by Mark Snowiss
October 25, 2019
The VA Greater Los Angeles (VAGLA) Healthcare System’s 5th annual Veteran Stand Down was an overwhelming success, connecting hundreds of homeless veterans to community partners offering housing programs, medical care and other supportive services.
Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) Veterans Program, along with a multitude of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), faith-based groups and other government agencies, showed up in force at Friday’s event on the West Los Angeles Medical Center campus.
In the military, Stand Downs are used to provide a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations. VAGLA has applied the concept to its homeless program.
“The event presents a safe place where homeless veterans can remove themselves from the struggle of the streets to receive much needed services,” said Matthew McGahran, acting director, VAGLA Community Engagement and Reintegration Services (CERS).
VAGLA hosts its yearly Stand Down to better connect with LA County’s veteran community, the largest in the U.S.
“If you silo yourself off and don’t work with the community, you’ll quickly get stuck,” said CERS Clinical Director Dr. Anjani Reddy. “The work our partner organizations are doing is a great motivator,” she said.
Attendees had access to legal, family, women’s and employment services as well as meals, DMV ID cards, VA benefits, VHA healthcare enrollment and more.
U.S. Army veteran Jim Zenner, who manages LACDMH’s Countywide Veteran and Military Family Program, said LA County is forging a pathbreaking, community-based approach to veteran care.
“We plan to seek out, engage and partner with a variety of VSOs – from non-profits to the VA, LA City, and other LA County programs,” Zenner said.
That effort is slated to significantly expand by mid-2020 when the LA County-funded Veteran Peer Access Network (VPAN) becomes fully operational.
VPAN is slated to be the first-ever community-driven support network serving veterans and their families in the U.S.
“We’re moving the veteran service community to a level of collaboration on par with today’s Stand Down. Care becomes personal when you walk people into places that serve their needs,” Zenner said. “The only way we’ll begin to tackle issues like veteran suicide and homelessness is to start taking things personally – and make the experience personal for them,” he said.
VPAN will put an integrated cadre of trained Veteran and Military Family Peers on the ground throughout LA County to connect veterans and their families to critical benefits and services, like housing, health care, substance abuse intervention, training, education and job placement.
The network embodies the #YouMatter ideal – that veterans deserve hope, well-being, and a greater quality of life as valued LA County citizens.
VPAN will work closely with VAGLA, which runs the largest VA homeless program in the U.S. and has resources to house over 9,400 homeless veterans through emergency, transitional and permanent housing.
Learn more about LACDMH’s mental health programs for veterans, including VPAN.