Veterans access one-stop shop for housing, healthcare and other resources at Santa Clara County ‘Stand Down’ event – The Mercury News

SAN JOSE — Kim Yee made the rounds of dozens of booths set up at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds Saturday morning, collecting things to help make his day-to-day life a little easier: a bag of groceries, paperwork to secure a housing voucher, legal assistance with the DMV and a pair of military fatigues specially designed to be worn while in a wheelchair.

After enlisting in the military as a 15-year-old during the Vietnam War in 1967, Yee trained and served overseas as an Army Ranger for more than two decades, before a combat injury sent him home. But life stateside hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the now 72-year-old, who has spent the past few weeks couch surfing after recently losing the roof over his head.

More than 50 vendors who set up shop at a special “Veterans Stand Down” were ready to help. The event was organized to ease the troubles that Lee and many other veterans often face in the months, years and decades after their military service has ended. Dozens of volunteers offered medical and dental care, housing resources, mental health resources, haircuts and a host of other services — all free of charge.

Hosted for the first time by the county’s Office of Veterans Services, volunteers from organizations like Hunger at Home, LifeMoves and the Recovery Café joined government employees to connect former service members with the diverse tools they need to thrive.

“It gives me hope to know there’s people out there who care for us and are willing to go out of their way to help keep our mind and body energized,” Yee said, wiping away tears. “It’s a great feeling to have all of these things accessible to us here.”

Aside from a newly swollen cheek after getting an infected tooth extracted only 20 minutes prior, he was filled with gratitude for all the services he received in return for his military service.

“We watched out for each other’s backs out there (overseas), no matter what happened; that’s the same thing that’s happening here,” Yee said. “To see all of us who served — from all the branches — come out, it’s like one big happy family.”

While similar events had been held by local American Legion posts in the past, this was the county’s first attempt to resurrect the collaborative effort.

Steve Fondacaro, a veteran and interim director of the county’s Office of Veterans Services, said that while there’s a general feeling of embarrassment from veterans, events like “Stand Down” help provide them the same kind of selfless service they poured into the military.

“These benefits are things they’ve already earned,” Fondacaro said. “The only thing standing between them is the bureaucracy — all they need is somebody to help them work through all that. We’re the way-finders and guides.”

Fondacaro served three decades in the Army. He said the shock of coming back to civilian life is one of the primary reasons veterans have such a difficult time adjusting.

“It’s like I went to another planet and came back to a different Earth — culturally and politically, it’s a very foreign place,” he said. “So when you see an angry veteran, that’s because they’re saying, ‘I gave everything, so why can’t I get anything now?’ Now, a groundswell of support to (help make that easier) is all right here.”

Thomas Barnes, 59, said he heard about “Stand Down” through word of mouth from fellow vets.

While he recently secured housing in San Jose specifically reserved for veterans, he had previously been homeless — a symptom he said comes with the territory of dealing with the PTSD and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease he was diagnosed with after two stints in the Army and one in the Marine Corps.

While life hasn’t always been easy for Barnes, who recently moved to California after decades living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he’s thankful for the community he’s found here that is concerned about his well being — shown through acts as simple as a free haircut.

“The nation hasn’t forgotten about us veterans, and they want to make sure that we are okay and can get a helping hand in life,” Barnes said. “I thank God for my fellow American citizens who care and pave a road for us to be okay.”

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𝗖𝗿𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝘀, 𝗖𝗼𝗽𝘆𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 & 𝗖𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘁𝗲𝘀𝘆:
𝗙𝗼𝗿 𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗮𝗶𝗻𝘁𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝗴𝗮𝗿𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗗𝗠𝗖𝗔,
𝗣𝗹𝗲𝗮𝘀𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘂𝘀 𝗮𝗻 𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗶𝗹 𝗮𝘁

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