“Stand Down” Event Spotlights Help for Veterans

By State Senator Julie Lassa

Last week, I was pleased to once again participate in the “Wisconsin Rapids Stand Down,” a November 5 event in Wisconsin Rapids designed to acquaint veterans with the resources they have earned through their service to our country. The event, sponsored by the Veterans Assistance Foundation, Inc., the Tomah VA Medical Center, and the Wood County Veteran Service Officer, is one of a number of similar events held in La Crosse and elsewhere around the state. 

I was especially interested in the help offered to homeless and at-risk veterans. At Stand Down events, these veteranss are able to receive food, clothing, and health screenings, and hear about services available to them from County Veterans Service Officers, the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Assistance Foundation, and other organizations.

Although homelessness among military veterans has been on the decline nationally, vets are still statistically more likely to be homeless than the general population. In 2013, the Department of Administration's Division of Housing reported more than two thousand homeless veterans being served by various programs throughout our state. 

Nationally, 20 percent of the adult male homeless population are veterans, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.  More than half of homeless vets are disabled; half suffer from serious mental illness and 70 percent struggle with drug and alcohol abuse. 

Unfortunately, these statistics may under-report the full extent of the problem.  Homelessness cuts veterans off from family, community, and job opportunities.  This in turn makes it harder to identify them, and harder for them to get the help they need to get back on track.

It can be challenging to reach vets after they are discharged from the military to let them know the kinds of assistance that are available to them.  That’s why events like the Stand Down are so important.  It’s a visible and very approachable way for veterans and those who care about them to find out about the full array of services that they have earned through their military service.  Events like these can be the first step that reconnects homeless veterans to a supportive community.

If you’re a veteran who needs help, or you know a veteran who could use a hand, your County Veterans Service Officer can advocate on your behalf and help you know what services are available.  Here are the names and phone numbers for the CVSOs in the 24th Senate District: Adams County, Steve Dykes, (608) 339-4221; Jackson County, Randy Bjerke, (715) 284-0225;  Monroe County, Charles Weaver, (608) 269-8726;  Portage County, Michael Clements, (715) 346-1310;  Waushara County, William Rosenau, (920) 787-0446; and Wood County, Rock Larson, (715) 421-8420. Visit wicvso.org for more information. The Ho-Chunk Nation Tribal Veterans Service Officer is Margaret Garvin, who can be reached at 715-284-4563.

The Veterans Assistance Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Tomah, is also available to help.  The VAF can be reached at 866-823-VETS (8387) or vafvets.org. The VAF accepts donations of clothing, furniture, and personal items for veterans at their facilities at 312 Superior Avenue in Tomah.  The Tomah VA Medical Center also accepts donations of furniture as well as bed, bath, and kitchen items; contact Amanda Steinhoff at 608-372-3971, ext. 64201, to learn how you can donate.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, the men and women who sacrificed so much to defend our country need to know we have their backs.  Events like the Stand Down are a wonderful start, and we should continue to strive to make sure no veteran is suffering needlessly because they don’t know help is available.