| G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – Gumersindo Gomez, the organizer of the 28th annual Veterans Stand Down, said there were about 25 percent fewer veterans attending this year’s event than last year.
Conducted at the Greek Cultural Center, the event brought representatives of 73 service providers together to answer the veterans’ needs. Around the center, vets could speak with members of the Veterans’ Administration, get a flu shot, seek housing, get a haircut or receive winter clothing donated by Job Lot, among many other services. A long line of vets was waiting for lunch.
Participating in the Stand Down were the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Benefits Administration Boston Regional Office, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, municipal veterans’ service departments, the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration.
Gomez, who is the executive director at The Western Massachusetts Bi-lingual Veterans Outreach Center, said because of the event on Sept. 29, three homeless veterans would not be spending that night on the street. He said the Stand Down provides vets with an initial opportunity to solve a problem and there is follow-up from the agencies.
“For military veterans, a Stand Down during their military service meant a return from the battlefield for hot meals, dry clothes, showers, and medical care,” he said, “Today, our Stand Down is a way for the veteran community to unite to address our needs, whether it is homelessness, unemployment, health care or counseling services. We are empowering our veterans to engage their friends, family and their neighbors to help all veterans get the services and programs they have earned.”
Gomez estimated that 300 vets were attending this year, down from 400 to 450 from last year. He offered several explanations, including that the area’s vets have been getting the services they need, so coming to the Stand Down is not necessary.
He said veterans’ agencies in the area are not seeing many younger vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and that may due to the fact that it can take years before a veteran seeks services.
“Vietnam vets took 20 years to with the Veterans’ Administration,” Gomez, who is a Vietnam vet himself, said.
More recent veterans may be getting greater education about their benefits and the services available to them, Gomez added.
What concerns him is that younger vets may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic brain Injury and are not really to seek treatment.
“They may be self-medicating and hiding themselves,” Gomez said, who added his concern about those vets being suicidal.
For more information about services for veterans, contact The Western Massachusetts Bi-lingual Veterans Outreach Center at 731-0194.