Some Dirty Jokes OK as Steve Cohen, Bruce Richards Help Vets

  • Cohen has given millions to improve health care for veterans
  • Hedge-fund manager Richards starts scholarship campaign

Sometimes the most serious Wall Street causes benefit from levity. Bruce Springsteen told dirty jokes last year before Jefferies Chief Executive Officer Rich Handler drove up bidding on the rocker’s guitar to raise funds for veterans. Steve Cohen sat nearby with U.S. servicemen, chuckling to zingers from Louis C.K. and John Oliver.

Since 2007, when interdealer broker GFI Group signed on as the first sponsor, the financial industry has helped the Stand Up for Heroes comedy event raise more than $27 million for the Bob Woodruff Foundation. On Tuesday evening, more than a third of the seats at the Theater at Madison Square Garden will be filled with people from the industry, said Caroline Hirsch, who produces the performance as part of the New York Comedy Festival. Springsteen and Oliver will be back, along with Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers, Ray Romano and contemporary jazz trumpeter Chris Botti.

Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen at the 2014 Stand Up For Heroes
Patti Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen at the 2014 Stand Up For Heroes
Photographer: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Hirsch set out to tap comedians to support the philanthropic efforts of Bob Woodruff, the ABC anchor injured in Iraq in 2006. She had no idea how much the event would become an annual meetup for hedge-fund managers and investment bankers.

Executives from Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and HSBC attend through the consortium Veterans on Wall Street, which helps former military personnel develop careers in financial services and will be hosting its own symposium and job fair earlier in the day.

‘Stress Reliever’

With Veterans Day on Wednesday, this week is crowded with events. Purple Heart recipient Elana Duffy is booked solid through Friday including a launch event for the incubator housing her startup, helping direct the parade in New York and singing in a free concert at Lincoln Center on Thursday night.

For her, the comedy of Stand Up for Heroes is "a great stress reliever," she said.

Steve Cohen at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit
Steve Cohen at the Robin Hood Veterans Summit
Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Billionaire Cohen’s commitment to veterans goes beyond one busy week. The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation has given $25 million to develop blood and brain-imaging tests for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder at the NYU Langone Medical Center. It also helped fund the Cohen Military Family Clinic.

Both are overseen by Charles Marmar, who served as chief of psychiatry at one of the largest VA Medical Centers for 15 years and appears in the Ric Burns documentary "Debt of Honor" airing Tuesday on PBS.

"My goal is to honor the legacy of previous war veterans I’ve worked with -- of World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars -- who suffered a lot, whose illnesses were mischaracterized, whose treatments were delayed," Marmar said.

Seen as Template

Charles Marmar
Charles Marmar
Source: NYU Langone Medical Center

At the Cohen Military Family Clinic, patients get appointments within a week and services are pro bono. "We want to provide high-quality, timely care that prevents long term disability of this generation of war fighters, so they don’t end up alone, alienated from their families, chronically mentally ill, or worse, dead," Marmar said.

NYU Langone could be a template: Anthony Hassan, a retired Air Force officer, became the executive director of Cohen Veterans Network in July with a mandate to look into opening clinics in other cities.

"The government has limitations in terms of being rapidly innovative, being very responsive to the needs of people in real time," Marmar said.

The money raised at Stand Up for Heroes is used for grants in a range of areas, including helping veterans through college. The Bob Woodruff Foundation has found veterans struggle with getting a college degree for a number of reasons: They’re older, often have families to support and face stereotypes on campus. Grants to the American Council on Education have helped train mental-health professionals serving college students about military culture and veteran transition issues.

Funding Scholarships

Marathon Asset Management CEO Bruce Richards and his wife, Avis Richards, are donating $1 million to set up a scholarship fund for veterans at the University of Maryland, where about 1,000 veterans are currently enrolled. The Richardses selected the University of Maryland in part because Avis and daughter Chloe are graduates, and in part because it has amenities like a veterans student center. Veterans there with unmet needs -- such as childcare or other family obligations -- are typically short about $6,000 annually.

Bruce Richards
Bruce Richards
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

"It’s really our way of showing we are grateful for the veterans who fought for our country," Richards said. "Whatever money the GI bill does not pick up, we pick up the difference."

The couple has offered to give another $1 million for veterans scholarships by matching contributions made in a campaign they created on the CrowdRise platform. The Cohen Foundation also has a campaign going: Through Nov. 15, every social media post with the hashtag "GIVE2VETERANS" will result in a $1 donation to Bob Woodruff Foundation, up to a total of $500,000.

"Like most Americans, those of us in the financial community understand the amazing commitment and hard work associated with serving in the armed forces,” Bruce Richards said. “As a money manager, I completely connect with that level of loyalty and dedication."

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