Stephen J. Peck, who served as a Marine officer in Vietnam, heads the nation's largest nonprofit devoted to provided housing and other essential services to at-risk veterans.
United States Veterans Initiative (U.S.VETS), which opened its first facility in Los Angeles in 1992, has grown to 11 sites in six states and the District of Columbia, serving more than 2,000 veterans a day. Yearly, U.S.VETS helps 3,500 veterans find housing and more than 1,000 veterans gain full-time jobs.
Peck, 65, says he learned in the Marine Corps, "If you don't go where the trouble is, you can't solve the problem."
As U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to wind down, the issues of veteran unemployment, homelessness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries have reached critical levels. Eighteen veterans a day commit suicide in the United States.
"Our job at U.S.VETS is to engage the enemy at home -- the enemy of homelessness, disillusionment and disappointment -- to let these men and women know there is a path forward," says Peck.
Peck graduated from Northwestern University in 1968 and entered the Marine Corps that same year. In Vietnam, he was a first lieutenant in the 1st Marine Division, serving as a forward observer outside of Danang in 1969, receiving the Navy Commendation Medal. During his service in Vietnam, his iconic father, actor Gregory Peck, was a very visible opponent of the war. "My father opposed the war but passionately supported the men who fought in Vietnam," Peck says. "He was one of the first members of the U.S.VETS honorary board of directors, as were several of his very famous friends." After his service, Peck followed his father into the movie business, devoting his talents to documentary films. Eventually, a series of films on homelessness and veteran's issues compelled him to move from behind the camera to become a full-time advocate.
Peck went to work helping the Veterans Administration place homeless veterans into housing and eventually joined the organization that became U.S.VETS as Director of Community Development in 1996. He was appointed president and CEO in August 2010. U.S.VETS strives to empower each veteran to take responsibility for his or her success, guiding them towards independence in the community, developing their workforce skills and supporting recovery by maintaining a drug and alcohol free environment at its sites.
Peck earned his Master’s Degree in Social Work from USC in 1997. He has been honored by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the USC School of Social Work, the American Legion Auxiliary, and the City of Long Beach.
Peck and his wife, Kristine Kidd, a food writer and culinary consultant, and the former Food Editor of Bon Appetit magazine, live with their Labrador retriever, Atticus, in the Los Angeles community of Topanga Canyon. He has a grown son, Ethan, an actor; and a grown step-daughter, Marisa, a writer.