October 30, the Atlanta VA Medical Center will host its 5th annual Stand Down for homeless Veterans on the hospital complex, starting at 7:30 a.m.
"Stand Down" is military terminology referring to the brief period of time a soldier leaves an active combat area in order to rest and regain strength. This event offers homeless Veterans a chance to rest from the weariness of life's' challenges they face daily. The Atlanta Stand Down brings a wide range of specialized resources together in one place to serve the homeless.
This one-day event is an effective tool for government agencies to reach out to homeless Veterans and provide food, protective shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling.
Last year, nearly 500 Veterans from various walks of life filed through the registration line in anticipation of the many physical, mental and sociological benefits awaiting them. Men and women received help from 45 community agencies, such as Dress for Success, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and various Veteran Service Organizations.
"It was the tireless efforts of more than 100 volunteers and dedicated community agencies helping homeless Veterans get back on their feet that made this event such a success," said Jenifer Turner-Reid, L.C.S.W., Atlanta Stand Down chairperson.
Treatment goals for each Veteran are individualized and may include meeting their immediate basic needs of food, stabilization of mental health problems including substance abuse treatment and sobriety maintenance, individual and group psychotherapy, evaluation for financial disability benefits, vocational assessment, gainful employment, and schooling or a training program.
The Veteran Justice Outreach (VJO) program also supports this endeavor and has helped several eligible justice-involved Veterans. The VJO Initiative is to avoid the unnecessary criminalization of mental illness and extended incarceration among Veterans by ensuring they have timely access to Veteran Health Administration mental health and substance abuse services, when clinically indicated.
Turner-Reid, develops working relationships with local court system partners, jails and local law enforcement.
"We have Stand Down court right here on the premises that day, which allows some Veterans to have their cases heard and dealt with on the spot."
As VJO specialists, Turner-Reid and Robert Hairston are responsible for direct outreach, assessment, and case management for justice-involved Veterans.
In the program, individuals can opt to navigate the Veterans Treatment Court in lieu of traditional system case processing. Once enrolled, participants are:
The VTC applies to Veterans charged with non-violent alcohol or drug-related felonies, who may be experiencing difficulties transitioning to civilian life - whether recently or long discharged from active duty. Veterans agree to enter the program in writing during a hearing after the arrest and also provide written consent to allow VA to communicate with the court about their mental health or substance abuse treatment.
Mark Barret, 45, an Army Veteran, battled depression and substance abuse before receiving help.
"Alcohol played a major role during my active duty service," Barret explained. "After discharge, I knew I was eligible for Veteran Administration services, but I didn't think anyone at the VA would help with my problems. I know better now, and am getting the assistance I need."
Barret was charged with battery and two counts of driving under the influence. With a $2,500 bail looming overhead, Barret met Turner-Reid at the jail and conceded to enroll in a substance abuse program.
Clean and sober for 10 months, Barret said, "I'm working with a psychiatrist and psychologist now. I've joined a group called Veterans on the Move and learned computer and coping skills, and physical awareness."
He is now in the Healthcare for homeless program, Grant and Per Diem program at the Salvation Army.
Many Veterans aren't aware of the many benefits afforded them by their extended military service, Turner- Reid said. "Our job is to assists Veterans by researching all avenues for networking and establishing community partners to help us reach the Veterans, who may not be registered with VHA. Our programs, such as Diversion Treatment Court, can then cut through some of the red tape to assist the Veteran."
It is through the collaborative efforts of health and benefits elements of VA during Stand Down, that Veterans will get services and information they need. DeKalb County Magistrate Court, National Alliance on Mental Illness and numerous local treatment providers will join forces to address a Veterans' open criminal cases, every day and especially during the upcoming Stand Down.
If you know of a homeless Veteran, contact that person and ensure he or she doesn't miss this opportunistic event Oct. 30 at 1670 Clairmont Road in Decatur.