At-risk, homeless veterans supported with 'hand up' approach

SEATTLE - The community did not give many Vietnam Veterans a warm reception when they came home, and some feel they have not been adequately taken care of for their service.

Rebecca Murch, Executive Director for The Seattle Stand Down, is a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Persian Gulf.

"When I was making the transition between military and civilian life, I was not offered a lot of information on how to access the benefits I was entitled to as a veteran," Murch says. "When you're in the military you are taken care of 24/7 - everything is provided for you - housing, food, clothes, a dependable job and a paycheck, but once you're discharged you are sent back and on your own."

There are currently upwards of 800 homeless veterans in the King County area, and Seattle Stand Down wants to address the issue with a "hand up" to homeless veterans and those at risk of homelessness.

"For some veterans," Murch says, "navigating a bureaucracy that is understaffed and back logged can be very daunting to take on, especially if the veteran has physical or psychological disabilities associated with their service."

Seattle Stand Down has a special emphasis on female veterans whose volunteers approach them slightly differently than their male counterparts. The number of female veterans identified as homeless by the Department of Veterans Affairs increased at more than three times the rate of male homeless veterans between 2006 and 2010.

Female veterans are also not adequately represented in homeless counts and face additional barriers that limit their access to housing and other resources.

"Many women do not self-identify as being a veteran," said Murch. "That could be because they didn't serve in combat and are not familiar with the definition of what a veteran is."

Services specifically for female veterans at Seattle Stand Down include access to sexual trauma counselors, domestic violence advocates, breast cancer screenings and self-care services.

"Some women may be trying to disassociate themselves with the military if they've experienced a trauma event," Murch says, "like military sexual trauma where they don't feel comfortable accessing services through the VA, which is still a very male dominant environment."

This third annual Stand Down event takes place Wednesday, September 11 from 9:00am to 2:00pm at Seattle Central Community College. Organizers expect to serve 400 veterans with information about housing, employment, medical, dental and addiction services, legal advice and local, state and federal outreach services.

Services and resources for the September 11th event will be provided at the Mitchell Activity Center at 1718 Broadway, with additional services for women next door at the Broadway Performance Hall.

Free parking will be available in the Harvard Garage at the corner of E. Pine and Harvard. Limited shuttle transportation for veterans to Seattle Central from downtown Seattle will be provided by the King County Emergency Service Patrol.

Organizations, individuals or agencies interested in making tax-deductible donations, providing services or volunteering can contact Seattle Stand Down.

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