019 and 2020.

The Epsteins’ giving typically stays close to home in California. In 2019, California State University San Marcos celebrated the grand opening of the Epstein Family Veterans Center, made possible by a 2017 gift of $1 million that funded the physical expansion and renovation of the existing center, and endowed programming to support veterans and their families.

The foundation is also a loyal supporter of USC, Daniel Epstein’s alma mater. For example, a gift to the university’s School of Engineering established the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial Systems Engineering, and a $10 million commitment created the USC Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine. Epstein is a member of USC’s board of trustees, and the couple’s two children are also alums.

The ties that bind

Epstein is one of many philanthropists who’ve served their country and then went on to make supporting vets a priority in their giving.

For instance,Steve Cohen, Wall Street billionaire and owner of the New York Mets, has close family ties to the military. His son’s service in the Marine Corps included a tour in Afghanistan, and his father served in the Pacific during World War II.

In 2016, Cohen made one of the largest veterans’ commitments to date: $275 million to the Cohen Veterans Network, which offers free treatment at health clinics throughout the U.S. to help military vets and their families navigate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.

The Cohen Veterans Network has opened 19 centers across the country and is well on its way to a goal of two dozen sites. During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the network turned to telehealth to reach its communities. The clinics now in operation have treated more than 23,000 veterans and family members. Support is offered regardless of discharge status.

Another philanthropist in the space is Carlyle Group co-founder Daniel D’Aniello, who served as a supply officer in the United States Navy. He contributed $20 million to support the construction of the National Veterans Resource Center, home of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).

Financier Eric Gleacher made a $10 million gift to his alma mater, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to fund a scholarship program for veterans seeking MBAs. Gleacher said his experience in the Marine Corps gave him “a boost in self-confidence,” which, when coupled with his time at Booth, delivered a sense of direction that he hopes to “make possible for those who have served.”

Gleacher also inspired the family foundation of his friend and fellow Booth alum Charles “Mike” Harper to join him in supporting veterans. Harper joined the Army toward the end of World War II. The Harper Family Foundation recognized his “allegiance to both his country and the military” by doubling Gleacher’s $10 million gift.

GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after struggling in high school, and earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in action during a tour of duty in Vietnam. He has been a loyal supporter of veterans’ issues ever since. In 2020 alone, the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation made a $10 million commitment to Semper Fi and America’s Fund, a $2 million commitment to Team Rubicon and a $5 million grant to the University of Baltimore to support vets and students transferring in from community colleges.

As previously covered in Inside Philanthropy, retired Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Pritzker has made veterans a priority through her philanthropic arm, the Tawani Foundation, which places an emphasis on supporting military heritage and awareness.

In 2003, after nearly three decades of service in the U.S. Army, the U.S. Army Reserve and the Illinois National Guard, Pritzker founded the Pritzker Military Museum & Library (PMM&L), fueled by “a recognition of the singular role the military.”

The Pritzker Military Foundation she created serves as PMM&L’s fundraising vehicle, and supports other nonprofits engaged in preserving military history, showcasing historic artifacts and protecting the health and well-being of soldiers. In 2011, the museum expanded into a landmark building in Chicago’s Loop that the colonel purchased and restored as its new home.

Pritzker has also worked with Jewish War Veterans for more than 40 years, and supported the Women in Military Service Memorial Foundation, the sole major memorial to women who’ve defended the United States.

Donors who’ve walked a mile in combat boots have used their deep understanding of the toll of military service to educate, treat and memorialize veterans and service members. And as their giving attests, those commitments tend not to waver. Even during a global pandemic, they stayed true to supporting vets.

Still, a larger question remains. As the World War II generation passes away, the draft becomes a distant memory and the number of Americans with personal military ties grows smaller, who will answer the call in the decades to come?