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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Annual Stand Down event brings services together in one place for Inland Northwest veterans

John Shaw, a 51-year-old Navy veteran, got help rebooting his life this spring through a Stand Down program sponsored by St. Vincent de Paul.

The program helped him get a driver’s license, car insurance and gas vouchers that Shaw repaid by working at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. That proved crucial to his fresh start here following a 2013 marijuana conviction.

“They were able to give me a hand up, not a hand out, which is what I was looking for,” Shaw said.

Now, he has his contractor’s license and a new business, Shaw’s Flooring and Installation in Post Falls.

He also plans to go to the North Idaho Veterans Stand Down on May 11, a six-hour event providing access to multiple veteran support services in one setting. The activities are an outreach to former and active military members who live in the region.

“If a person is looking, they have the right resources, or at least a direction to guide you,” Shaw said.

The upcoming Stand Down is scheduled 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. Activities will be in the Christianson Gymnasium, between the student union building and Lee-Kildow Hall. Attendees can take shuttles from parking areas.

Stand Down is a military term to take a rest for a necessary mental and physical break in a safe place away from combat, before returning to the front lines.

The event is held each year for veterans and active service members from North Idaho and Eastern Washington, said Eric Swanbeck, St. Vincent de Paul veteran services coordinator. Attendees seeking support are asked to bring military ID or the discharge form called a DD 214.

“Our primary function is supporting veterans in our local community, but we have extended our reach into Sandpoint, Newport, Spokane and even Montana a few times,” Swanbeck said.

“Any veteran can come to Stand Down with the proper identification, regardless of where they’re from. It’s a free event; we don’t charge the veterans. We offer a free pancake breakfast, Starbucks coffee and a Texas Roadhouse lunch.”

He said U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs representatives will be on hand to answer questions about benefits. Other veteran service agencies and community businesses will offer help. A mobile health clinic from Spokane’s Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center is scheduled to be there.

“Anybody who is having any difficulty with respect to their benefits through the VA they can sit down and talk to someone and get it straightened it out,” Swanbeck added. “We also have a dentist there and other medical people there. Sometimes a massage specialist is there.”

The VA gave approval for local organizers to open the event also to first responders, such as police officers and firefighters, he said.

Some support stations include:

Housing information

Mental health counseling

Legal assistance including personal wills

Vision and hearing specialists

Washington State Veterans Cemetery near Medical Lake

Free haircuts

Bike repair

Food assistance

Job fair also open to family members.

Other options include an acupuncturist, hospice services, bank specialists regarding veteran loans and a veterinarian.

The Stand Down builds connections and helps veterans learn more about what’s available to them, Swanbeck said. In the past, the event has drawn as many as 500 attendees.

“A lot of times, veterans don’t know what services are available out there for them,” he said. “It helps them become more knowledgeable.

“The ones who need the most help are often those who are already in housing but they’re struggling, whether they’ve lost a job, are not paid enough or have a medical issue that’s caused them to go into debt. It helps us identify those people and be able to get the resources to them.”

The day offers a chance to meet other veterans, and it’s open to their families.

“We offer a job fair, and the one requirement is they have to have immediate job openings so a wife, uncle or children can all come in and access those services. If we help the family of the veteran, it helps the veteran.”

Previous North Idaho Stand Down days were held at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds, but this is the first year it’s scheduled at NIC as a more central location, said volunteer Kecia Siegel. She also is a veterans coordinator for NIC.

“We’re going to have several parking lots available, and we’ll have a trolly that will run and take people in.”

She said surplus items such as blankets will be given to veterans at the event who are in need.

“People who are homeless, or those almost homeless and disadvantaged are eligible for surplus,” she said. “There are some screening questions. It might be boots, blankets, rain gear.”

St. Vincent de Paul is the nonprofit sponsoring Stand Down for the North Idaho area, but about 200 Stand Down events are held nationwide. Other ones are scheduled during upcoming months in Newport, Moses Lake and Wenatchee.

The first region Stand Down event was in 1994.