WHITE CITY — More than 200 volunteers will be stationed under 40 canopy tents at the Department of Veterans Affairs facility's ballfield this weekend ready to care for, cater to and counsel men and women who once wore U.S. military uniforms.
The 18th annual Stand Down, an event offered nationwide that provides care for homeless and disadvantaged veterans, will start at 8 a.m. Friday and continue till 9 p.m. Sunday at the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics. Sleeping accommodations are available.
In military parlance, a "stand down" is a respite from a hostile environment. At the event, doctors, lawyers, barbers and other volunteers will provide veterans with medical and mental health counseling, dental and chiropractic services, legal assistance, employment and vocational rehabilitation counseling, VA and Social Security benefits claims assistance, drug and alcohol counseling, clothing, haircuts, three good meals per day, showers and a safe place to sleep.
Last year the Stand Down was held in Roseburg in order to reach veterans farther north, said Kathy Patterson, a board member for Southern Oregon Stand Down, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the event.
From now on, the Stand Down will alternate every year between the VA in White City and the VA Hospital golf course in Roseburg.
Ten years ago, Chris Sanders, 35, co-coordinator of the event and president of the Veterans Club at the Riverside campus at Rogue Community College, was an Army veteran visiting the Stand Down. His family had moved away, leaving him homeless for almost a year.
"I got hooked up with the Employment Department vet rep and got a job until I could get back on my feet," he said.
Sanders is now a student at RCC and has been volunteering at the Stand Down every year.
"We typically serve 400 to 600 people (a year)," Patterson said.
This year, coordinators are expecting even more veterans needing assistance because of the ailing economy.
The economy also has stunted the funding. Both cash and gift card donations are down about 50 percent, Patterson said.
Patterson said an event this size would typically cost between $15,000 and $30,000, depending on the number of veterans and the services provided.
Every morning, a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage patties, muffins, doughnuts, biscuits and gravy, juice and coffee are served from an old military field kitchen that is somewhat temperamental, Patterson said. Each year they serve 1,200 to 1,500 meals.
All the cooking and food preparation was done from this kitchen until five years ago when Hometown Buffet volunteered to prepare the food at its restaurant, making an enormous task much easier for everyone, she said.
"It was just brutal for people trying to feed all these people from this military kitchen," Patterson said.
At this year's Stand Down, three dentists will take turns providing basic services from the back of a mobile dentist office.
"It's wonderful because many, many people need help in that area," said Patterson.
Hearing and eye tests will be offered, and a limited number of eye glasses and hearing aids will be available. U.S. Cellular will supply "Valor Phones" so veterans can make calls to anyone, anywhere and talk for as long as they want at the event, and students from Oregon Institute of Cosmetology will be available to trim any shaggy heads and scraggly beards.
Veterans must prove veteran status by showing a DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), a valid VA medical card or other VA identification. Veterans must have been honorably discharged.
Patterson views Stand Down as an opportunity to give back to the people who served their country.
"The reason I'm involved is because I never had to serve," said Patterson.
For more information or the schedule of events, see http://www.southernoregonstanddown.org.
Reach intern Teresa Thomas at 776-4464 or at email@example.com.