A series of events this month in Southeast Missouri is aimed at helping homeless veterans get the services they need.
Project Homeless Connect -- Veteran Stand Down events will take place in five communities, including Cape Girardeau, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the VA Outpatient Clinic.
The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam Veterans in San Diego, said Angela Smith, public affairs officer with the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Mo. The Stand Down is an annual event now for veterans agencies to provide resources and services to veterans in need including housing, employment and educational opportunities, health care, clothing, food, transportation and utility assistance. The phrase "stand down" comes from exhausted combat units who were removed from the battlefield to a place of relative safety and given time to rest and recover, Smith said.
It's estimated that a third of America's homeless once served in the military, said Paul Schuerenberg, VA Vocational rehabilitation counselor who is coordinating the Cape Girardeau Stand Down event as well as events in Farmington, Mo., on Tuesday and Sikeston, Mo., on Thursday.
"When you consider that veterans comprise 10 percent of the general population, but 30 percent of the homeless population, those are unsatisfactory numbers," he said.
Poplar Bluff's Stand Down event, to be held Sept. 25 at Black River Coliseum, will have more than 30 agencies, organizations and businesses joining with the VA to offer assistance to veterans.
At each Stand Down event, Veterans Health Administration representatives will be joined by a Veterans Benefits Administration mobile center RV from Memphis, Tenn.
"It's compartmentalized so the front part can be used as office space and the back part of it can be used as an examination room or a therapy room," Schuerenberg said.
While the event is targeted to homeless veterans or those at risk of becoming homeless, any veteran in need of help is encouraged to come, he said.
"When we were in Cape last year, we had a veteran who came because he had been told he wasn't eligible for VA health care, when in fact he was," Schuerenberg said. "We try to answer questions for them just to clear up what they may have on their mind."
Veterans can enroll for VA health care, receive mental health services or be referred for consultations. Homeless veterans will either be connected with resources in the community to help them or brought to the VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff if they require residential care.
"Our main goal is to ensure they get help," he said.
While the Veterans Health Administration will ensure veterans get the health care they need, the Veterans Benefits Administration will assist with service-connected disabilities, the GI Bill, home loans, vocational rehabilitation and other programs veterans are entitled to, Smith said.
In 2009, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki launched a five-year initiative to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, Schuerenberg said.
The VA estimates there are about 42,000 homeless and at-risk veterans in the U.S. According to the 2011 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress, homelessness among veterans has declined 12 percent since January 2010.
For more information about the Cape Girardeau Stand Down event, call Schuerenberg at 573-778-4618.
3051 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO