'Stand Down' event offers helping hand to veterans
NASHUA — Dozens of veterans in need of clothing, food and other necessities received a helping hand on Thursday as many organizations joined forces to celebrate and assist those who have already sacrificed so much.
Winter coats, boots and blankets were distributed to an estimated 200 struggling veterans during the 9th Annual Homeless Veterans Stand Down event at Harbor Homes.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the event is modeled after the stand down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations.
The Nashua Stand Down event helps educate at-risk and homeless veterans about available resources and critical services such as counseling, health screenings, resume assistance, housing opportunities — and it prepares them for the winter ahead.
“Right now I am living month-to-month,” said veteran Stephen Bartlett. “This helps me out a lot.”
Bartlett was able to obtain a large duffle bag that he filled with free necessities such as gloves, shampoo, toothpaste, socks and nonperishable food. He was grateful for the assistance, and said it will help get him through the next several months.
Thursday’s event was organized jointly by the Department of Veterans Affairs Manchester Medical Center and Harbor Homes, and included hundreds of donations from community groups and businesses.
“To truly prevent homelessness, we have to continue working together every single day,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan, one of the guest speakers who helped kick off the event.
She thanked the veterans for their service, saying all citizens — especially those who have served the country — deserve a safe place to rest their head at night. Fostering relationships between various service organizations and New Hampshire veterans is critical in helping to find employment and permanent homes for former military members, said the governor.
Representatives were on hand to discuss VA and Social Security benefits with the veterans, as well as referrals to substance use disorder treatment and even a complimentary haircut.
“The annual stand down is a shining example of community collaboration to engage veterans in healthcare. For some veterans, a stand down event may be the first time they are introduced to the VA,” said Danielle Ocker, director of the Manchester VA Medical Center.
Peter Kelleher, president of Harbor Homes, described the gathering as a unique opportunity to help the nation’s heros.
According to the Veterans Administration, veterans are more than twice as likely as other Americans to be chronically homeless, and more than 25 percent of the homeless population in America are veterans.
Throughout the past nine years, New Hampshire has worked hard to help combat veteran homelessness, according to Eric Johannessen, executive director of social work for the VA in Manchester.