INDIANAPOLIS — Through struggles and triumphs, José Flores leads his fellow veterans and creates community.
He fought in Vietnam.
"I was in the first infantry division, so I saw action all the time and because of God up there, I'm alive. I should have been hit tons of times," Flores said.
He survived the war overseas but then faced another battle — a personal battle — on U.S. soil.
"I made a decision — I've got to do something; otherwise I was gonna die. I was doing drugs, alcohol, everything in the world," Flores said. "I went to rehab for 30 days in Chicago for these issues."
Flores made strides over the years, working on improving himself, kicking habits and confronting trauma. Now, he's helping others do the same.
Flores spearheads "Vet-to-Vet" meetings across the Indianapolis area. The meetings provide a space for those who have served in the military to share their experiences, problems and victories.
"What I enjoy doing is helping veterans," he said. "We're like a family. Someone has an issue and we discuss it. How can we do this... what can we do? And different people give their opinions and stuff like that. And it works."
Those meetings have helped veterans like Kurt Hermerding.
"He got me involved about a year ago and it's been very good for me, very beneficial," Hermerding said. "He's worked his hind-end off getting this all started. I mean from nothing to what we have now."
It was during one of those meetings that WRTV surprised Flores with the Jefferson Award for Multiplying Good.
Outside of the group, Flores mentors veterans in veteran court. The program provides a chance for vets with a criminal record or drug abuse issues to complete rehab programs and have their slate wiped clean. He also will deliver food, give rides or just listen to someone who needs to talk.
"I know a lot of people don't know what we're going through. They really don't. They look at us and they say 'What's wrong with this guy? He's goofy, he's crazy' and I say you gotta have patience. You gotta have tender, loving care for these guys. You don't put them down," Flores said.
One of the veterans Flores has helped through court will accompany him on an upcoming Indy Honor Flight. The Flight takes veterans to Washington D.C. to see memorials dedicated to honor their sacrifices.