In infamously opaque military parlance, a stand-down is a period of relaxed posture after a time of high-intensity activity — patrols, firefights.
On Monday morning in Hoquiam, local, state and county organizations came together to hold their own stand-down: helping veterans to connect with services, and to equip those experiencing homelessness for the coming winter.
“In the Vietnam War, they would say, if you’re coming from the bush, for 2-3 days, that was the stand down. You get new clothing if you need it, new boots,” said Odis Warren, a Vietnam War veteran and organizer of Monday’s event. “We kept the name stand down. That’s what most veterans would recognize.”
The concept isn’t a new one, Warren said.
“I’ve been doing these since 1998. The first one I did was at the Red Lion in Vancouver,” Warren said. “The first one I think was someplace back in Philadelphia.”
Hosted at the Hoquiam Elks Lodge, Monday saw representatives from a wide range of organizations come out for veterans and their families.
“We’ve got the Department of Veterans Affairs. We have the county services here,” Warren said. “We have MAV (military and veterans) — they’re an organization that helps homeless and needy people.”
It’s a popular concept with the service providers, allowing veterans to knock out multiple items without shuffling all over the place— in some cases, saving them a trip out of the county.
“It’s a one-stop shop for veterans,” said Gwyn Tarrence, the county’s veterans ombudsman, one of the vendors there working with veterans. “I’d like to see this in the Harbor all the time.”
Multiple threat directions
Veterans can face problems from any direction, and Warren said they need to be prepared to offer assistance in any direction too.
“Our job is to help veterans no matter what they need,” Warren said. “If they have children that need shoes and coats we can help with that. It’s not just the veterans, we can help their families too.”
Helping veterans get plugged into the often-byzantine process of dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the big things events like this can do, Warren said.
“We’re trying to get a claim filed for them through the VA. Then, if they need mental help, we can get them into mental healthcare,” Warren said. “The end goal with mental health is to help them work on their (post-traumatic stress disorder) or their (traumatic brain injuries) and any drug issues they may have or issues with alcohol.”
Cancers and other disorders from contact with chemicals such as Agent Orange or from exposure to burn pits, where trash and other waste was burned, are common issues that volunteers can help connect veterans to services.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran. When I got back I know how hard it was to get help,” Warren said. “I got into helping veterans get what I couldn’t get.”
It’s also a good chance for many of the service providers to get a chance to meet each other, Tarrence said.
“I don’t know what any of these people do until we come here,” Tarrence said. “Who would have known till you have something like this.”
Weathering the winter
The material aspects of the stand-down, providing clothing or supplies for weathering the winter for veterans that need it, is funded by donations, both material and financial, Warren said.
“Blankets and winter coats and stuff, we make sure there’s no rips, no tears. We take them to the washroom,” Warren said. “It takes about 6-8 months to get one of these things organized.”
The timing is meant to help ready veterans for winter, Warren said, working with suppliers like Walmart that will offer him a discount on items such as underwear as he lines up the buying so that donation go further.
“I like to do it between the last part of September and the first part of October so they have the boots and new coats,” Warren said. “In the wintertime if they don’t have the coats they’re going to freeze their butts off.”
Donations can be hard to come by with the economy as it is, Warren said. This year’s event is the first year back since the pandemic’s peak, and some of the volunteers that used to take part are leery about coming back due to health concerns, Warren said.
“I guess the hardest part was getting the donations. The economy is tight right now. People that do have money don’t want to let go of it,” Warren said. “We give them what we can afford to give them. If we run out of stuff here and we still have homeless veterans out here, we’ll take their names and contact information and purchase stuff for them.”
Growing numbers of female veterans change the face of purchasing a little, Warren said, if not the intent.
“We’re starting to see more and more female veterans. During a stand down, we’ll see about 10 to 15,” Warren said. “It doesn’t change how we handle things. It changes what kind of merchandise we buy. We have to change as the atmosphere around us changes.”
Warren said he’d love to see more involvement, more resources in the county for the embattled veteran population, especially in Grays Harbor, where many resources are hard to get access to or even require leaving the county entirely.
“I would like to see more stand-downs in this county. There’s plenty of room for other organizations to have stand-downs,” Warren said. “I’d like to see more people getting involved with helping the veterans in this community. And I’d like to see the county get involved in helping veterans.”