Paralyzed Veterans Director of Field Services, James Fischl discusses services and opportunities available with a veteran at the 2015 DC VAMC Homeless Veterans Stand Down.
PVA joined government agencies and other veterans service organizations in an effort to "stand down" for homeless veterans
The 21st annual Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the Washington, DC, VA Medical Center drew together volunteers and staff members from the Department of Veterans Affairs, local employers and several veteran service organizations to educate homeless veterans on their benefits, provide clothing and other items and provide information on vocational rehabilitation and educational programs to help them get a job.
“Homelessness among veterans is an ongoing problem, and just as you’re able to help some, others crop up,” says James Fischl, director of field services operations for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “The VA has made a lot of improvements to help this group, including expediting claims for homeless veterans, but many of the problems stem from the fact that there are homeless veterans out there who are not always identifiable or reachable.”
According to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, there were 49,933 homeless veterans nationwide on a single cold night in January 2014. It’s estimated that twice as many veterans are at risk of becoming homeless.
The VA’s annual D.C. Stand Down – which Paralyzed Veterans of America has been involved in since the event’s inception in the mid-1990s – serves as an entry point for services that lead veterans to independence and improved health. The full day of services included health screenings, housing and employment counseling, substance abuse services, psychosocial services, dental exams, HIV testing as well as free warm clothing, boots and shoes.
The “Stand Down” effort is modeled after the Stand Down concept used during the Vietnam War to provide troops returning from combat operations a safe place to take care of personal hygiene, get clean uniforms, receive medical care, mail and receive letters and enjoy warm meals.
Fischl, who was on-site to provide information on veterans’ benefits as well as information on how veterans can connect with Operation PAVE (Paving Access to Veterans Employment), Paralyzed Veterans of America’s award-winning vocational rehabilitation program that provides free one-on-one job counseling and placement assistance to veterans, their families and caregivers.
“I was able to help a veteran understand why he wasn’t getting the appropriate rating from the VA,” Fischl says. “He was so grateful for the help and guidance about how to move forward with his claim, and he says that information alone made the whole day worth it.”
Still, progress in meeting the VA’s goal to eradicate homelessness among veterans will come in part by a commitment by the VA and community organizations to reach homeless veterans and improve their lives beyond the one-day Winterhaven event.
And that’s a goal that’s inherent in Paralyzed Veterans of America’s mission – to be a partner for life to the veterans it serves, Fischl says.
“We are partners for life in that we assess all of the veteran’s needs – whether it’s long-term care or employment assistance – and figure out what needs additional attention,” Fischl says. “There’s no cut and dry formula, but what we are looking for is results. Homeless veterans often have difficulty taking control, so we try to step in and do whatever we can to help secure their independence.”