‘Stand Down’ event draws veterans seeking assistance
Around 40 veterans were able to start claims with the VA and learn information about local programs and organizations specifically meant to help them at this year’s La Plata American Legion Stand Down event.
The stand down — which took place April 9 — didn’t have as many attendees as last year, but brainchild of the event, Post Commander Buddy Hindle, was still moved to tears.
“We used to get so many calls before and guys coming in [to get help with the VA process]. We didn’t have anyone qualified here,” Hindle said. “They’ve made [the claims process] a little simpler. But back then, people like my brother for one, he just finally gave up. Just seeing all of these people here today trying to help veterans — telling them what’s out there and if they need any help of any sort — it’s great.”
The event had 28 different vendors. Banks, real estate companies, the USO, Boots 2 Heels, and the Maryland Department of Labor were just a few present, answering any questions the veterans had.
For the first time, a religious organization took part in the event. Pisgah United Methodist Church located in Marbury interacted with veterans — listening to their stories and passing out food and a free handmade gift. The pastor of the church, Jeanne Parr, is a Vietnam-era veteran and knows the importance of reaching out to fellow veterans.
“As the pastor and a veteran, it’s kind of cool to be able to get involved. Being here is not about enlarging our church or getting more people in the pews, it really is about showing [veterans] the love of God and our church’s Ministry of Love program,” Parr said. “Our motto is ‘helping hands, warm hearts,’ so we have been passing out a [handmade] symbol to remind them that someone is always loving them and caring about them.”
Randy Spires, a Navy veteran and current USO volunteer, said he enjoyed talking with fellow veterans about what the USO means to them. Spires was happy to learn his favorable opinion about the organization was not unique when veterans discussed their experiences with him — especially when many of the veterans were traveling and able to go to the USO stations in airports.
“[Talking with veterans] here is a way to give something back. You know, I know what the USO meant to me when I was there and to be able to do this, if you want to call it pay it forward and actually have that interaction with the people,” Spires said. “It’s just rewarding to do that.”
Andrew Chism Jr., a 23year veteran of the Air Force as an aircraft technician, attended the La Plata Stand Down after he had missed two others in North Carolina and Delaware. Chism, retired since 2011, likes to attend stand down events because of the information he learns and the connections he makes with various companies and organizations.
“I talked to real estate companies and Disabled Veterans of America. What I was trying to do was make sure I covered all of my bases,” Chism said. “I am just making sure that when I came through here that I am making contacts in case I needed to talk to anybody later on with problems. I most definitely found today to be helpful. In fact, that’s why I was talking to my friend who just retired last week to come out here. This is the ideal place for him to get his [VA] claims together.”
George Hawley, event organizer and veteran representative for Southern Maryland, was pleased with the amount of people who came to the stand down. However, with last year’s stand down serving approximately 100 people, he was hoping for a larger crowd. Nonetheless, the veterans who did attend the event were able to file important claims with the VA — something Hawley said is the most important thing at stand downs.
“A lot of them were extremely pleased as far as initiating a claims process. Some of the family members brought info in for their parents and got claims started for them,” Hawley said. “Claims are always a big thing because people have no idea where to turn or how to get it started.”
Hawley also said veterans weren’t the only one who benefited from the event. Some vendors have also collaborated as a result of the stand down and plan to pursue projects with one another.
To boost attendance at next year’s stand down event, Hawley hopes to add more vendors. Regardless of numbers, Hindle is just happy to help his fellow veterans in his own community.
“This stand down is a starting point — especially to get some of the medical issues taken care of. Plus, it’s close here at home. The veterans don’t have to go up to D.C. or Baltimore or some place like that,” Hindle said. “My wish for all these guys is coming true — to get what they deserve. It means a lot.”
A veteran talks with members of the Pisgah United Methodist Church. The group, part of the church’s Ministry of Love, was the first religious group to be a vendor at the La Plata Stand Down April 9.