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    Veterans helping veterans

    Veterans Standdown

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Joseph VonNida | The 19th Annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down was held at the Colorado National Guard...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Joseph VonNida 

    Colorado National Guard

    They came by bus, car, on bicycles and on foot. They sleep on couches, live in basements, on streets or in friends' garages. Most can't afford a cheeseburger or even a pair of socks. Connected by experience both home and abroad, they continue to fight the struggles for survival — but not in the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of Iraq. Their struggle is on the streets of Denver. They are American veterans.

    Denver's 19th Annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down, hosted by the Denver Veterans Association at the Denver Armory Nov. 5, is part of a nationwide effort that offers many services and basic essentials to homeless veterans, most of whom are struggling and on the edge of being completely homeless — if they aren't already.

    "'Homeless' is a shelter or on the street or staying somewhere that is not classified as a bedroom," said Barbara Martinez, co-chair for the event.

    Volunteers at the event stated that many local citizens are under the impression these veterans are homeless because they're veterans. But volunteers have an answer to that: They're not homeless because they're veterans; they're just veterans who are homeless, and we're here to help.

    "You feel like people care," said Gino Tapia, an Army veteran seeking assistance. "It's like a holiday. You don't go many places where people appreciate you as veterans."
    The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam veterans in San Diego, Calif. Since then, Stand Downs have been used as an effective tool in reaching out to homeless veterans and their families nationwide.

    Veterans were offered housing referrals, legal services, flu shots, health screenings, counseling, hearing aide repair, dental screening, eyeglass repair and haircuts. Two hot meals were also served.

    Each was also a given a military issue duffle bag and, in a basic training-like method, was allowed to stuff the bag full of clothing items, a sleeping bag, boots, gloves, a canteen and other miscellaneous necessities. Each was also provided a bag containing toiletry items, bus tokens and a wallet with gift cards to purchase food at local grocery stores.

    "Mainly, I came to get me a flu shot," said Thomas Richmond, who served as an Army infantryman during the Vietnam War.

    Stand Down is a military term that means a temporary stop of offensive action. Homeless Stand Downs are designed to transform the despair and immobility of homelessness into the momentum necessary to acquire housing and reconnect with society.

    "In VA [Veteran's Affairs] we use the term — and the whole idea of taking a rest — to kind of analyze where [they're] at and help [them] move on and do better again," said Rebecca Smith, a public affairs officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver. "They [homeless veterans] understand what it means to take a day to take a rest and reflect on what they are going to do tomorrow."

    Word of the event is spread when VA volunteers go local shelters with handouts and talk to the coordinators there. The local VA medical centers have outreach programs and word of mouth spreads on the street.

    "VA holds several Stand Downs throughout the nation ... [A Stand Down] provides short-term services such as food, haircuts and clothes, and it also provides long-term programs and opportunities for them to find a job, to find housing, to get counseling, to get rehab services. There is a myriad of VA and non-VA services available," said Smith.

    "I got some good info, so I'm going to crawl into my sleeping bag and read all this stuff," stated one of the veterans leaving the event.

    According to Martinez, the ultimate goal is to see how many services the VA can get in one place , and provide whatever service a homeless veteran needs to help him get off the street and into a house or into an apartment, a room or in a job. The VA also wants to help veterans resolve legal issues.

    The task is not always easy.

    "We have to make sure that he wants off the street," said Martinez. "There is a very small population that that is their home and they have no desire to get off the street whatsoever. ... We can provide the services but they have got to want the help."

    Thirty-two different service organizations showed for the event in Denver, including government and nonprofit organizations, such as Department of Veterans Affairs medical, benefit and vocational rehabilitation and employment services; the Social Security Administration, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were also among the list of providers who were there to help and represent the homeless among them.

    A total of 481 homeless veterans received assistance, Martinez said.

    As one veteran departed, he loaded his new standard issue military duffle bag full of essentials on to the back of his bicycle. This once clean-shaven uniformed service member — now a thin framed man with tattered clothing — sported a smile as he thanked the volunteer guarding the exit. As the man rode off into the distance, a crisp, clean American flag could be seen flying high from a pole attached to the back of his bicycle.
    Five Denver Sheriff's Office deputies provided security, Verizon Communications, Inc., donated phone lines, and the Colorado National Guard donated use of the Denver Armory for the event.

    Col. Andy Meverden, chaplain, Colorado National Guard, was there to help with spiritual needs.

    "These guys have done a lot of heavy lifting for our nation," said Meverden. "A lot of homeless veterans have non-physical injuries, and we feel for them a combination of pity and gratitude. For them to end up here, it's counterintuitive — not the way it should be."

    Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, the Adjutant General of Colorado and commander of the Colorado National Guard; Brig. Gen. Robert K. Balster, Colorado Army National Guard Land Components Commander; and COARNG State Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Lousberg, were in attendance to greet the Veterans seeking help.

    "Our folks are very pleased to open up the armory to support this, the Veterans Stand Down," said Edwards. "The Veterans Stand Down [is] significantly important to us all, because what we are doing is helping veterans whose lot in life has not gone the direction we would hope that it would ... [to] be able to come back and reintegrate with society. Instead ... they're in the situation where they need help."

    Edwards made a point to shake the hand of everyone he passed while observing the Stand Down. A few veterans even asked for autographs, stating that they had never met a two-star general.

    "We help where we are able to," said Edwards. "So if people ask for help, we have plenty of folks that will stand up and help."



    Date Taken: 11.05.2009
    Date Posted: 11.10.2009 15:15
    Story ID: 41379
    Location: US

    Web Views: 326
    Downloads: 199