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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Homeless Veterans find Essential Services at Stand Down

October 24, 2011

Program Support Assistant B. J. Sanders 

Program Support Assistant B. J. Sanders, who is also an Air Force Veteran, serves a hot meal of brisket, beans, and potato salad to Veterans during the 11th Annual Stand Down for Homeless Veterans. The event is an opportunity for homeless Veterans to access a broad spectrum of services at one convenient location and to create a plan for re-entry into mainstream society.

PHOTO:  Bobbi Gruner

The Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) Program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, in cooperation with the City of Houston-Parks and Recreation Department, the City of Houston-Office of Veterans Affairs, B.P.O. Elks, Career and Recovery Resources, Inc., Bush Cares Project, Coalition for the Homeless, Daughters of the American Revolution, Goodwill Industries of Houston, Harris County Veteran Services, Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, SEARCH, Texas Veterans Commission, U.S. Veterans Initiative, VA Regional Office, Vet Centers, and numerous Veteran Service Organizations, held the 11th Annual Houston Stand Down for homeless Veterans on October 20, 2011 at the Emancipation Park Community Center.

The 11th Annual Stand Down is an opportunity for homeless Veterans to access a broad spectrum of services at one convenient location and to create a plan for re-entry into mainstream society. The event brings a wide range of specialized resources together to provide homeless Veterans with comprehensive medical and psychosocial services. It also offers programs specific to women and Veterans of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Stand Down” is military terminology referring to the brief period of time a soldier leaves an active combat area in order to rest and regain strength.

“The 2011 Stand Down was a tremendous success,” said Luis Paulino, HCHV director. “A record number of 63 community agencies provided information and services to 580 male Veterans and 39 female Veterans.”

Veterans enjoyed hot meals, clean clothes, and health screenings. More than 120 received flu vaccinations and 235 had rapid HIV testing performed. VA and Social Security benefits counseling, legal aid, and referrals to a variety of other necessary services, such as housing, employment, and substance abuse treatment were also available from a variety of community agencies.

As part of its drive to end homelessness among Veterans by 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a nation-wide outreach initiative, “Make the Call,” to spread the message about its special programs to help homeless Veterans and their families to 28 communities, including Houston, across the nation in October.

This fiscal year, VA expects to spend $3.4 billion to provide health care to homeless Veterans and $800 million in specialized homeless programs. The latest studies say more than 75,000 Veterans are homeless on a typical night, and about 135,000 spend at least one night a year in a homeless shelter.

Recently, VA has transformed its efforts in the fight against homelessness. It is changing from a program focus upon temporary, shelter-based services, to prevention, employment, permanent housing, and help to families and Veterans at risk of becoming homeless.

About one-third of the adult homeless population has served their country in the Armed Services. Current population estimates suggest that about 107,000 Veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other Veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions in cheap hotels or in overcrowded or substandard housing.

The HCHV Program is committed to assisting homeless veterans with chronic mental illnesses to reach their highest level of functioning. HCHV staff assists veterans with securing safe housing reflective of their abilities and preferences, as well as assistance with obtaining desired skill development services.

Treatment goals for each veteran through HCHV are individualized and may include meeting their immediate basic needs of food and protective housing; stabilization of mental health problems including substance abuse treatment and sobriety maintenance; individual and group psychotherapy; evaluation for financial disability benefits; vocational assessment; gainful employment; and schooling or a training program.

“The dedication of our community partners and 100 volunteers added to the success of this year’s Stand Down,” said Jeri Gates, 2011 Stand Down coordinator. “Their commitment and support in assisting Veterans in need is immeasurable.”

VA encourages family, friends, and citizens in the community to “Make the Call” and help prevent and end homelessness among Veterans. Since March 2010, VA has offered a toll-free telephone number, staffed around the clock by trained professionals, to help homeless Veterans, their families, and at-risk people.

The number is 877-4AID-VET (or 877-424-3838).  

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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 120,000 veterans in southeast Texas. Veterans from around the country are referred to the MEDVAMC for specialized diagnostic care, radiation therapy, surgery, and medical treatment including cardiovascular surgery, gastrointestinal endoscopy, nuclear medicine, ophthalmology, and treatment of spinal cord injury and diseases. The MEDVAMC is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; an award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; VA Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; VA Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; VA Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; and one of the VA’s six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, and Richmond, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged more than one million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2010. For the latest news releases and information about the MEDVAMC, visit