The American Legion helps homeless veterans at stand downs across the country. James V. Carroll

Legion helps homeless vets at stand down

Several members of The American Legion's national staff joined VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at the Winterhaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down on Jan. 23. The event, located at the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center, provided homeless veterans with assistance in filing disability claims, applying for discharge reviews, and additional information on veterans benefits.

During the stand down, Legionnaires counseled about 70 homeless veterans on their VA benefits and discharge upgrades, making follow-up appointments with many of them. The American Legion is the only veterans service organization that helps veterans with discharge reviews.

"We're already getting phone calls from the veterans we helped out on Saturday," said Carl Davis of the Legion's claims appeals unit.

Helping Davis were five other Legion staffers from Washington headquarters: Wanda Tallakson, Daryl Puryear, Queen Baker, David Michael and executive director Peter Gaytan.

"We can talk about helping homeless veterans as much as we want," Gaytan said. "But getting out here at a stand down and giving them the help they really need - to improve their quality of life - is really at the heart of what The American Legion does."

The VA reports that more than 130,000 veterans are homeless. Stand downs are held across the nation in an effort to provide them with medical screening, employment support, housing services and clothing.

VA and veterans service organizations aren't alone in their support of stand down events, which also welcome participation from state and local nonprofit organizations and other volunteers.

For information on how to become a VA volunteer for homeless programs or other volunteer support activities in your community, visit here.