By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
It is exciting to be among the hustle and bustle of a Veterans Stand Down event, and the one held at the Kern River Veterans/Senior Center in Lake Isabella on January 19 was no exception. These resource fairs and social events act as a one-stop shop to connect military veterans with benefits while at the same time offering camaraderie, food, and entertainment.
This is the third time the local American Legion Post 711 Auxiliary has hosted a Veterans Stand Down in the Kern River Valley (KRV). The events have become so successful that they will now be held annually the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“We do not have veteran resources in the KRV except the Veterans Connect @ The Library program which makes referrals out to services,” explained American Legion Auxiliary President Samantha Stockton. “The importance of a Stand Down event here is that veterans can make direct contact themselves with the providers of benefits all in one place, at the same time.”
Stand Down events began 30 years ago in San Diego to provide comfort and services to homeless veterans, and the idea spread across the nation. Stockton remarked, “Even in a time of peace, many veterans are still battling the aftereffects of war with such conditions as PTSD, substance abuse, medical problems, and homelessness.” The KRV event more broadly reaches out to veterans in vulnerable situations who are in need of help with housing, healthcare, employment, or counseling, as well as to the entire local veteran community so they can enjoy the company of other comrades-in-arms.
Of the 54 veterans who attended, five indicated they were homeless. For them and others who found useful items, Saturday’s event offered a well-stocked “free store” with warm winter clothing, shoes, blankets, toiletries, and other donated items. Live musical entertainment was provided while veterans enjoyed a barbecue lunch. Attendees spent much of their time visiting the 21 resource booths to sign up for veteran benefits, gather information, and get health screenings.
The VA Greater L.A. Healthcare System was quite busy signing up veterans for healthcare benefits or updating their information. The Kern Valley Healthcare District was there to help explain the medical services available at their Mountain View Health Center through either the VA Choice Program or Tri-Care insurance. Other health-oriented providers were Sierra Chiropractic, Celebrate Recovery, MediYoga, and Women’s Center High Desert.
Employment opportunities were offered by the state Employment Development Department and California Department of Corrections. Heavy Equipment Colleges provided information on job training.
Veteran benefit coordination was provided by Kern County Veterans Services Department, Bakersfield National Cemetery, and Veterans Connect @ The Library. Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s field representative consulted with veterans regarding federal programs, and First District Supervisor Mick Gleason was in attendance as a participant regarding their county concerns.
The California Veterans Assistance Foundation assisted with urgent housing needs. Legal services were provided by Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, and help with Medi-Cal healthcare coverage was given by Kern County Department of Human Services. Kern Regional Transit provided transportation information.
The veteran membership and support groups American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) reached out to the attendees, as did the Ridgecrest Veterans Advisory Council which provided many needed supplies.
Donations and scores of volunteers contributed to the success of the KRV Veterans Stand Down. In addition to the leadership of the American Legion Auxiliary, the event was co-sponsored by the Kern River Valley Woman’s Club which raised funds, the Nuui Cunni Native American Culture Center which donated a large number of items for the Free Store, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy who made a generous financial contribution toward the Stand Down.
Over one dozen local businesses and fraternal organizations supported the event by accepting donations of supplies and funds for the Stand Down at their individual locations. Generosity for the veteran cause was also shown by Vons and Pepsi-Cola which supplied food and drinks for the lunch.