Stand-Down steps up service outreach to veterans

Agencies offer supplies, information and hot lunch at annual event

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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While a referral slip isn't as substantial as a sleeping bag, or even a barbecued pork sandwich, it could have a better payoff over the long haul.

That's why George Fowler had some paperwork in his hand before he headed for the chow line at Wednesday's Veterans Stand-Down.

The annual event at the Armed Forces Reserve Center is a chance for veterans in need to check out the array of community resources they can tap.

Wednesday's edition included a row of booths set up on the lawn where eligible veterans picked up stores — military-surplus gear such as sleeping bags, boots and packs, as well as hand-knitted items.

There also was an assembly hall filled with tables staffed by representatives of about 50 nonprofit groups, government agencies and other community partners.

"There are lots of good people here to give us help," said Fowler, a Vancouver veteran who served in the Navy in the 1980s. "I connected with Social Security, military records and legal assistance.

"The real help is inside," Fowler said. Then, nodding toward other resources outside the building, Fowler said, "That is a bonus."

It's a viewpoint that Keith Scott was glad to hear. Scott is a member of the Clark County Veterans Assistance Center, which has organized the Stand-Down for three years.

"We'd like to see more people inside," Scott said. "Some (just) come here for the stores."

Nathaniel Hodges is another Vancouver veteran who liked the opportunity to check out a wide range of benefits and opportunities in a welcoming setting.

"It certainly wasn't always that way," said Hodges, who recalled his exit from the service three decades ago. He served in the Army National Guard in 1983-84.

At Wednesday's session, Hodges said he was able to make some connections in transitional housing and education benefits. He'd like to become a paralegal, Hodges said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was well represented in the assembly hall — and not just to help with health care, but with health care specialties; one person was available to discuss stroke prevention, with another for nutritional counseling.

"We try to have our different services go to as many of these as we can," said Dan Herrigstad, spokesman for the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Anything we can do to get them interested."

That outreach starts early, Herrigstad said, and the VA is trying to deal in volume. A team from the Portland VA just traveled to Texas to meet with an Oregon-based National Guard unit. Members of the team were assigned to tell those troops about their upcoming transition from military medical care to the VA health system.

"We don't want to catch them by ones or twos," Herrigstad.

There might have been a little of that sort of outreach going on Wednesday, particularly at the lunch provided by Northwest Culinary Institute, which featured a whole roast pig. Coincidentally, about 150 current members of the Army Reserve were slated to be at the Reserve Center during the Stand-Down. Scott, with the Veterans Assistance Center, said he asked instructor JD Thomas if the executive chef and his culinary students could handle some extra guests. No problem, Thomas said.

It wasn't just all about hospitality, the folks from the Veterans Assistance Center said. It was a way of showing those 150 people currently in uniform that community resources will be available for them. Some day, a few of them just might be veterans in need.