StandDown gives veterans a chance for a better life

VBy Jens Manuel Krogstad Vietnam War veteran Gilbert Herrera is doing what he has done the past 10 years in late July – helping out at the clothing tent of the annual Minnesota StandDown.

Now in its 11th year, the program helps Minnesota homeless and near-homeless veterans by providing everything from health care to tax assistance.

The event is held in a temporarily erected tent city on the West Bank recreational fields near the Law School.

“In the morning I get up, get a drink of coffee and tell my wife, ‘Sorry, I gotta go help my buds,'”Herrera said.

A stand down is a war term referring to combat units that are removed from battlefields to rest and recover.

Herrera, along with the Minnesota National Guard and Reserve, hopes to help the approximately 1,000 people attending the event, which ran Thursday through Saturday.

Though StandDown operates throughout the year, this event is where the most people are reached, said Bill Lindboe, Minnesota StandDown president.

Part of the reason that more homeless veterans are not contacted during the year is a lack of trust many veterans have in the government system, he said.

“StandDown brings homeless veterans back to a system they’ve lost trust in,”Lindboe said.

Professionals from a variety of fields are volunteering their time in hopes of reaching them more effectively.

Jo Weable, who is on the health care team, said they planned to work with approximately 30 people at the event and during the next few months.

“We’re trying to assess their needs and get them the help they need,” Weable said.

She said after the evaluation, a person will receive any needed health care, and might be referred to other health-care specialists, such as psychologist Paula Phillips.

“Our goal is to help veterans gain life skills, gain permanent housing and increase self-determination,” Phillips said.

These services are important because many veterans arrive jobless and homeless, and there are usually problems that prevent them from achieving those goals, Lindboe said.

Getting help is a matter of choice for homeless veterans, and this year, also a matter of money, Lindboe said.

Minnesota StandDown was cut from the state government’s budget this year, so it offers fewer services than it once did.

Anyone who attends can receive court services, tax help, health care, food, clothing and shelter.

One of this year’s attendees is Sylvester Hudson, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean Peninsula in the 1970s. He was sitting in what is usually deep right field of one of the softball fields near the clothing tent.

Hudson said he is able to find a room to rent and gets a monthly check, but that he came here for some extra clothing.

“I came over here to look for boots and winter wear ’cause I don’t get that much a month,” Hudson said. “I’m just trying to get by in this world.”

Jens Manuel Krogstad covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]