Stand Down events provide veterans with valuable resources including housing assistance, medical care, and a solid community of support. Image courtesy of MDGovpics via Creative Commons Media
In California, diversity is apparent wherever you go. Besides being one of the most culturally diverse regions of the world, the Golden State is also a regular champion for the rights of marginalized groups. While some of these groups are more front and center in our media on a daily basis, there is an often overlooked group of heroes that make up a large portion of California’s population—our veterans.
Of the 21 million veterans living in the United States, more than 1.8 million reside in California—more than any other state. After a veteran’s time in the service is through, a certain percentage find themselves without many practical resources that civilians often take for granted, including housing, food, and medical care. Veteran Stand Down events exist to help provide these needs to California’s veteran population, providing them with the assistance and dignity they rightly deserve.
According to the Veteran Services organization CalVet, “Stand Down events are typically one- to three-day events organized by Community-Based Veterans Services Organizations, Non-Profit Organizations, and County Veterans Service Offices in cooperation from a variety of state, federal, and private agencies.” These events happen throughout the whole state, and are a vital lifeline of resources to veterans of all ages.
The name “stand down” comes from times of war when a combat unit is removed from the battlefield to a place of safety in order to rest and recuperate. The first Stand Down event was held in San Diego in 1988. In 2010, more than 190 of these events were held, serving over 52,000 veterans and their families. The numbers only continue to grow as Stand Down events continue throughout the state of California year round.
One essential service that comes out of Stand Down events is access to healthcare. Many people, veterans and civilians alike, have the mistaken belief that the VA health system is only for those who have a service-related disability. In reality, most veterans are eligible to enroll for health benefits simply by filling out an application form. Stand Downs provide guidance and access to such applications, as well as onsite medical examinations.
For homeless veterans, a simple physical exam is a rare and even inaccessible service. Healthcare at these events also often goes beyond the physical—mental health and substance abuse counseling resources are also usually available for those who have such a need.
Stand Down events also provide basic needs for struggling veterans, including showers and meals. Since the events typically last longer than one day, Stand Downs are also sometimes able to provide temporary shelter while assisting with longer term placements. Many Stand Downs also provide clothing and other necessities not always afforded to the homeless veteran population.
A Stand Down is not just for the homeless. Many low-income veterans also benefit from the services provided at these events, such as guidance through the application process to receive food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka “food stamps”). This program also focuses on nutrition and an increase in benefits as needed. Emergency food bank resources are also distributed at a Stand Down, giving veterans another opportunity to provide meals for themselves and oftentimes their families.
While Stand Down events tend to focus on the immediate needs of the veteran community such as food and shelter, they also assist with long-term life solutions, such as employment. Volunteers at the event may help with everything from résumé preparation to interview scheduling, equipping veterans to move forward successfully. The Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Program participates in outreaches including Stand Down events, which leads to many veterans receiving certification assistance, state job tutorials and job placement. Stand Downs also guide veterans toward veteran-specific job sites and other resources they may not have been previously aware.
Finally, Stand Down events can help with small day-to-day issue, such as traffic violations, that can seem overwhelming when a person does not have regular income or other basic resources. The local County Veterans Service Office assists with such matters at these events, providing financial help and logistical information to navigate through the resolution process.
If you or a loved one are interested in volunteering at or attending a Stand Down event, contact your local veteran resource center or websites such as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Preserving the health, safety and dignity of our veterans is one of the best ways to thank them for their service. Stand Down events do an excellent job of meeting needs and honoring these brave men and women in ways that truly count.