TOGUS — Zachary Parent got his flu vaccine and then marched into the doctor’s office for a check up.

The 24-year-old homeless Army vet from Rockland attended the 14th annual Maine Homeless Veterans Stand Down on Saturday at the Togus VA Medical Center campus.

Parent had been transported to Togus along with more than 70 other homeless veterans from around the state for the VA Maine Healthcare System event.

Parent said he didn’t have direction after his three-year stint in the Army. Currently enrolled in a computer science program at University College in Rockland, Parent has been “couch surfing” since his discharge a year and a half ago.

“I didn’t get any technical training in the service, nothing that would look good on a resume,” Parent said Saturday before meeting with the doctor. “I was a PV 2, a Cavalry scout basically working with humvees and Bradley’s.  … We mounted and dismounted. I’m trained in weapons and vehicles.”

Parent said he only recently heard about the stand-down event and was glad to be able to attend.

“I feel I’m in good hands now,” he said. “I’m really glad the project is here. I probably wouldn’t be able to go to school if I didn’t have this to help me out.”

After Volunteer Disabled American Veterans vans arrived at 8 a.m. with the homeless veterans there was a brief ceremony.

MVAMC spokesman James Doherty said the one-day event is modeled after the first Homeless Veterans Stand Down in 1988.

Conceived by two Vietnam veterans, it was modeled after the stand down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations, he said.

Doherty said the success and popularity of the event rapidly grew to over 190 nationally each year. In 2009, he said 42,000 homeless veterans received services at stand-downs.

Doherty said Homeless stand-downs are a unique opportunity to gather together for a day in a safe, secure location and bring a wide-range of essential services to homeless veterans while enhancing their morale and motivation.

“It’s a hand-up not a hand-out,” Doherty said Saturday. “We’re making vets aware of the different services, not just what the VA has to offer. We’re all trying to help them break the chain of homelessness.”

He said 75 showed up for the stand-down event at Togus last year.

The majority of homeless veterans in Maine are of the Vietnam and Cold War eras, he said. The average age is early 50s. And the younger ones are not necessarily veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan war.

William Neville, 66, of Portland, who served in the Navy for six years, found housing three years ago through the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs Supported Housing (HUD-VASH) Program.

He said veterans have to be fiscally and socially responsible to participate in the program.

Neville, who was diagnosed with a non-service connected disability for an organic brain disorder — he suffers from mini strokes — found an affordable housing in Portland. He contributes no more than 30 percent of his income toward rent.

“The first step for me was to get a roof over my head,” Neville said. “The second step is to get myself fiscally responsible so I can pay my bills . . . My income is not a large amount, but it allows me to move ahead.”

According to VA, there were 132,000 homeless Veterans in the country in 2009 at the start of VA’s Five Year Plan to End Homelessness Among Veterans.

That number declined to about 76,600 in June 2011, largely due to the success of the HUD-VASH program.

Doherty said the primary goal of HUD-VASH is to move chronically homeless, the most vulnerable, Veterans and families out of homelessness and into secure, suitable housing. A critical component to the ongoing success of the program is the VA’s case management services, he said.

Doherty said men and even fewer women end up homeless for various reasons after serving in the military.

“A lot of them have successful careers then something happens,” Doherty said. “It can be related to service, or something like today with the economy — they can’t find a job. And that can be compounded by marital problems, bad relationships and substance abuse.”

Shelley Littlefield, a nurse practitioner, said she only has received positive feedback from veterans who participate in the one-day event.

“I’ve always seen it as a benefit,” she said. “A lot of guys didn’t know about the different services or didn’t believe they were available to them. These guys can walk in today and get their eyes checked, get clothes if they need it, health exams and a meal before they leave.”

Doherty said homeless veterans also can receive footwear, toiletries, showers, haircuts, reading glasses, applications for VA and Social Security benefits and MaineCare Insurance, Veteran Peer Supports, housing information, legal and other services including medical screenings, women’s wellness, eye care, dental screening, mental health screenings/counseling, substance abuse assessments, VA and Maine state employment services and social/community services.

For information about the Homeless Veterans Stand Down, call 623-8411 ext. 5408.

Mechele Cooper — 621-5663

[email protected]


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