Community ‘stands down’ for vets
By FRED MILES WATSON
Bremerton Patriot Contributor
May 14, 2009 · Updated 2:35 PM
The President’s Hall at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds was an essential stop for veterans, active duty servicemembers and their families May 7 for one-stop free and vital information during the Stand Down for Veterans and Families.
Held twice a year, the stand down offered a wide variety of services including clothing, limited meals, groceries, haircuts and guidance.
Veteran service organizations, state, and social service agencies had booths throughout the hall with representatives eager to address any veteran’s needs. Enrollment for VA benefits, limited medical screenings, immunization shots and more. More than 30 tables lined the back corner of the hall with donated clothes for women, men and children while in an adjacent kitchen, food preparers offered up hot meals, sandwiches and beverages.
Shorty Foster, of Purdy, had one goal when he entered the hall and that was to find out how to start his own small business. A 10-year veteran of the Army, he became tired of the runaround in getting the information he needed on the phone.
“Placing more than a dozen calls to here and there and not getting the right path to proceed with my idea got to be very frustrating. Here, it was a one- stop, one-on-one conversation and I received the gouge that I needed,” Foster said.
He received it through the Washington Community Alliance for Self-Help, or CASH, which provides business training and possibly low-interest loans for those veterans wanting to start their own business and will be offering classes on that and other subjects this summer.
For others, it was a matter of reclaiming a government document they had lost or discarded years ago, their DD-214, a vital piece of paper verifying a veteran’s service in the military. Service organization members were on hand and armed electronically to authenticate, reproduce and issue a DD-214 to veterans who provided the proper identification.
Leif Bentsen, a human services planner from Kitsap County’s Department of Personnel and Human Services, said the consolidation of this kind of event has gone a long way.
“This is our fourth stand down here at the Fairgrounds, we do it twice a year in the spring and fall. Traditionally the VFWs, American Legions and the Disabled American Veterans were doing smaller versions of this event at their posts. So what we did is to make one that is countywide in regards to bringing in all the services and agencies plus free donated clothing and other items for some of the veterans who meet the eligibility criteria for the county’s veterans assistance,” Bentsen said.
He added the stand down provides assistance to veterans who are financially stable and to those veterans who may need financial help.
“The VA has always been wonderful and the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs office on the Retsil campus have always come and they’re fantastic, plus we have social service agencies such as DSHS. The Salvation Army is here and they are cutting hair for free and VFW Post 239 is providing hot meals and the Women’s Veterans of America are here. It’s also to bring social services agencies together in one place so that the veterans can access them,” Bentsen said.
Steve Wagner, of WorkSource of Kitsap County, had a steady flow of veterans stopping at his booth during the four-hour stand down. Work Source not only assists with the unemployment insurance claims, but provides job skills to veterans.
“We provide veterans with job search skills, like how to write a resume and we try to match their skills with a job. Since we have been here today we have had veterans come by who didn’t know we were available,” Wagner said. “I think it is awareness, maybe it’s at the transition point from when they are going from active duty and then returning to the civilian sector. Maybe that awareness factor is not there as much as to what is available when they step out the door from the military,” Wagner said.
More than 300 veterans and family members found the information or assistance they needed during the spring stand down.