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Drug and alcohol couselors offer their services at the 2006 StandDown.

Drug and alcohol couselors were on hand to offer their services at StandDown 2006.

Veterans access free services during StandDown 2006

August 4, 2006

Homeless and nearly homeless U.S. veterans received help in getting their lives back on track during StandDown 2006, which took place August 3-4 at the University of Minnesota's West Bank recreation fields. The annual event was hosted by the University and organized by the Minnesota Assistance Council For Veterans (MACV), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans statewide.

StandDown turned the West Bank fields into a tent city for veterans. Over two full days, volunteers provided services such as medical, dental, vision, and psychological assessments and treatment referrals; employment assistance; legal aid; federal and state tax counseling; social security eligibility information; substance abuse counseling; and food and shelter.

StandDown is one piece of the many services and programs MACV offers to veterans throughout the year.

In Minnesota up to 4,300 veterans are considered homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. That represents 1 percent of the 430,000 veterans who live in Minnesota and 16 percent of all homeless adults who live in the state.

"These men and women, who served their nation and defended our shared values, now struggle in their own country," said Kathleen Vitalis, MACV executive director. "We hope that StandDown will be a first step in helping them get back on their feet."

"StandDown is a significant place where our veterans who are in crisis can come just to identify what kind of services are available to them," added Lt. Col. Mary Erickson, who is part of a combat and operational stress control team based out of Ft. Snelling.

Her team works in a six-state region with veterans, their families, and the community to help improve the transition for vets back to civilian life. In addition, she works with soldiers prior to deployment to teach them stress managment techniques.

Prior to her own deployment in February of 2003, Erickson also was an instructor and director of clinical education for the U's occupational therapy program.

"Stand-down" is a military term referring to a period of respite for active troops. In the past during times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields and moved to places of relative security and safety. There, the troops took care of personal hygiene, received clean uniforms, enjoyed hot meals, received medical and dental care, mailed and received letters, and enjoyed time with fellow soldiers.

The first civilian StandDown was held in 1988, organized by a group of Vietnam veterans in San Diego. More and more communities began to hold StandDowns and now there are about 100 such events each year throughout the nation. It is estimated that 100,000 homeless veterans receive assistance through the StandDowns.