By Rep. Susan A. Davis
It is always inspiring to see communities come together to help those in need. That was on full display recently in San Diego as the 30th Stand Down commenced to provide much-needed services and assistance to homeless veterans.
The concept of Stand Down comes from the Vietnam War where combat-weary warriors were provided a safe haven to recharge and refresh. They could get clean, get new uniforms, as well as receive medical care.
The first Stand Down took place in San Diego in 1988. It has since spawned a movement nationwide. In 2017, there will be more than 220 Stand Down events staged around the country.
In San Diego, more than 1,000 veterans and their families have an opportunity to get off the streets and turn their lives around.
What resembles a military camp rose up from the grounds of San Diego High School. Within the numerous tents, veterans have access to shelter, showers, food, clothing and haircuts. In other tents, they receive medical and legal assistance. Counseling for substance abuse is available.
I have been to nearly all of the Stand Downs in San Diego and this year was no exception. As a senior member of House Armed Services Committee, going to Stand Down provides an opportunity to show support. It also allows me to hear directly from former servicemembers and take some of their thoughts and ideas back to Congress.
One of the most moving aspects of attending Stand Down are the success stories. This year, I met Darren, who showed up to Stand Down nine years ago suffering from PTSD. He credits Stand Down for helping him lift himself up. He has since returned every year to volunteer and is working on his master’s thesis focusing on PTSD among veterans.
This year was also poignant as we saw the retirement of Phil Landis in his role as CEO of the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD). An Army veteran who served in Vietnam, Phil inspired people with the way he spoke and listened to them.
VVSD will still be in extraordinarily capable hands. Kim Mitchell, a Vietnam War orphan adopted by a U.S. airman, will take the helm. Kim is a veteran herself, having served 17 years in the Navy. Kim’s appointment reflects not only the changing face of VVSD, but the changing face of our veterans. Women are increasingly joining the ranks of those who served and who saw combat.
When going to Stand Down, I have always used it as an opportunity to seek out women who served. Sometimes we will stand and talk or grab a tent and sit in a circle to discuss how their service impacted them.
The one issue that continually tops their concerns is what is known today as military sexual trauma. So many of the women veterans I have talked to have endured some sort of harassment or assault. They say that women don’t report because they risk retaliation and that they simply aren’t believed.
When I was chair and later Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, I made it a point to take this issue head on. We put in place an apparatus that will prosecute and prevent military sexual assault. It is a system that we are still building upon and improving until we can ensure a safe working environment for our servicemembers.
Progress has been made in reducing homelessness among our veterans. In San Diego, we have seen a 36 percent drop from 2010. San Diego has benefitted from federal dollars, including a recently announced $1.4 million to help put veterans into housing. It is making a difference.
While San Diego has one of the largest homeless populations in the country, our region doesn’t get its fair share of federal dollars. I am working to change the funding formula so that we get the federal funding needed to get people into housing and in better economic conditions.
Stand Down is an encouraging reminder that veterans know they have not been forgotten, especially after the sacrifices they have made. It has become a microcosm of our community where multiple generations of all walks of life come together for a common goal. In the future, don’t be surprised to see an LGBT tent at a future Stand Down.
We must remember the history of Stand Down and acknowledge those who make it happen every year — founders Dr. Jon Nachison, Robert Van Keuren and Director Darcy Pavich. Not to mention the countless volunteers.
Those who fought for us are now fighting to get off the streets. We won’t let them take on that fight alone.
—Rep. Susan A. Davis represents Congressional District 53, which includes the San Diego communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge and Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.