News: East Bay Stand Down gives veterans a second chance
Story by Staff Sgt. Marnie Jacobowitz
PLEASANTON, Calif. - More than 350 homeless veterans filed into the Alameda County Fairground in Pleasanton, Calif., Sept. 13, 2012. They were greeted by Army Reserve Medical Command soldiers along with other service members and volunteers in support of East Bay Stand Down.
The term Stand Down was first used during Vietnam which indicated a safe environment for combat troops to take care of personal hygiene and to decompress. In this case, the term is used to describe a way to help displaced vets find needed care. The first Stand Down in California was held 1988 in San Diego.
It was no easy task to make this year’s EBSD a reality. It took hundreds of volunteers and nearly one year of planning and coordination to make this event happen.
One of those volunteers is Navy veteran Barton Buechner, public affairs coordinator for EBSD.
“East Bay Stand Down was originally created to break the cycle of homelessness of veterans,” said Buechner.
The EBSD here in northern California is the longest running Stand Down in the country and also one of the largest, said Buechner. It has the capacity to provide services to 450 veterans during a four day period and is held every two years.
A lot of veterans that come here won’t end up back on the street, said Buechner. We provide them with legal service, housing solutions and recovery programs so they can be part of a community again.
Some of the veterans are not sure what to expect when they first arrive at the Stand Down, but others have first-hand accounts on how EBSD benefited their lives.
One of those accounts is from Army veteran Clarence Ellis, formerly Persian missile crewmember assigned to the 74th United State Field Artillery Unit in Landstuhl, Germany. The moment he stepped foot onto the fairgrounds the memories of his past came rushing back.
During the last Stand Down in August 2010, he lived in family housing in Oakland, Calif., said Ellis. His mother passed away in 2007, so he was left to take care of his bed ridden father and five younger siblings. While living in the house he developed a substance abuse problem.
“Drugs were being sold out of the house and everybody was doing dope, said Ellis. “It was bad and I got tired of it.”
He needed something different, but just didn’t know what, said Ellis. He heard about the Stand Down and thought it would be a good idea to get away. He found out about drug treatment programs which he eagerly attended and has been drug free since November 2010.
The Stand Down provided information on housing and some benefits he wasn’t aware of, said Ellis. It also gave him an opportunity to reconnect with friends who are veterans. A chance to catch up with a lot of veterans that he lost contact with.
Networking amongst veterans helped him find out about the Veteran Rehabilitation Assistance Program, said Ellis. The VRAP provides education services to veterans, so they can enroll in school.
“It’s going to be a bit of a challenge … I haven’t been in the classroom since 1978,” remarked Ellis. “It’s been a while but I think I can do this.”
This experience isn’t just beneficial to the veterans, but soldiers as well. The ESBD is part of the AR-MEDCOM soldiers’ Innovative Readiness Training program. The IRT allows soldiers an opportunity to utilize their medical skills while providing care to those in need.
Capt. Loretta Villarreal, an operating room nurse assigned to the 6253rd- U.S. Army Hospital in Mesa, Ariz., was part of the planning phase and medical screening process.
“It is awesome,” said Villarreal. “It is a humbling experience and I’m honored to be here.”
While at EBSD veterans are provided with housing assistance, medical care, recovery programs and many other services. With the help of service members, volunteers and non-profit organizations there is hope to break the cycle of homelessness of veterans like Clarence Ellis.
“Every day is getting better,” said Ellis. “Now I get high on life.”