What an awesome day. I volunteered at the Portland Veterans Stand Down, an event by Transition Projects, Inc. I was told I had “The Stank” (which was a compliment), saw a guy freak out about a camel-shaped cookie, was hugged by a couple homeless veteran women, complimented a veteran on his FDNY cap (he said, “Yeah, I thought today was an appropriate day for it.”), found out one veteran had $10,000 in fines waived by a judge, met a couple transgender veterans, and heard complaints about the VA, but mostly, I was given an even deeper insight into what happens to many of our veterans after they have served our country. I was never doubtful many veterans are neglected after doing their service, but now I have experienced it first-hand. The Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the event was held, is a glaring metaphor for leaving our heroes in disrepair. If you have been there, you know what I’m talking about. If you have not, think: missing tiles in the fountain, pink mold emanating from the ceiling sprinklers, and dust-crusted vents, for starters.
The paranoia some had was founded on past experience. Attendees were asked to check their bags. One woman went off to the side to rearrange her belongings. She mentioned something about her “medicine.” I, of course, made mention of it being legal in Oregon. She said, “Well, if I were in Texas, I’d lose my VA benefits, but here in Oregon I know I can have it. I can’t risk them searching my bag after I check it. I just don’t want to have to use Oxy for my knee pain anymore.” Later on, another gentleman said, “I’ve been to one of these events before. A lot of us were pretty skeptical about the legal clinic, but after we saw it wasn’t an entrapment operation, more of us started coming.”
There was a resources area where organizations and businesses could offer services to the veterans. The job fair area was filled to the brim with local employers: Nike being one of them. The medical area provided Hepatitis C and rapid HIV screenings, among other medical services. The Banfield area outside offered pet care services and resources. Oh and by the way? Comfort/PTSD Animals are for real. Many dogs, and even a cat, were with their human companions. Sally the pit bull was especially precious. Bishops provided free haircuts. There was a She/Her/Hers Women’s Lounge, with Dress For Success and other organizations representing. The legal clinic was presided by a judge and attorney to hear cases and waive fees and/or judgments. Another room provided dress clothes: suits, ties, leather shoes, and cravats. Yes, cravats. Someone asked me what those were, and I said, something you tie at the neck and wear with your tweed blazer while smoking a pipe.
I worked at the Surplus Table, signing people up for Danner boots, assault packs (which we learned are backpacks – one woman jokingly asked if they came with live ammo), sleeping bags, sleeping pads, pouches, and t-shirts. You would have never guessed some of the veterans were homeless. We had codes for identifying the people who were, so they could be more quickly connected with a housing case worker. One guy was probably 35, very handsome, looked like he worked at the Nike store, Arabic name, and had slept outside last night. An African American woman who was very well dressed, well groomed, and had a reserved demeanor also slept outside last night. Perceptions can be tricky.
Thank you, Digital One team, for signing up and putting this event on my radar. The veterans thanked me for volunteering. I didn’t know how to say, it’s literally the least I could do, so I said, you’re welcome. September 11th is normally a painful day for many, myself included. I’m not saying I never held back tears today, and the day isn’t over yet, but I will say it felt good to be able to give back, even if it was just for a day.