The laughter coming from barber chairs at the DAV Homeless Veterans Stand Down in October was the same that could be found in any barbershop across the country—a sound that highlights the effectiveness of a day focused on showing veterans experiencing homelessness that their service and sacrifices matter to a nation that sometimes forgets them.
“Through something as simple as a hot meal and a haircut, we hope you leave refreshed,” DAV National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst told those in attendance.
The annual event brought more than 180 veterans to DAV National Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky. Some were identified by the Department of Veterans Affairs as needing assistance, while others came from addiction rehabilitation centers and low-income senior housing.
During remarks kicking off the event, Kleindienst noted that the experience, whether service-connected illness or injury, is different for each veteran. He asked the veterans to find encouragement by learning about the employment, housing and treatment options available to them at the stand down, as well as speaking with DAV benefits advocates about benefits earned through service.
“Most of all, we hope you leave with the deep-rooted knowledge that you matter and that we care about the sacrifices you made in service,” Kleindienst said.
Veterans, including those from The Joseph House, a DAV-supported treatment and recovery center for veterans in Cincinnati, were served lunch and connected with a wide variety of resources during the event. And this year, one attendee who went to last year’s stand down while recovering from addiction came back as a Joseph House staff member.
Outside a DAV benefits advocate office, Army veteran Bernie Wright waited to talk about his ongoing claims. The Vietnam veteran comes to the stand down with other veterans from an apartment for seniors each year.
“I look forward to it,” Wright said. “You get to meet a lot of people and spend time with other veterans. Everyone is so nice from DAV.”
Wright came prepared to work through his VA claims with a DAV benefits advocate.
He had worked in a maintenance company in Vietnam, often reconnecting telephone wires wherever needed. When a siren to warn of enemy fire on the base activated, Wright lost his footing and fell 12 feet before landing on his back on a sheet of corrugated metal. He said he’s still working with DAV on a lingering back injury as a result.
“I appreciate the claims work,” he said. “DAV helps me out a lot.”
The Cincinnati VA Medical Center and community partners work with DAV to help connect veterans with an array of resources during the event. There were 80 vendors to talk about employment options, support for caregivers, suicide prevention, and housing and financial assistance. Local court officials were also available to talk to veterans about ways to expunge misdemeanors from their records.
Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette also addressed the veterans, expressing her appreciation for their service.
“There’s nothing more important we can do as citizens than take care of each other,” she said. “Communities like Erlanger are stronger when we gather together to help one another. This is especially true when it comes to making sure you, our veterans, know how appreciated you are. We’re free because of your service, and we must never forget that.”
DAV employees and volunteers from across the country served veterans food and handed out bags filled with toiletries and gift cards at the close of the day. Attendees left with full stomachs and the encouragement offered by their fellow veterans.
“I want you to take note of the words inscribed on the wall next to the entrance,” Kleindienst told attendees at the outset. “They’re from DAV’s founder, Judge Robert S. Marx, who said, ‘We had a common experience which bound us together, and we ought to continue through an organization of our own—an organization of us, by us and for us.’”