Community unites for veterans
Homeless and needy veterans were welcomed into the YMCA on Friday for the annual Veterans Stand Down.
A stand down is modeled after periods of rest during the Vietnam War between combat operations. Now, stand downs are organized across the country to provide wrap-around services for former soldiers currently in need.
The lobby at the Grant County YMCA was crowded, with only a narrow path clear for gym goers, as Rep. Susan Brooks provided comments on work being done in Congress to serve veterans young and old.
“Grant County cares so much about out veterans,” she said. “Due to the tragedies they’ve suffered … I don’t think we could ever do enough.”
Organizers of the event have expanded offered services for veterans in attendance by adding a Work One table and increasing awareness for veterans in need of mental and behavioral health guidance.
Once checked in, vets were steered toward tables where they can get information on health and living benefits they’re entitled to, food, clothing, personal items and even a haircut.
The idea, as Chairman Bob Kelley explained, is that veterans can walk in with nothing and walk out with everything they need.
The event also gives the Veterans Affairs office and other veteran organizations the opportunity to collect a count of the homeless veteran population. Statewide, approximately 117,000 soldiers are on the streets, according to Kimberly Gibson with Disabled American Veterans.
Gibson and her team go to about 18 stand downs around the state each year, with the next stop in Anderson. She said while not everyone is “truly” homeless, they all have needs.
“Some struggle to find work, others are looking for ways to get around, and some veterans don’t know what perks are available to them,” she said. “We’re here to help them through whatever struggles they have.”
Tyler Hedden served in the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2014 in Japan and Afghanistan. He was at the event with his friend and counselor Jon Oswalt, a Marine Corps vet himself. The two stood near the entrance, watching the tables and joking back and forth.
Hedden said he, like many others, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, though Oswalt interjected and said “they’re trying to rename it Chronic Adjustment Disorder.”
Hedden said that “adjustment” was the keyword in his transition back to civilian life. In the year he returned, he went through about five jobs. He said none of them were a good fit and that he struggled feeling like he “fit in” anywhere.
“I’d take seven months in combat any day,” he said. “They train you for that. You know what you’re going into. They don’t train you for readjusting to civilian life.”
Oswalt, 69, said he didn’t know what he had access to as a veteran until three years ago. Hedden explained that the course soldiers take to prepare them for their return home is alright, but he wished they would personalize it.
“They know where I’m going back to. I wish they’d just put something together that let me know what organizations are there to help me where I live before I go back and have to find them on my own,” he said.
Kelley said that while they continue to expand the scope of services provided at the event, he hopes the number of veterans in need and living in low-income situations begins to shrink.