Several hundred struggling veterans from the region are finding a respite in a tent city that has arisen in Bucks County, Pa., this weekend.
This week’s punishing rains threatened the annual event, but, despite some mud, “Philadelphia Stand Down” in Levittown is up and running.
“Stand down” is a military term referring to a period of rest and resupply for exhausted troops. Organizers of the weekend event bus in homeless and struggling vets from around the region.
The grounds look very much like a military field camp as vets line up for medical care, mental health screenings, and drug and alcohol counseling. They sleep in large tents for the weekend, and a military kitchen serves meals.
But there is much more, said Ed Speller, Philadelphia Stand Down executive director.
“We also do podiatry, dentistry, we do eyeglasses, we give them clothing to take with them,” said Speller. “We try to point them in the direction of housing, and employment if they are employable. Those things and the idea of the camaraderie that happens are what make us do what we do.”
Many of the attendees are Vietnam vets, but Jerry Jonas of Philadelphia Stand Down says the population is changing. “We’re getting them now in their early 20s, from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Jonas, who said a lot of female veterans attend, as well as families and children, said a separate sleeping area has been set up for them.
For veteran Ricardo Truitt, coming to the encampment is part of a fresh start, and giving back.
“I was homeless at one time, so I came here with a couple of other guys, so that they can get housing also,” said Truitt who moved into an apartment two months ago.
One Vietnam vet who was just released from prison said the most important part of the weekend is being around other veterans, because vets look out for other vets.
Volunteer John Sirkin, a primary care doctor with Veterans Affairs, said he is seeing a lot of vets who haven’t had medical care in a long time.
“So one of the biggest advantages of running a program like this is getting a lot of these vets hooked up with some primary care, whether it’s through the VA or not,” said Sirkin.
Organizers say the goal of the event is to allow vets to rest and be looked after for a weekend. More importantly, they say, it will connect the vets to services that will help them long after the tents have come down.