Veteran Organizations Unite to Fund Life-Saving Research for Exposed Veterans


When two veteran organizations come together to do something meaningful, success is almost guaranteed. This is precisely what’s happening with the collaboration between the founders of Black Rifle Coffee and HunterSeven, who are united in supporting and funding life-saving research for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals during their military service.

Despite their different approaches post-military, their shared mission is clear.

Black Rifle Coffee Company, founded in 2014 by former U.S. Army Green Beret Evan Hafer and former U.S. Army Ranger Mat Best, is dedicated to serving coffee and culture to those who love their country. Known for their bold advertising, cheeky Instagram posts, and, most importantly, premier coffee, they focus on supporting veterans, active-duty military, and first responders.

HunterSeven and Black Rifle Coffee Company have joined forces to expose the long-term effects of burn pits located on U.S. military bases during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

HunterSeven takes a more understated approach.

Co-founded by Chelsey Simoni, a public health nurse and former member of the Rhode Island Army National Guard, HunterSeven researches military exposures and their impact on veterans’ health.

“The foundation is named for Sgt. Maj. Rob Bowman’s call sign; he died after being exposed to toxic burn pits in Iraq,” explained Simoni.

Both organizations are working together to reveal the long-term effects of burn pits located on U.S. military bases during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Black Rifle Coffee is leveraging its cultural influence to raise funds for the foundation.

Simoni described burn pits as “crater-type holes used for waste disposal,” which release known carcinogens into the air.

(Courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company)

“I repeatedly observed a pattern of otherwise healthy veterans developing leukemia, cancer, and chronic lung conditions post-deployment, which seemed unusual,” said Simoni, recounting research from her undergraduate studies.

Her research into the health impact of burn pits in Iraq revealed startling results. “Two weeks of research involving over a hundred Iraq War veterans confirmed a significant increase in respiratory issues post-deployment,” Simoni explained.

This finding led her to a new mission: getting veterans across the country tested and treated before their conditions progress. Her challenges included high costs, slow response from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the need for funds and publicity to inform post-9/11 veterans of the consequences of these exposures.

U.S. armored military vehicles are parked in front of a fire in a trash burn pit in 2011 at Forward Operating Base Caferetta Nawzad, Helmand province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Simon Klingert, File)

That’s where Black Rifle Coffee stepped in.

As Best explained, “We began several years ago by providing a grant for new medical research exploring the effects of toxic exposure in Afghanistan. It was a cause we were keen to champion.”

Black Rifle Coffee CEO Chris Mondzelewski said, “The partnership makes sense because we have always been committed to supporting our veterans.”

Black Rifle Coffee Company co-founders Mat Best, left, and Jarred Taylor, second from right, and HunterSeven co-founder Chelsey Simoni, right, meet former congresswoman and U.S. Army Reserve officer Tulsi Gabbard.

Mondzelewski noted the earnestness of the partnership, which started last November ahead of Veterans Day when Black Rifle Coffee, along with the UFC, collaborated to raise funds for HunterSeven. “Our Veterans Day event with the UFC and HunterSeven Foundation raised over $250,000 in one weekend for veterans battling cancer, and that is just the beginning,” he said.

Simoni, with a wavering voice, explained that the funds allow hundreds of veterans to be tested for cancers and respiratory illnesses that might otherwise go undetected for years.

Reflecting on her military service, Simoni said her memories include not only those lost in combat but also those who succumbed to cancer after returning home. The numbers are staggering, with over half a million veterans diagnosed with cancer during and after 9/11.

“One in 7, or more than half a million of my fellow service members,” she said, falling silent for a moment.

“We have the research and capability to save many veterans through testing. Now, we have a partnership to fund it,” she said.

The funds from HunterSeven are used to test military veterans through early identification and screening, which they cannot access or afford through normal channels as they haven’t yet presented symptoms.

After the UFC event, its CEO Dana White emphasized the importance of taking care of those who serve the country, something he and the UFC community care deeply about.

“I’ve been discussing this frequently, aligning myself and the UFC with companies sharing our core values. Veterans have sacrificed so much to protect our way of life, and I’m proud of the work we do with partners like Black Rifle Coffee Company to help our vets get the medical care and services they need to live healthier lives,” White said.

Salena Zito
Salena Zito
Pittsburgh-based columnist and reporter. Salena is also a columnist at the New York Post. She is the author of The Great Revolt. She previously wrote for the Atlantic and spent the last 11 years at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review as both a reporter and a columnist covering national politics. She has interviewed every president and vice president in the 21st century.

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