The Fourth of July is no doubt a special time for Americans to enjoy apple pie, fireworks and family, but we should also seize this day as a time to reflect on the great freedom our nation enjoys – and the people who have made that possible, our beloved veterans.

And we should most certainly make a concerted effort to give veterans who return from combat with physical and emotional disorders a fighting chance for recovery.

SkyRose Ranch, a beautiful, 22,000-acre retreat located in San Miguel, California, is a place where our warriors—men and women who have sustained visible and invisible wounds on the battlefield—can undertake a journey of healing and restoration and become the men and women they were created to be.

It’s estimated there are 2.4 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of that number, approximately 460,000 (20 percent) suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or some form of major depression, with many suffering from alcohol dependency, homelessness, and unemployment upon their return, and, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration, we are witnessing an alarming number and rate of suicides committed by veterans each and every day.

SkyRose Ranch was built with them in mind, and it is here, at this pristine Central California retreat, that veterans groups like the Mighty Oaks Warriors Foundation host their programs. Many of the warriors come to SkyRose Ranch hopeless and broken, but leave with a renewed sense of purpose. The various programs rely on peer-to-peer methods of facilitated recuperation, emphasize the role of faith in the healing process, and are designed to challenge the warriors to overcome their past experiences and move forward into a life of purpose. The ultimate goal—to restore individuals and families that have been broken by the scourges of combat.

Take Joseph Molis, a U.S. Marine Corps Combat Engineer, Purple Heart Recipient, and Iraq Veteran. Joe was injured when his vehicle was struck by an IED, killing members of Joe’s team and severely injuring him. After returning home, Joe struggled with Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, and re-integration issues. Joe also wrestled with addiction, isolation, criminal behavior, and his marriage was on the brink of collapse. He entered into the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs’ Fight Club, a program that teaches veterans to “fight through” challenges that stifle success through peer-based instruction, filled with anger, bitterness, and resentment. After a week of one-on-one counseling, impactful meetings, classes on forgiveness, legacy, honor, brotherhood, faith, family, and bonding-type recreational activities—he graduated. The Fight Club experience not only changed the course of Joe’s life, it radically transformed him, restored his marriage, and now he’s out changing the world around him.

Joe’s case is typical of the 944 warriors that have completed the program. The Fight Club challenge: “To reject passivity, accept responsibility, and lead courageously.” The transformational week ends with a graduation ceremony and a potluck dinner. Each warrior is presented with a symbolic personalized rudis—a wooden sword given to a gladiator when he is freed.

The mission statement of the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs is based on Isaiah 61.3: “To build leaders of leaders. To rise up from the ashes; they will be called Mighty Oaks of Righteousness.” To date, not a single graduate has committed suicide—a testament to the success of the programs.

The lodges and facilities at SkyRose Ranch are first-class, handicap-accessible, and the epicurean meals will satisfy the hungriest warrior. The warriors who attend are fully sponsored either through Serving California Foundation (, or through the Mighty Oaks Programs ( It costs $2,000 to put each veteran through the program. Currently, there are over 150 veterans waiting to attend. Unfortunately, the longer they wait, the greater the likelihood they’ll harm themselves. This year alone, seven veterans waiting to get in committed suicide. This sad fact is unacceptable, and we need to generously support these brave men and women in uniform who have put themselves in harm’s way in order to keep us safe.

On a related subject, the California State Assembly and two key Senate policy committees recently approved AB 1672 (Mathis), legislation aimed at expanding the reach of Veterans’ Treatment Courts in California, so that every veteran who has committed a low-level offense can have their case heard by a judge who understands the special needs of veterans. California is home to 25 counties and 29 courts providing these resources to our veterans, including the newest one announced in Fresno County this past week. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is that veterans in 33 California counties are unserved or ignored. That should not be the case. And that’s why I’m not only happy to serve as the co-sponsor of AB 1672, I’m also committed to fund half of the state-commissioned study.

Independence Day should give all of us a moment to celebrate our great nation and how very blessed we are for the brave soldiers who courageously fought to protect our freedom. Sadly, so many who gave it all to help us have returned from combat now in need of our help and care. We owe it to our veterans, whether dealing with the unspeakable trauma of war or in trouble with the law, an opportunity for a brighter tomorrow, and a life filled with hope.

Wayne Hughes, Jr., California businessman, philanthropist, and founder of SkyRose Ranch in Central California, which provides rehabilitation services to veterans diagnosed with PTSD and other disorders.