[Hpn] Fw: San Diego, CA - Veterans gather for annual Stand Down - San Diego Union-Tribune - July 12, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Tue, 16 Jul 2002 20:16:13 -0500

Veterans gather for annual Stand Down that
will be staged in more than 300 cities this year

By Jeff McDonald - San Diego Union-Tribune - July 12, 2002

They began arriving days ago, tucking meager possessions tight against the
chain-link fence on Park Boulevard, eating handouts and waiting. Most were lying
on shabby blankets; some pitched small tents.

Gates swing open this morning at the San Diego High School softball field for
Stand Down 2002, the 15th annual community camp that extends a hand to veterans
who have fallen through the cracks of society.

For three days, they will eat well, sleep comfortably, wear clean clothes, and
maybe find the wherewithal to dig themselves out of the deep, deep recesses from
which they make do most days of the year.

Barely a handful of the 700 or so veterans who signed up will be able to scratch
their way off the street.

But this is a not a weekend to dwell on harsh realities, or the unwelcome
likelihood that four or five of these men will be dead by this time next year.

Instead, they will celebrate like kids at Christmas, and be glad that someone 
more than 1,800 volunteers, actually  cares enough to offer them a few days'
time with fewer worries.

Joe from Wisconsin, a 40-something Army veteran with blue eyes and a blond beard
going gray, is looking forward to a hot shower, the chance to stash away a few
provisions and to fill his belly more than once a day.

"I need to see a doctor, too, but I won't go there," said Joe, who did not want
to provide his last name.

Conceived by a pair of Vietnam veterans bent on helping their less fortunate
former brothers in arms, Stand Down came together for the first time in 1988. It
bloomed in both size and stature through the 1990s, and this year will be staged
in more than 300 cities.

In addition to the dozens of businesses and nonprofit groups that donate
thousands of hours, Stand Down now receives major backing from the Department of
Veterans Affairs.

"When Robert (Van Keuren) and I started this, we had to pull people in kicking
and screaming," said Jon Nachison, a Stand Down founder and former army medic
who now works as a hospital psychologist.

"San Diego is a launching pad for what has become a national movement," he said.
"Everyone here needs to feel proud of Stand Down."

Organizers appropriated the name for their event from the military. But the camp
is more than R&R and short-term room and board for needy veterans.

Over the weekend, veterans can see dentists, physicians, get haircuts and fresh
clothes, apply for government benefits to which they may be entitled and even
clear up misdemeanor court warrants.

More important, they get a shot at besting their demons through alcohol and drug
recovery programs. They can sign up for housing assistance, although not
surprisingly, beds are in very short supply.

There are more than 275,000 former members of the armed forces on the street in
the United States, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans reports. But
that population is fluid; hundreds of thousands of others live on the edge,
drifting in and out of homelessness regularly, the organization says.

Beginning Tuesday, the coalition will host its two-day national conference in
San Diego.

Al Pavich, president of Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, the nonprofit agency that
will sponsor the Stand Down, said the most vexing aspect to hosting the event is
knowing it will end soon. "The bittersweetness is you get to know these guys,
but when they leave they go straight back into that survival mode," Pavich said.
"And I have 200 people begging to get into eight beds."

The medical tent will be staffed by dozens of doctors, nurses and technicians
working for the Veterans Administration hospital in La Jolla. Most patients have
not seen a health-care professional for years, or at least since the 2001 Stand

Enlisted sailors and Marines from Camp Pendleton spent much of this week putting
up dozens of tents, which will each sleep 20 men. Supply trucks have come and
gone with clockwork regularity most of this week.

Ron Stark has managed the logistics of setting up the camp for six years. It is
a cavalcade of ringing cell phones, meetings, arrangements and people with
questions tugging at his side.

A retired career Navy man, Stark has met no fewer than three former shipmates at
various Stand Downs over the years  people he served with and remembers well.
The government needs to do a better job preparing servicemen and women to
re-enter civilian life after serving in the armed forces, he said.

"We take them from being civilian high school students, change their whole way
of life and turn them into soldiers and sailors," Stark says, the sound of tent
spikes being hammered into the dirt ringing loudly nearby.

"But there's no un-boot camp. We don't turn them back into civilians, and we
need to do something about that."

Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585; jeff.mcdonald@uniontrib.com
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