By Alana Wenick, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — The annual Connecticut Stand Down event on Friday at the Veterans Home in Rocky Hill marked its 15th year, of assisting needy veterans in obtaining the benefits available to them through the state’s multiple programs and services.
Free bus transportation was provided statewide for veterans in both urban and rural locations. Coming from as far as Stamford, an anticipated 1,500 veterans were in attendance. This number is a drastic increase from the 500 in attendance when the event was first held in 1992.
“Although the number of actual homeless veterans has decreased there are still many veterans in need throughout the state,” said Catherine Cook, Director of Community Affairs at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Vendors lined the grounds of the Rocky Hill facility offering everything from dental screenings to free haircuts. There were over 80 vendors volunteering time and services to veterans in need. Over 200 volunteers aided in the actual logistics of the event, with additional individuals offering services at the vendor stations.
“My brother was killed in Iraq and I think it’s important to support the veterans who serve our country. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m volunteering,” said Jose Irizarry, a volunteer from Hartford.
Vendor stations provided a variety of services including medical and legal assistance. Physicians were readily available and judges were brought in to preside over cases involving the veterans.
“Some veterans don’t have access to transportation for their minor offense court dates, some don’t have an address where they can be reached,” said Cook. “We want the veterans to know that these [court] charges are not insurmountable. They can have those taken care of today.”
Local church groups and veterans organizations gathered as well, handing out free clothing and hot meals. Job counseling, higher education programming, and financial assistance was also available.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell stopped by at the event and walked through the crowds of veterans waiting at the vendor stations.
“Most of these individuals have fallen on hard times or are simply in need,” said Rell. “If you look at the Motor Vehicle [station] or the Dental clinic, the line extends all the way back. This is the 15th annual year and the support just continues to grow.”
“Stand Down” was a term coined during the Vietnam War, which refers to an area of safety behind fighting lines. This is a place where soldiers can relax and recover, while attending to personal needs. Metaphorically, the Connecticut Stand Down event represents a place where veterans can come and find the comfort that they need, receiving the benefits afforded to them after years of military service.
“It’s important that the veterans know what is available to them. This event educates and shows our veterans that we honor them and the service they’ve done for this country,” said Myron Craig, a volunteer from Middletown.
Although the Stand Down event only occurs once a year, veteran assistance is available in Connecticut year-round. Veterans are urged to contact the veterans’ affairs office in their district for more information.
“Overall, we need to recognize the veterans that served our nation and give them the benefits that they truly deserve,” said Rell. “That’s what really matters and that’s what we’re doing here.”