Texas native finds life helping other veterans in Northern Nevada
LVN Editor Emeritus
Life’s hard knocks banged early on Shane Whitecloud’s door.
The small-town Texan wanted to join the U.S. Air Force, but the recruiter was late. Instead, a Navy recruiter stuck his head out into the chilly day and invited Whitecloud into his office to warm up. That day — the day after high-school graduation — marked the beginning in what he thought was a new chapter in life, especially with the opportunity to serve his country as a 17-year-old Navy enlistee.
Life, though, took on a roller-coaster feel and through personal defeats and triumphs, Whitecloud gradually rose to a life of service by providing help to fellow veterans who, like Whitecloud, encountered hardships.
Because of that devotion and his work as a public affairs officer for the Veterans Affairs Sierra Nevada Healthcare System, the Nevada Department of Veterans Services selected Whitecloud as October’s Veteran of the Month in a ceremony conducted Monday in the Old Assembly Chambers at the Nevada Capitol.
As a young sailor in the mid-1990s, Whitecloud completed basic training in the Navy’s first co-ed class at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. His first duty station took him to the sunshine and gentle trade winds of Oahu.
“I thought what 17-year-old man will get this chance?” he rhetorically asked of his first duty assignment in Hawaii.
A major accident, though, occurred months later on ship, and Whitecloud suffered injuries. As he woke from anesthesia after surgery, Whitecloud said his life encountered a downward spiral. As Whitecloud puts it without going into detail, he was a survivor of military sexual trauma when he was 18 and a survivor of suicide one year later.
“I was pretty angry and bitter,” he recalled. “The next 10 years was a constant struggle to find out if I was worth anything … I fell into drugs, got into a lot of fights.”
For the next 15 years Whitecloud said he struggled with anger and depression, trying to find a purpose. He turned to drugs and found himself on the wrong side of the law. More than 20 years later, Whitecloud said he finally found his mission: to help his fellow veterans in need. He was given the opportunity to work for an organization that housed numerous veterans. Whitecloud said he felt a purpose in helping the veterans who still had pride in their military service.
“This is how it happens, helping other people,” Whitecloud said.
Whitecloud, who moved to Nevada 17 years ago, served where he was needed. As a young man who unsuccessfully tried to take his own life, he felt he could work with others who fell into their own deep well of despair. Being selected Veteran of the Month humbled Whitecloud before a gathering of veterans and family as well as members from the NDVS and Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall.
“I consider a blessing to help,” he said. “If you told me 20 years ago this would’ve happened or if you told me a week ago this would’ve happened, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he said of the award. “I just did the right thing.”
Although he toured the world with a band years ago, he said working with veterans has been the biggest and best thing he has done in his life.
In learning more about Whitecloud’s past, Marshall said she was impressed with his desire to help others. The lieutenant governor said Whitecloud said he realized he had to undertake a mission. Representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei offered words of congratulations and presented Whitecloud with certificates of recognition.
Lisa Howard, director of the VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System, said Whitecloud found faith and has consequently given veterans an opportunity to find both their faith and way.
NVDS Director Kat Miller said Whitecloud is “all over the place but focused.” Whitecloud, who is also known and recognized as a popular radio show personality, also spends time as an emcee for a number of annual charitable events. Prior to serving at Reno’s VA, Miller said Whitecloud spent a decade working at the Veterans Resource Centers of America in Reno as an outreach specialist.
“He helped create a veteran nonprofit, Veteran Development Group in Reno, that assists veterans and veteran organizations in need,” Miller said.
Two weeks after graduating with his master’s degree, Whitecloud created Veteran Development Group Inc., which helps veterans find employment and complete their resumes and assists with networking and resources. He also started Operation Camo Christmas with friends who are also passionate about veterans.
Miller added Whitecloud also assisted in establishing and serving on the Mayor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide on the Truckee Meadows Veteran Suicide Prevention Team. She said Whitecloud also helps other nonprofit organizations become established.