It’s a day-long respite from the streets and an opportunity for some Veterans to put their lives back together.
On August 27, there will be a Stand Down in Sheridan, Wyoming, followed that same week by Stand Downs in Honolulu, Hawaii, Fargo, North Dakota and Montgomery, Alabama. Similar events will take place around the country throughout the year.
Stand Downs are one part of VA’s efforts to provide services to homeless Veterans. They are usually one- to three-day events providing health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment and substance abuse treatment.
Stand Downs are collaborative events coordinated between local VA facilities, other government agencies and community agencies which serve homeless Veterans.
A special arrangement between VA and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) provides a tremendous amount of Department of Defense surplus clothing for the Veterans at the Stand Downs. VA’s Kevin O’Connell manages a warehouse in Hillsborough, N.J., where the items are made available to Stand Down coordinators around the country.
“I order items from DLA daily. We stow it and make it available for future Stand Downs. I generate an inventory the coordinators can order from for their event,” O’Connell explains.
His most recent inventory spread sheet included hundreds of items like 50 green blankets, 75 cold weather undershirts, four leather flyer’s jackets, 10 extreme cold weather parkas and more than 100 sleeping bags to support the Augusta, Maine, Stand Down on October 18.
In order to save both DLA and VA transportation freight costs, James Egler and Michael Johnson of the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System pick up donated materials from DLA locations at Camp Pendleton and Barstow, California. The surplus supplies are used to support homeless Veteran Stand Downs throughout the Los Angeles area.
Ensuring basic needs are available to our most vulnerable and disenfranchised homeless Veterans
The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam Veterans in San Diego, Calif.
The total number of Veterans served during 2013 Stand Downs was 45,133. Of these, 41,421 (92 percent) were male Veterans, and 3,712 (9 percent) were female Veterans.
In addition, 7,553 spouses/companions and 4,269 children of Veterans attended for a total of 56,935 Veterans and family members served.
According to Robert Hallett, National Director, Health Care for Homeless Veterans, “Contrary to common belief, Stand Downs are not VA programs per se. VA does not have any ownership or proprietary relationship over them.
“They are intended to be collaborative events coordinated between VA medical centers, other government agencies and community agencies which serve homeless Veterans. Community interest in supporting Stand Downs continues to grow. Twenty sites held their first Stand Down in 2013. These events are a big part of VA’s overall efforts to end Veterans’ homelessness.
“In addition to this coordination role, staff from local VA facilities typically provide volunteer support for local Stand Downs particularly in health screening, triage and services, mental health assessments and referrals and increasingly, screening and referrals for housing placements.”
Stand Downs are successful because of volunteers. More than 24,870 volunteers supported Stand Downs during 2013. Stand Down coordinators offer a wide range of services to homeless Veterans with the most common services including: housing, personal care kit distribution, job training, mental health care and Veteran benefits.
Sleeping arrangements are made available to homeless Veterans at many sites with multiple-day Stand Downs.
According to a 2013 Point-in-Time Estimate of Homelessness, homelessness among Veterans has declined 23.5 percent since 2009.
Hallett adds, “Homeless Veteran Stand Downs represent a true example of our VA program staff and community partners working hand-in-hand to ensure basic needs and assistance are available to our most vulnerable and disenfranchised homeless Veterans.”