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Community Profile: Ben Keen, Steel City Vets

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Pittsburgh is a great city because of its people. The city has faced its share of challenges, but Pittsburghers have grit and a knack for pulling together, finding ways to solve problems and build stronger communities. As a firm, we believe in supporting our communities, and we also believe in supporting the people and organizations who are dedicating themselves to helping others and helping our city.

In the future, we plan to highlight more people and organizations that fit this description. For this installment, we'd like to bring attention to Ben Keen and his work with Steel City Vets

Steel City Vets serves all veterans but places an emphasis on a growing number of post 9/11 veterans living or moving to the greater Pittsburgh area. Through a network of organizations and a variety of events and outreach efforts--from one on one support to group outings and charity efforts. Ben saw that many veterans' organizations had city-based chapters, and because of the number of veterans coming out of recent conflicts, from 9/11 to the present, many of these chapters focused on his generation of military service people.

He couldn't find one in Pittsburgh, so with some help from other veterans' groups, he founded Steel City Vets.

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According to Ben, the organization's mission is re-engagement.

"We talk about the 'basement veteran,'" Ben says. "One of the biggest things impacting veterans is that they can become very reclusive very quickly. Two veterans can serve in the exact same unit in the same area and react two different ways. The re-engagement piece is solely about getting them up and off the couch and out and into the community."

Part of Ben's passion comes from knowing what it's like to be a basement veteran.

Ben served in multiple combat deployments. For example, he was a part of the initial invasion into Iraq as part of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. When he transitioned out of the military in 2008, he struggled to settle back into civilian life. Soon, he turned to self-medicating with alcohol.

When Ben saw the toll that his struggle was taking on his family and his children, he thought to himself, "I didn't survive all of that [time in Iraq] to come back here and die on my couch."

He went online and found Iraq Veterans Online, the biggest group of post 9/11 veterans at the time. He saw that they were using online communities to help veterans connect and support each other. Seeing the good those groups were doing for vets became the genesis for his own project, Steel City Vets.

Six years later, Steel City Vets is still providing services to veterans in Pittsburgh, and the people Ben has met and his passion for his work has helped him conquer his own inner basement veteran along the way. Though the organization is involved in a lot of activities across the greater Pittsburgh area, the main focus is still on helping veterans re-engage with the community, to get out and about and enjoy the wonderful city that some of us might take for granted from time to time.

Steel City Vets has a number of upcoming events and initiatives. Visit their website and follow them on Facebook to learn more about their work and how you can help.

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Ben would like to give a special thanks to Brian Vavra and Elyse Wigle for their help in making Steel City Vets a reality.

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