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MacDill Citizen Airmen 'Stand Down' for veterans

Staff. Sgt. Sharon Palmer, (on right) dental assistant, 6 Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base along with Maj. Elizabeth Ho, 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron, D.M.D provide dental care during Operation Stand Down, an event designed to help local homeless veterans combating life on the streets. The event, held at the Veteran Memorial Park, Hudson, Florida, bussed in homeless veterans from surrounding areas to take advantage of the more than a dozen complimentary services, such as employment workshops, hot meals, hot showers and haircuts, and medical services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)

Staff. Sgt. Sharon Palmer, (on right) dental assistant, 6 Air Mobility Wing, MacDill Air Force Base along with Maj. Elizabeth Ho, 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron, D.M.D provide dental care during Operation Stand Down, an event designed to help local homeless veterans combating life on the streets. The event, held at the Veteran Memorial Park, Hudson, Florida, bussed in homeless veterans from surrounding areas to take advantage of the more than a dozen complimentary services, such as employment workshops, hot meals, hot showers and haircuts, and medical services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)

Staff Sgt. Kerry Tromba, 927th Force Support Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base also a dental assistant along with Dr. Stephen Durrett provide dental care during Operation Stand Down, an event designed to help local homeless veterans combating life on the streets. The event, held at the Veteran Memorial Park, Hudson, Florida, bussed in homeless veterans from surrounding areas to take advantage of the more than a dozen complimentary services, such as employment workshops, hot meals, hot showers and haircuts, and medical services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)

Staff Sgt. Kerry Tromba, 927th Force Support Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base also a dental assistant along with Dr. Stephen Durrett provide dental care during Operation Stand Down, an event designed to help local homeless veterans combating life on the streets. The event, held at the Veteran Memorial Park, Hudson, Florida, bussed in homeless veterans from surrounding areas to take advantage of the more than a dozen complimentary services, such as employment workshops, hot meals, hot showers and haircuts, and medical services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)

MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. -- Citizen Airmen from the 927th Air Refueling Wing and active duty Airmen from the 6th Air Mobility Wing Dental Clinic here, traveled to the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Hudson, Florida to join with hundreds of other community volunteers for Operation Stand Down, Sept. 29 - Oct. 1.

The annual event brings needed services and support to many of the nation's homeless veterans.

During the three-day event, approximately 170 homeless veterans preregistered and were bussed from communities as far away as Brandon and Saint Petersburg, Florida, another 130 declined transportation and walked from nearby communities. No matter how they arrived, all benefited from more than a dozen complimentary services, such as employment workshops, hot meals, hot showers and haircuts.

According to the 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) today there are approximately 39,500 veterans combating life on the streets.

Although a significant decrease from 2010, when there were as many as 67,000, combating homelessness for veterans remains a top priority for the Veterans Administration.

“I know I can’t change every homeless veteran’s life, but if I can give a glimmer of hope to a just few, show them that we care, it makes it all worthwhile,” said Stand Down dental assistant volunteer, Staff Sgt. Kerry Tromba, 927th Force Support Squadron, education and training technician. “Giving up a few hours of my time is the least I can do for these men and women who at some point in their life were willing to pay the ultimate price.”

Statistics indicate that veterans are twice as likely to be chronically homeless compared to other citizens. The reasons can vary, from a weak family and social support system, to difficulty mirroring military skill sets to a civilian career. These factors combined with the increased likelihood that veterans will exhibit symptoms of PTSD, substance abuse, or mental illness put veterans at a greater risk of homelessness than the general population.

The most welcomed luxury provided by the Stand Down, that eludes most veterans combating life on the streets, is a good night’s rest.

“When you live in the woods, you are constantly looking over your shoulder for a potential threat of theft or violence,” said Bill Lewis, Operation Stand Down volunteer. “We have had veterans share that one of the best things of the Stand Down is the ability to go to sleep at night and be able to totally relax, knowing they are secure.”

Complimentary services did not stop there; medical personnel were on hand to provide minor medical care, dental exams and dental treatment for the homeless veterans.

“What a phenomenal opportunity this is,” said Maj. Elizabeth Ho, 927th Aerospace Medical Squadron, D.M.D. “To help our homeless veterans who otherwise would not have access to proper dental care is an indescribable feeling, it’s amazing.”

This year, more than 300 homeless veterans attended the event, most walking away well rested, with a full belly, new clothes and a fresh haircut. But according to Lewis, many of the vets attending Operation Stand Down will leave with more than three days of comfort and security. They will become long-term success stories providing hope and serving as an example for future vets in need.

“I was personally blessed by hearing that one veteran who has attended the past three years is now two years sober and will be moving into his own home within a few days,” said Lewis. “Another veteran, also attending for several years, is two months sober and is also in stable housing. Sometimes it's "baby steps", but that's o.k. as long as they're in the right direction.”

Homeless veterans or those at imminent risk of becoming homeless, can call or visit their local VA Medical Center or Community Resource and Referral Center where VA staff are ready to help. Veterans and their families may also call 1-877-4AID-VET (1-877-424-3838) to access VA services.