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available for further orders. A Stand Down offers a safe place to be.” US Congressman Paul Tonko, a member of the Amsterdam, New York, Lodge who attended the Stand Down at the Colonie Lodge, added: “This is the least we can do to show our respect to these veterans. This event speaks to their everyday needs.” One of the veterans who attended the Stand Down at the Colonie Lodge was Harris Gibault. He enlisted in the army during World War II and was stationed in India from 1944 to 1945. “I went around the world on a troop ship,” he recalled. On October 2, 2010, Gibault traveled about twenty-five miles for a free breakfast and lunch and for some information about his VA benefits. His fellow veterans were attracted to the Stand Down because they could get a haircut, a flu shot, a dental or vision check, and have private conversations with officials about jobs, housing, health care, Social Security, taxes, and legal assistance. All of these services were free.

How It All Began

The first Stand Down for veterans was held in San Diego in 1988. It was the brainchild of Vietnam veterans Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison. Van Keuren says that they deliberately chose a military phrase for the name of the program. “Some- thing I’ve always tried to convey is that you don’t leave the wounded outside the wire,” he said. “When you’re outside the wire, it’s dangerous. When you’re inside the wire—where the compound is—you’re safe.” A veterans Stand Down is not a miracle program, but it is tremen- dously useful to veterans and brings out the best in the American charac- ter. As Van Keuren says, “Regardless of what your politics or religion are, I think that almost everyone can agree that having homeless veterans in the streets of America is not something that is okay.”

Van Keuren emphasized that the first veterans Stand Down was intentionally designed to involve a

community-based response because homelessness was a community issue. “At the time, San Diego had more than a thousand homeless veterans living downtown. We were proud of how little money we needed to host the event. About 500 veterans came to our first Stand Down.” According to Peter Dougherty, director of the VA Office of Homeless Veterans Programs, 42,382 veterans were served at 190 Stand Downs in 2009.

The first veterans Stand Down in upstate New York was organized in 1994 by two employees of the New York State Department of Labor, Disabled Veterans Outreach, who themselves were both disabled veterans: Past Exalted Ruler Lou Mion, of the Colonie, New York, Lodge and Harry Prutsman, both of whom served in Vietnam. The initial veterans Stand Downs

were held at National Guard armories, but immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government closed all armories

u Vietnam veteran Robert Natello receives a haircut from Debbie Zelker.

l A warm welcome from Praise, a registered therapy dog, gives veterans an added lift to their spirits. Here, an unidentified veteran (left), Gene Farnham Sr., a Gulf War veteran, and his granddaughter Angeline Corona enjoy their meeting with Praise.

T H E E L K S M A G A Z I N E 39

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