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Stand Down Programs

Veteran Stand Downs

You see them posted all over social media, and you might have even seen a local flyer in your area telling you about an upcoming Stand Down for homeless and at-risk veterans. The million dollar question is: are they really worth it?

I can only speak from the experiences I have had participating as an organization during a Stand Down. From what I have personally seen, they are a waste of time and funding. Why would I say that something that most people feel is such a valuable resource for those in need is a waste? Well, let me start by saying that I did not make the decision alone to discontinue our involvement, this was based on recommendations by several staff and volunteers.

So, for those of you who have never been to or volunteered for a Veterans Stand Down, let me explain what we have experienced during the events we have attended. While we have participated in more than just our local Stand Down, the outcome has been the same at every single one we have been involved with.

Everyone knows that a Stand Down is supposed to be a one-stop shop of resources for our homeless and at-risk veterans. It is usually held over two days, and these veterans can get access to VA mental and health care assistance, meet with local Veteran Service Officers for claim assistance, have a free meal, get organizational resources, housing assistance and employment opportunities. That is great, but aren’t these services available daily to whoever is needing assistance?

When I ended up homeless and living in a tent in the desert, there was no such thing locally as a Stand Down. I had to force myself to fight every day and get to the organizations and VA to find out what programs were available to get me back on my feet. It was all up to me, no one was searching me out to offer help. When I finally did get through the mountains of paperwork and appointments, and was finally approved for housing support, I was just getting back onto my own feet. I was able to decline the support and allow it to go to the next person. This is truly how a Hand Up works. The biggest problem I saw was that it took over four months to get approved, and this process has only gotten worse. The moral of this story is that you have more pride when you accomplish it yourself and no one does it for you.

Back to the Stand Downs. What we have directly seen over the years is that these veterans attending come from different avenues of life. Some choose to be homeless and enjoy the freedom of living that type of lifestyle. These veterans will never change and will always be living on the streets, by choice. Others have been put into this situation and are desperately trying everything they can to find the light at the end of the tunnel. They would love nothing more in life than to have a roof over their head and a warm meal. Those that want to get off the streets, or are trying not to lose their homes, should never have to wait until a Stand Down comes around to get help.

We noticed a big issue in 2015, and this issue was the same from several of the Stand Downs we were attending. While at the Stand Down, when a veteran would come to our booth we would get as much contact information as we could from the veteran or spouse. Our staff made it a point to follow up with the veteran a couple weeks after the Stand Down to check in and see how they were doing. While our programs are more focused around the healing of the veteran and their family, we have always tried to keep some funding set aside to help those veterans in need.

What we learned from our follow up calls was what I personally consider fraud on the part of those running and promoting their organization or business at these Stand Downs. Over ninety percent of our follow up calls, we would hear how we were the only organization that ever called them back. These veterans felt like they were glorified for two days and then again forgotten on the streets. They would tell us how other organizations and educational institutes would not return their calls. They said that employers who were at the Stand Down sayin they were looking to hire veterans were not hiring during follow up calls.

I feel that these Stand Downs are being used more to promote organizations, colleges, and businesses, rather than helping our homeless and at-risk veterans. Again, the organizations that help and the VA are available the entire year, not just for two days a year.

Maybe one day a Stand Down will actually be beneficial for our homeless and at-risk veterans, but until then I see it as another program that is failing the veteran community. I will leave you with a statistic from a Stand Down that was held very recently by an organization that spent more than $800,000 dollars to provide Stand Downs.

  • 2,109 veterans attended the Stand Down
  • 360 – Homeless Veterans
  • 1, 446 - At-Risk Veterans
  • 2 – Veterans placed into transitional housing

So, I guess the other 358 homeless veterans go back to living on the streets with no help.