Veterans from all around Western North Carolina are invited to attend the first annual Smoky Mountain Veterans Stand Down event that is being held on Thursday, Aug. 21 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Macon County Community Facilities Building in Franklin.
The Stand Down event is a community-sponsored event and was organized in order to give homeless, in need, or low-income veterans both short and long-term assistance. Some of the things that will be offered to veterans will be food, clothing, haircuts, employment counseling, education services and even medical and legal services. The goal is to serve veterans in Macon, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, and Swain counties.
Though this is the first event of its kind this far west of Asheville, the program has been helping veterans since the ’80s. The first event was organized by two Vietnam veterans and took place in San Diego in 1988.
“We visited an event in Hickory back in April and there were several hundred people there,” said Mark Schuler, coordinator of the event. “In Buncombe County, which has held several Stand Down events, they have several hundred veterans attend.”
A list of additional items and/or services include military surplus gear, employment security office services, veteran's benefit administration services, housing support services, mental health services, veterans' service officers, supportive services for veteran families, and fellowship.
“We already have about 40 or 50 volunteers that are going to help us and then about 30 or 35 agencies that are going to come and provide services during the day of the event,” said Schuler. “It's very nice to know that the community can come together and pull something like this off. I think it's going to be a great event.”
According to statistics provided by the Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina, more than 800,000 veterans reside in the state. Currently of all homeless individuals, it is estimated that 20 percent are veterans.
Data from the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs shows a large uptick of homeless veterans who contact the VA in N.C.
But Schuler says it is impossible to pinpoint the exact number of WNC veterans that are without a home.
“It's difficult to put a number on the veterans who need our service because it's difficult to assess the level of homelessness,” he said. “Are they living with someone else or in a homeless shelter? It's difficult to know and to put a number on it.”
Schuler points to the sacrifices made by veterans as the reason to bring this event to Franklin.
“The community wants to give back to those veterans. A lot of them have put their boots on the ground and seen combat. A lot of them have come home with different sorts of conditions, ailments, and injuries from war so the community wants to come together to do something. In WNC we're going to do what we do here and take this on. My message is that if you're having difficulties paying your doctor bills, or getting to the VA to receive medical services, if you're homeless or at risk of being homeless, if you meet any of this criteria, then we want to see you at this event. It's not being sponsored by a government agency or the VA, this is being sponsored by the community.”
Anyone who may be interested in more information about the event or would like to volunteer, can contact the Macon County Veterans Services at (828)349-2151.
“This event has the potential to not only help our veteran population, but also give Macon County, its leaders, and residents the opportunity to show their compassion and concern for our veterans,” says Daylon Plemens, director of Macon County Veterans Services.