Standing up for veterans who need haircuts, housing and other help

PHOENIX – The needs of military veterans have changed over the past two decades, expanding from housing to such services as a simple haircut, having a cavity filled or getting medical attention for PTSD.

Stand Down, a nationwide event conducted in Maricopa County for nearly 20 years, once served only about 200 people, but in late January, thousands descended on the State Fairgrounds for services from barbers, doctors, judges and housing experts.

The two-day county event, run by the Arizona Housing Coalition, historically focused on finding shelter for homeless vets. But with the help of the coalition, the number of veterans with that need has dropped, a spokesman said.

“When we first started 18 years ago, about 80 percent of the people that showed up did not have a place to live and about 20 percent were in housing. Over the years, that’s flipped,” said Camaron Stevenson, coalition spokesman.

“I use to cut my own hair, I have clippers and everything,” said Brendan Thibodeau. “It means a lot to me that these guys take time out of their day for us vets.” (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Nora is Gail Runge’s hearing service dog, and she has been with Runge for one and a half years. Nora alerts Runge to sounds that she is unable to hear, like a doorbell or alarm clock. Runge was ecstatic to see veterinary services available at StandDown. She grabbed a dog bed for Nora, which she has needed for a few weeks. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Austin Sargent says that the services offered at StandDown provide relief for his family. It allows him to worry about one less person, Sargent said. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

Celia Prince’s favorite part of StandDown is the women’s booth. Prince says that the women’s veteran section provides comradery that she misses in her civilian life. (Photo by Meg Potter/Cronkite News)

The services are available year round, but the annual Stand Down draws veterans who aren’t aware of what’s available and provides veterans for a chance to connect.

“It’s not only a time to take care of problems, but it’s a time of fellowship and a good safe time for me,” veteran Joseph Bonivel said. “Some of these guys I don’t see but once a year and that’s here.”

Stand Down is organized by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and modeled after the “stand down” concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a welcoming retreat for troops returning from combat. The first Stand Down was held in San Diego in 1988, according to the national coalition.

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