Reminder Assistant Editor
SPRINGFIELD A stand-down allows combat soldiers to sporadically return from the battlefields for hot meals, dry clothes, showers and medical care.
In 1988, Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison organized the first Stand-Down in San Diego, Calif., to unite benefit and care providers to address the growing needs of homeless veterans. Over the past 20 years the event has grown to include over 100 Stand-Downs across the country.
On Sept. 19 from 8 a.m. -- 3 p.m., 41 service agencies and over 300 veterans and their families will participate in the Western Massachusetts Stand-Down at the Greek Cultural Center, 22 Saint George Rd.
The Western Massachusetts Stand-Down Committee, a council of 15 veterans' service officers, has brought together the largest contingent of service providers to date, including the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration, legal and tax services, substance abuse counseling, transitional assistance and healthcare providers.
Stand-Down Committee member Gumersindo Gomez, also executive director of the Western Massachusetts Bilingual Veterans Outreach Center, explained that each year the number of veterans attending the event increases, helping to break the stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
"I've debriefed Marines returning from Iraq at Westover [Air Reserve Base] and I said, 'I know you are macho Marines but don't be afraid to go for help.' They've got to break down that barrier of being afraid," James Berrelli Jr., Stand Down Committee member, also director of Veterans' Services in West Springfield, said. "When we came back from Vietnam we didn't trust the government either. A lot of vets' service agents [like myself] have been there, done that."
Stand-Down Committee member Steve Connor, also director of Veterans' Services in Northampton, agreed, adding, "The people who are behind this and planning this are all vets trying to help other vets."
Gomez noted that all the services at the Stand-Down are free of charge, including dental exams, haircuts, massages, acupressure therapy, as well as breakfast and lunch. Veterans and their families can also apply for driver's licenses or Massachusetts IDs and receive free winter clothing.
Veterans and their families also have access to free transportation to the event by calling Gomez at 883-4508.
For more information about the Western Massachusetts Stand-Down, contact Berrelli at 263-3019 or by e-mail at email@example.com or contact Connor at 587-1299.