More than 200 homeless veterans and veterans in need headed to the Columbus Convention & Trade Center Saturday for an “Operation Stand Down.”
Hosted by the South Atlantic Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc., the third annual event brought 160 organizations in one place to help needy veterans with housing, employment, benefits and pension, legal issues, educational opportunities and more. Veterans were also able to take advantage of free haircuts, food, clothing and medical screenings.
“They volunteered to serve their country,” said Mike Dover, president of center. “They just need a boost to get back to normalcy in their lives.”
Harold Hudson, 55, got a chance to talk to a veteran representative from the Georgia Department of Labor. The U.S. Army veteran said he has been able to overcome homelessness and crack cocaine addiction, and now needed a job.
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“I’m in dire need of employment,” said Hudson, who served in the military from 1983 to 1985.
Hudson, who is trained as a plumber, said he was able to get a few job leads from the event.
“It’s exposed me to some opportunities that are out there,” he said.
The National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless in the United States on any given night. That’s between one-fourth and one-fifth of all homeless people. Three times that many are estimated to be struggling financially with rent.
Local South Atlantic Center for Veterans Education and Training Inc. leaders said veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder — which could lead to alcohol and drug abuse — will sometimes lead to homelessness. PTSD could also make them turn away from family and friends, Dover said.
Patrick Smith, 41, served during Desert Storm and said he still feels the effects of PTSD. At Saturday’s event, he said he was able to learn more about the disorder — and get face-to-face help with a disability claim and legal issues.
The Dothan, Ala., native said it’s not easy “maneuvering the system” for veteran assistance.
“It’s pretty hard on your own,” he said as he waited for a free haircut. “It’s so much information.”
Organizers said the event is meant to be a “one-stop shop” for veterans. SACVET used word-of-mouth and advertising through ministries, television commercials and the organization’s website to get the word out about the event, which has grown every year.
Several veterans said the “Operation Stand Down” event helped them learn more about various resources available to them.
Vietnam vet William Jeffries, 60, said he learned how to lower his transportation costs. A Metra representative at the event informed him he could cut his costs in half by using a special service for the disabled.
“They need to do this about every 90 days,” he said of “Operation Stand Down.”