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Serving those who served the country

John Bohlander, a U.S. Navy submariner veteran participated in the Veteran Stand Down at the Pavilion on Tuesday to get his hair cut and check out all of the services that were being provided.  - Photo by Erin Beil
John Bohlander, a U.S. Navy submariner veteran participated in the Veteran Stand Down at the Pavilion on Tuesday to get his hair cut and check out all of the services that were being provided.
— image credit: Photo by Erin Beil

Honoring those who have served in the military, the first Veteran Stand Down at the Pavilion on Tuesday provided former servicemen and women with a multitude of services.

“It is the first year it has been this large,” said Leif Bentsen, Kitsap County Department of Personnel & Human Services and event organizer. “Everyone here including the volunteers are veterans.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Kitsap County Veterans Assistance Program, along with multiple other local agencies. Services provided included free clothing, flu shots, health assessments, blankets, showers, haircuts, toiletries as well as hot soup and sandwiches. United Way also gave out warm blankets to the veterans, Bentsen added.

“This event is important because we’re serving people that have served our country,” Bentsen said. “These people are special because of their public service.”

A Stand Down is “an old military” term used when a front line unit ‘stands down’ from the battle zone in a safe area where they can rest and replenish. During the Vietnam era, organizations began using the term for events to help veterans.

“This has been an excellent Stand Down,” said Head of Veterans Advisory Board Roth Hafer. “It brings an awareness ... my entire outlook is a hand up not a hand out”

After searching all across the county to find just the right facility that would allow enough space to combine individual posts, local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) branches and local American Legions, the Pavilion was the only place that would fit everyone and provide the service of showers.

“When we started planning this, we made a commitment to do it for the next three years,” Bentsen added. Other services and information provided included federal, state and local agencies ranging from Veterans Affairs claims and health enrollment, special state grant programs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, free chore services for disabled and senior citizens, employment and transitional housing.

“The main goal is to provide services to homeless veterans trying to get them into programs to get them off the street,” said Louis Mejia, a veteran volunteer with VFW Post 3694. “The goal is to get homeless citizens into transitional housing.”

There are more than 39,000 veterans living in Kitsap County, according to census projections from 2006.

Mejia added that families of veterans also were able to utilize the services, especially transitional housing. Veterans with an honorable discharge or family members had to bring a DD214 form or have a Statement of Service, which veterans could obtain at the event.

“We’re trying to reach out to a lot of veterans ... allow them to know the benefits available,” Mejia said. “We hope to make a difference.”

Mary McLeod of Women Veterans of America also was present at the Stand Down to provide services for women veterans, addressing sexual harassment or rape in the service.

“I’ve met so many women with this issue,” she added.

John Bohlander, a U.S. Navy submariner veteran who was stationed in Charleston, S.C., moved to Kitsap County to work on Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor during its construction phases.

“I came down today to see what they had to offer,” Bohlander said while having his hair cut. “It’s the first time (I’ve been here), I’m impressed. There’s a lot to offer.”

Scott Lindquist, doctor and Kitsap County Health District director, had a station with two nurses and an assistant to give out flu and tetanus shots as well as examinations.

“Everything is free, flue shots, pneumonia shots, TB testing and tetanus shots,” Lindquist added. “The biggest need is dental care, I’m at a loss to tell people where to go”

He added that next year, they hope to have dental chairs and possibly eye examination tables for veterans who do not have health care. Whether it’s cost, lack of transportation or lack of a primary doctor, Lindquist said these are some of the main reasons why veterans aren’t healthy.

“These people served our country,” Lindquist said. “(Helping them) is the right thing to do”

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