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Sun, May 26

Military Order of Purple Heart donates to Stand Down to help homeless vets

Lisa Irish/The Daily Courier<br>Frank Rodriguez, left, junior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 608 donates $1,000 to help homeless veterans in our community during the Northern Arizona Veteran Stand Down to Skye Biasetti, right, operations manager for U.S. Vets, while Alfonso Santillan Jr., center, commander of the MOPH Chapter 608, looks on.

Lisa Irish/The Daily Courier<br>Frank Rodriguez, left, junior vice commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 608 donates $1,000 to help homeless veterans in our community during the Northern Arizona Veteran Stand Down to Skye Biasetti, right, operations manager for U.S. Vets, while Alfonso Santillan Jr., center, commander of the MOPH Chapter 608, looks on.

After bringing sleeping bags and nonperishable food to veterans living in the hills around Prescott, two veterans with the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart knew more could be done to help homeless vets.

So Alfonso Santillan Jr. and Frank Rodriguez with the Major John R. Tapia Chapter 608 presented a $1,000 donation from the Military Order of the Purple Heart to the Northern Arizona Veteran Stand Down. Veteran Stand Down is a project organized locally by Skye Biasetti, operations manager for U.S. Vets, which connects homeless vets with local resources to help them live independently.

"One of the stories I heard that tugged at me was of a homeless veteran who froze to death," Biasetti said.

"He served his country, survived the war, and yet he died like that," said Santillan, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Rodriguez, junior vice commander of the group, said he spoke with a serviceman just back from Afghanistan who said he was having trouble adjusting to civilian life. The veteran said he couldn't be around large groups of people, had flashbacks and got angry too easily.

"As I listened to him, he was describing all the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," Rodriguez said. "When I told him that, he said 'No way.' Then I handed him a booklet on PTSD and after he read it he told me 'I can't believe it. That's me.'"

Biasetti, who has organized the Stand Down in Prescott for the past five years, thanked the veterans for their donation.

"Our nonprofit's goal is help veterans experiencing challenges as they transition to civilian life and prepare them to live independently in the community," Biasetti said. "In the past year, the Prescott branch of U.S. Vets has helped 320 veterans, 20 of them women."

Biasetti said a key part of that help is getting homeless veterans to U.S. Vets, and that's where the Stand Down is critical.

The Stand Down is a two-day event that takes place on Sept 23 and Sept 24. The event connects veterans with free legal services, clothing, cold weather gear, food, hygiene items, employment assistance, medical and mental health screenings, haircuts, drug-and alcohol-free housing, and Veterans Affairs eligibility screenings, Biasetti said.

The first Stand Down took place in San Diego in 1988 and was organized by Dr. Jon Nachison and Robert Van Keuren of the Veterans Village San Diego, who said they thought the high number of homeless veterans was unacceptable.

"They called the event a Stand Down, a military term for temporarily taking a unit out of the field for a hot meal and rest before they returned to the battle field," Biasetti said.

Since then, U.S. Vets and cities across the nation have held Stand Downs to connect homeless veterans with local resources, Biasetti said.

Anyone interested in volunteering during the Stand Down, or donating new or gently used sleeping bags, personal tents, and jackets as well as nonperishable foods is encouraged to call Biasetti at 928-200-7692 or email her at sbiasetti@usvetsinc.org.

"Sleeping bags are always the first thing to go," said Biasetti. She said she has been trying to contact people at camping products companies who would be interested in donating items to the Stand Down. "What better group to donate to than American veterans?"

U.S. Vets, which rents a building near the VA Medical Center's domiciliary, also provides 56 beds for veterans who meet their criteria and are prepared to be in a sober living environment as they get back on their feet, Biasetti said.

"There are a lot of veterans who are resistant to using the VA," Biasetti said. "We provide them with a place where they can connect to VA services on their own terms."

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