The Renegade Rip

Kern County Stand Down assists veterans

Alisia Sanchez

Alisia Sanchez

Larry Romo attended this years STand Down to inform veterans about eligibility to buried at the natinoal cemetary.

Alisia Sanchez, Photographer

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Alongside more than 60 providers, Kern County Homeless Collaborative member California Veterans Assistance Foundation both honored and helped approximately 508 local veterans acquire needs, services and information they may or may not have been fully aware of at this year’s Kern County Stand Down.

The event, which has taken place locally every second Thursday of October since 2011, took place Oct. 9 at Stramler Park.

“Stand Down is truly a testament of how Kern County views its veterans,” said president and CEO of CVAF Deborah Johnson. “It’s Kern County’s event for veterans.”

Students and instructors from Lyle’s Colleges of Beauty were present to provide free haircuts to veterans, and the American Legion Post 26 helped provide clothing. Community donations contributed to the event as well.

“When we put out publicly ‘We need donations of clothing,’ it’s amazing,” Johnson said. “The community comes together, and they drop off bags and bags of clothes at our office. All of that gets sorted, resized. It gets brought out to the park, and veterans can come in and take advantage of it, and we’re also able to give out clothing to their dependents as well.”

Information on housing and employment was also provided at Stand Down, including veterans services. Clinica Sierra Vista and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center provided flu shots and many veterans were able to enroll in health care and benefits.

According to Johnson, however, the event’s biggest draw remains the Veterans Court, which helps veterans with traffic tickets, misdemeanors and fines in Kern County. A total of 66 veterans pre-registered this year to meet before a judge in a full courtroom that is run and provided at the event.

“[Veterans] will get those fines reduced or taken away for community service because we know that veterans, that they are low income,” Johnson said. “Everything can hinge on a simple traffic fine or a traffic ticket, so [Veterans Court] is our number one draw.”

The event’s committee had over 10 agencies that allowed their staff to volunteer. As a part of their rotation, students of the Bakersfield College nursing program were also in attendance as volunteers, wearing red scrubs and doing a variety of tasks that ranged from registering veterans to helping give out free pairs of socks.

Not only was Johnson in attendance to help answer questions and provide guidance to service providers, volunteers and veterans, but also to place focus on women veterans. A booth that was specifically set up for them at Stand Down attempted to find out what their needs in the community are. A veteran herself, Johnson said women veterans do not wear the hat or the T-shirt that depicts their service, and the only way she was able to identify women veterans at the event was by the red wristband that was given to them to wear upon registration.

“A lot of women do not identify themselves as a veteran because society kind of says ‘Well, if you’re a veteran, you’ve had to have served in combat or you’ve served in war.’ That is not the true definition of a veteran,” Johnson said. “It’s any man or woman who have served in the act of military service, so it doesn’t matter what branch of service. When they served, that they’ve completed their enlistment in the act of military service, they are a veteran regardless of gender.”

Out of the 508 veterans that attended, 31 of them were women. According to Johnson, “11 men were at imminent risk of homelessness, 43 men and eight women were unstably housing, and 35 men and three women identified as being homeless.”

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7216 attended the event with the intent of assisting homeless veterans. Larry Romo, Korean War veteran and honor guard funerals member of the VFW Post 7216, helped inform veterans that they are eligible to be buried at no cost at the national cemetery, provided they received an honorable discharge.

“These guys that are here today, every one of them are heroes,” Romo said. “So we’re here to help them and let them know what privileges they have, and to us, it’s great to be here.”

Among those in attendance, was Adolfo Alfonso Chavez, a disabled veteran who served the Marine Corps for two years and the Army for eight.

“I’m not going to say I’m struggling,” Chavez said. “I’m living my life to the fullest, the best I can. I’m not giving up, and I’m not going to sit here and cry about it.”

Chavez has attended Stand Downs in the past but a move to Sacramento may keep him from attending future ones.

“The Stand Down means a lot to all these veterans,” he said. “There’s certain things that we might need, or like I’m going to need. I’m moving up to Sacramento. I’m gonna live over there now, and I’m going to miss Bakersfield and these Stand Downs.”

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Kern County Stand Down assists veterans