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Stand Down Offers Array Of Services To Western Mass. Veterans


   Hundreds of military veterans in western Massachusetts were offered help today with everything from health care to haircuts. 

   The one-day event at a church center in Springfield brought together dozens of government and community-based agencies to provide information, referrals, and on-the-spot help to veterans and their families about housing, medical benefits, educational opportunities and employment.

  There was free coffee and doughnuts, legal and financial advice, clothing, and haircuts.

 Called a Stand Down, this was the 27th annual one held for western Massachusetts veterans, and it started Friday morning with a ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans.

" Today we join the many communities across America commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and honoring and remembering the veterans who fought that war," said  Gumersindo Gomez, executive director of Bilingual Veterans Centers of Massachusetts, one of the organizers for the event.

  He said it is modeled after the procedure that saw soldiers fresh off the battlefields of Vietnam were afforded relief including showers, dry clothes, and hot meals at a secure base.

" They called it a " stand down." So, that is what we are doing. We are standing down for one day, stop what you are doing and come take care of yourself," said Gomez.

Gomez, who was an Army sergeant in Vietnam, said today’s concept of Stand Down is a way for the community to unite to address the needs of veterans.

" We have over 80 providers here ready to give services to the veterans," he said. " A homeless veteran might walk out of here with a roof over their head tonight,"

Although the program at the Greek Cultural Center in Springfield’s North End Friday focused on Vietnam veterans, the services were available to veterans from all eras.

Thomas “Rocky” McKinnon, who served in the Marines during Desert Storm, came to the Stand Down looking for a job.

  " Maintenance or construction," he said when asked the type of work he was looking. " Either or, I'm a good worker."

Officials at the Stand Down said there have been recent advances in veterans’ healthcare services and in the availability of housing for previously homeless veterans in the Pioneer Valley.

John Collins, director of the VA Central and Western Massachusetts Health Care System, said the local network of hospitals and clinics has been a given a five-star rating for quality by the VA.

" I am very very proud of the work we have done," said Collins.

Soldier On recently dedicated 40 houses in Northampton and 35 in Chicopee that are available for ownership by homeless veterans with more housing under construction in Agawam according to the organization’s vice president Steve Como.

  " The whole aspect of getting people out of shelters, getting people into housing first, giving people the supportive services they need around them is an important piece of what we are doing," said Como.

Soldier On recently received a $750,000 federal grant to provide assistance to veterans at-risk of becoming homeless.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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