This year marked the 13th Stand Down, spearheaded in 2007 by Patt Maney, a recently retired Okaloosa County judge and wounded warrior.
FORT WALTON BEACH — At least early in the day on Friday, the crowd at the Okaloosa-Walton Homeless Veteran Stand Down was thinner than in years past as organizers worked to ensure only veterans were getting medical and dental screenings, job search assistance, clothing distribution, a hot lunch, a chance to get one of 50 donated new bicycles and access to Department of Veterans Affairs services.
This year marked the 13th Stand Down, spearheaded in 2007 by Patt Maney, a recently retired Okaloosa County judge and wounded warrior. The local event was the first community-based stand down in the state. It is hosted at Striving for Perfection Ministries.
Over the years, Stand Down organizers have found themselves dealing with people who did not serve in the military, to the extent that veterans were being crowded out. This year, as the Stand-Down returns to its roots, a Nov. 18 event dubbed Day of Impact at Striving for Perfection Ministries will offer an array of social services to the community at large, also including veterans.
“Veterans were walking away,” said Dennis Krebs, chairman of the Stand Down. Krebs, a 30-year Air Force veteran who retired in 2008, is with the Eglin chapter of the Air Force Association, which inherited stand-down management this year from the Association of the United States Army.
However, Krebs said the dwindling number of veterans at the stand down might be a sign that needs are being met.
“Our goal here is to set up veterans for success,” Krebs said.
To meet that goal, veterans at Friday’s stand down — some of whom were not homeless but had other needs — had to make three stops before taking advantage of available services.
They were required to meet with a VA representative to determine their eligibility for benefits and to register for VA services. They also had to meet with a HUD-VASH representative (HUD-VASH is a VA and Housing and Urban Development partnership that provides housing assistance) and with a representative of CareerSource Okaloosa Walton, a nonprofit employment assistance organization.
Frederick Gray, who served in the Army from 1976-1981, was looking for work he might be able to do despite nagging back trouble.
But Gray, who is not homeless — thanks to VA assistance, he said — also was aware of other services at the stand down.
“They’ve got medical help (and) some ... clothing,” he said. “I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Also on hand Friday was 64-year-old Ronald Hoffman of Crestview. Hoffman, who served as an Army artilleryman from 1974-1985, said he hoped “to get some clothes and some boots.”
Hoffman, who is not homeless but recently lost his job doing masonry work due to an elbow injury, had not used his VA benefits until just a couple of years ago when he learned as the result of an injury that he was eligible and began using the local VA clinic.
“They’e been a blessing,” Hoffman said of the clinic staff. In the intervening months, Hoffman has taken advantage of other VA benefits.
“Without them, I probably would be homeless,” he said.