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Vets come together at stand down
More than 170 veterans poured into Bremerton’s Sheridan Community Center Saturday for a county-wide Stand Down for Veterans to hook up with free services ranging from legal aid to haircuts to mortgage assistance.
Some veterans came to hang out with familiar faces and grab a bite for lunch, while others sought housing help or some new clothes.
The stand down was put together by the Kitsap Area Veterans Alliance (KAVA), a grass roots organization made up of vets from around the county, which is chaired by Dean Hearing, one of the founding members of KAVA. Hearing said that stand downs are great opportunities to connect with vets who haven’t yet made their way into the system.
“They may not join a service organization, but if they see a flier (for a stand down) at their church or somewhere else, they might come and see somebody here that can help them,” Hearing said. “You just might see a vet whose on the bus looking at the newspaper who sees an ad about the stand down who says, ‘Oh, I should go maybe get some help with this or that or even just connect with another veteran.”
Sometimes, Hearing said, vets that make their way to a stand down for the first time need the most help.
“For some reason, by the time they get out of the service, they don’t need anybody,” Hearing said. “And, if they’re not doing well, they don’t want to tell anybody. So, when they come to see a Veterans Service Organization, they’re in real trouble. By the time they come see us, we can help.”
All of the vets that came, regardless of their reasons for being there, were encouraged to sign up for Veterans Administration health benefits to ensure a more robust system in Kitsap County for everyone that has served in a uniform.
“One of our goals that we wanted to accomplish today was to encourage as many as possible to enroll in the VA health system,” said Leif Bentsen of the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Program. “There are still things that those with even private coverage can get through the VA.”
Bentsen noted that he enrolled for VA healthcare last year and “got things I’m not covered by in Medicare.”
Bentsen said that there was a line of about 75 to 100 veterans before the community center doors were opened up at 9 a.m. The latest event marked the ninth countywide stand down since 2007, prior to that various VFWs, American Legions and others did their own events, Bentsen said.
Prior stand downs were held at the Kitsap County Faigrounds which required a fee payment, but the City of Bremerton offered the use of the Sheridan Park Community Center at no charge.
Arthur Smith, a U.S. Marine Corps vet, came all the way from Brinnon for the stand down.
“We ate and we saw everybody,” he said
Standing next to his wife, Gloria, Smith also acknowledged getting his hair cut.
“Yeah, I got my hair cut. She thinks it looks okay,” he added while nodding toward his wife.
Dianna Dye, who does hair and nails at the Coral Reef Salon in Port Orchard, volunteered to work at the stand down and is the one who cut Smith’s hair.
“It really is the most fun event I do. They’re used to waiting around, that’s what the military’s all about, being patient. You meet some really wonderful people and have great stories.”