At-risk veterans get leg up at Stand Down

Becky Campbell • Sep 5, 2014 at 10:49 PM

When Army veteran Amanda Oakes left the military after 10 years of service, she had nowhere to go except her childhood hometown in Mountain City, but through the help from a local organization, she has her own permanent housing.

Oakes, like many other area veterans, took advantage Friday of the second annual Veterans Stand Down. Nearly 50 vendors offered a variety of services and resources to help veterans find help in all areas of their lives.

The event at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Johnson City is patterned after a traditional military stand down in which soldiers are taken out of combat for medical attention, food, clothing, rest and fortification. It’s geared toward providing veterans who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, access to an array of services to which they are entitled.

There was immediate access to military benefits, health care and mental health counseling, transitional shelter, housing, food, clothing, education and employment help, legal services and more.

For Oakes, one organization at the event — the Appalachian Regional Coalition on Homelessness — gave her the help she needed to get her own housing. She racked up Friday with a large military laundry bag full of clothing and a free haircut.

Navy veteran Kenneth Lemberger spent time talking to Myers Massengill II, an attorney with Legal Aid of East Tennessee, on some legal issues he’s facing.

David Shields, a VAMC homeless outreach social worker and key organizer of the event, said approximately 150 veterans were there.

“Everything went pretty good, everybody got something out of it. I think we can call it a success,” he said. “The primary focus has always been homeless veterans,” Shields said, but it’s been expanded to include low-income veterans as well.

He said the event is a way to “welcome veterans home.”

Wendy Ramsey, director of special housing programs with the Kingsport Housing & Redevelopment Authority, was a vendor at the event and offered housing-option information.

KHRA and several other agencies offered long-term housing options for homeless veterans while representatives from the Salvation Army were also there to provide information about short-term options.

The event also included a number of hospitality and fellowship activities in which all veterans could participate. In the health services area, veterans were offered free blood pressure checks, flu shots, diabetic services and HIV testing.

Rita Medlin, manager of the Women’s Veterans Program at the VA, also provided information to female veterans about services targeted toward them.

In addition to the free services and information, veterans also enjoyed a free breakfast and lunch and had the option of a take-home meal for dinner.

Shields said planning for next year’s event will begin in several months.

Follow Becky Campbell on Twitter @CampbellinCourt. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BeckyCampbellJCPress.

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