Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Standing Down From the Battlefields at Home

In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover are removed from the battle fields to a place of relative security and safety. Troops are able to take three days to able care for personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, enjoy warm meals, receive medical and dental care, mail and receive letters, and enjoy the camaraderie of friends in a safe environment. They call these down times stand downs.

For many veterans the battlefield doesn’t go away when they come home. Many face a battle to re-adjust to civilian life. The VA estimates that there are 260,000 homeless veterans in America. Many homeless veterans suffer from PTSD, addiction issues, and physical disabilities.

In 1988 a pair of Vietnam veterans decided to do something about the comrades they saw falling through the cracks of society, forgotten by those that had at one time beaten the drums of war. They started domestic Stand Downs. Stand Downs provide a safe place for homeless vets to spend three days receiving legal advice, eating warm meals, getting new cloths, haircuts, medical attention, entertainment, and just socialize with each other.

AFSC’s Peace Building Program was recently asked to help the National Association of Black Veterans (NABVETS) to help them organize homeless veterans form Atlanta to go to Huntsville, AL for a three day stand down. We decided to take them up on the offer, and document the trip.

What we’ve seen is very hopeful. Though all of the veterans that road to Huntsville with us have many obstacles to maneuver around, they also have many passions, and a drive to fulfill unfinished plans with their lives. The stand down brings new hope in navigating through the maze of paper work required to a claim for benefits, to receive free services, maybe find a job, and relax for a few days with people that are rooting for them.

Darrel Delaine, chairman of the Huntsville Stand down and UAW Union member, noted that past stand down attendees have made progress over the years. Delaine pointed out several volunteers at this years stand down that were homeless during last years stand down.

We had the chance to spend time with volunteers, many of whom were veterans. Often times we found ourselves in awe of the deeply meaningful work the organizers of the stand down are doing. For these volunteers, “support the troops” means more then slapping a yellow magnet on their car during a time of war.

As we interviewed veterans at the stand down it was clear that many of them joined because they believed it would be a ladder out of poverty. For them, and countless others, the ladder has gone elsewhere.

Tim Franzen
Peace Building Program
American Friends Service Committee

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