Local veterans "stand down" at National Guard Armory
By Ben Gill 07/26/2012
To stand down is a military term generally used to signal a transition from the constant stress of combat to a state of rest and relaxation (R&R). And this past weekend at Ventura’s National Guard armory, that’s exactly what happened.
From Friday, July 20, to Sunday, July 22, veterans from across Ventura County converged upon the military barracks for three days full of every possible resource one could imagine, including food, shelter, healthcare, legal assistance and a variety of organizations dedicated to helping veterans battle everything from homelessness to drug addiction.
The event, which bears the same name as the military term, is just one of 47 Stand Down events taking place across the United States in 2012. The first Stand Down was originally staged by a veterans group in San Diego in 1988 as a way to assist and give back to the estimated 67,495 homeless veterans then living across the country.
Ventura’s version of the event is currently in its 20th year and, according to its founder, Claire Hope, aims to combat the “cycle of homelessness” that has become a major nationwide issue for American veterans. By providing veterans with a safe environment where they can seek out the resources they need, Hope said, she believes that the event can have a major impact on homelessness among veterans in Ventura County.
Hope explained that she was originally inspired by a Stand Down event in Long Beach to begin the one here.
“I was awed by the volunteer effort from the professional community and everyday citizens to put on an effort to help homeless veterans,” she said. “I was totally inspired so I decided, I’m gonna do this in Ventura County. So here we are 20 years later.”
Beyond aiding veterans suffering from the physical effects of combat, Stand Down also strives to connect vets with psychological help if they are afflicted by psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ben Sherry, a Vietnam veteran from Simi Valley, recounted one of his more traumatic experiences during combat: “I thought I was tough until I got to Vietnam. Then I learned I wasn’t very fucking tough,” he said.
“I cried like a baby when I killed my first man, and I threw up all over the damn place,” Sherry continued. For homeless veterans like him, the challenges of surviving life on the streets is compounded by the fact that they must also deal with the mental consequences of what was witnessed during their time in the military.
Thankfully, however, both private and government-run organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) were on hand to provide psychological support to anyone who needed it. According to Mary Jeanne, the medical director of Stand Down, veterans in need of medical care are automatically registered with the VA upon arrival at the event to ensure that whatever needs they have will continue to be met after Stand Down ends.
Stand Down provides a comprehensive array of services to veterans and their families, ranging from dental care to prescription glasses, said Jeanne.
While Stand Down provides a temporary haven for veterans in need of help, the real issue is guaranteeing that they receive the services they need in the long term. Because of this, Stand Down is designed as a sort of entry point for veterans to become acquainted and familiar with the large network of organizations dedicated to assisting them.
And with a new generation of veterans coming back from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the need for programs and services like those at Stand Down will only increase with time. Because of this looming issue, the VA has set itself a goal to end homelessness among veterans by 2015.