By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Every room at the Veterans/Senior Center in Lake Isabella was full of services and supplies for veterans on Saturday, November 4, especially for those in greatest need due to homelessness or health and financial difficulties.
American Legion Unit 711 Auxiliary arranged for resources to be available at their second annual Veterans Stand Down and Resource Fair with the co-sponsorship of the Kern River Valley Woman’s Club. With Veterans Day just days away, it was a way to recognize veterans for their service to our country by providing access to the services to which they are entitled and urgently need.
A great many free services and benefits are available to veterans, but accessing them can be very confusing and difficult. The purpose of this event was to provide a welcoming environment in which veterans could connect with veteran organizations and governmental agencies to coordinate their benefits, share experiences with other veterans over breakfast and lunch, get health screenings and information about employment and housing opportunities, register for VA healthcare services, and receive winter clothing and supplies.
“Stand Down” events began in 1988 in San Diego when two Vietnam Veterans wanted to provide comfort and services to homeless veterans. It was modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations. The idea spread and now there are hundreds of these events across the country every year to assist tens of thousands of homeless veterans.
Charlotte Zagon, Chair of the Veterans Committee for the KRV Woman’s Club, said her group “wanted to help sponsor this event because getting connected to the right resources can be confusing and hard to navigate for veterans.” Community groups and veteran-to-veteran assistance programs provide a friendly local environment where veterans can feel comfortable expressing their needs.
Samantha Stockton, American Legion Auxiliary President, said their organization may expand the event next year to be an annual get-together for all veterans, not just those at risk of homelessness. She envisions an increased emphasis on job placement opportunities and camaraderie among the entire local veteran community.
Over 45 veterans were assisted on Saturday by federal, state, and county Veterans Affairs officers, Kern County Veterans Service Department, VetConnect volunteers from the Kern County Library program, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Kern County Honor Flight, Kern Valley Healthcare District, California Employment Development Department, Ridgecrest Veterans Advisory Council for military clothing/supply distribution, Joe’s House, State Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ office, and Supervisor Mick Gleason’s office. Many of these representatives drove long distances to provide assistance to KRV veterans.
To help make sense of the many different veteran organizations and benefits to those who cannot attend a Stand Down event, a helpful website with direct links to resources for veterans and their families is www.militaryconnection.com.