OAKHURST – Vietnam veteran Floyd Barnett didn’t mind driving two hours from Visalia to Oakhurst Saturday to take part in the Veterans Stand Down.
“The folks that run this are terrific and always help me out,” Barnett says. “And it’s a great place to meet my brothers and sisters. Sometimes I don’t get to see them at the VA. So I come here to share friendship and swap old stories.”
The nonprofit Caring Veterans of America (CVA) put on the Veterans Stand Down, providing free clothing, food and services to nearly 200 area military vets who came to the Oakhurst Community Center Friday and Saturday.
‘Stand down’ is a military term for a period of time when battle-weary combat units rest and recover in a safe and secure environment.
This weekend’s free event offered vets everything from new boots and clothing, to sleeping bags, personal care products, food, even haircuts.
The Stand Down also was an opportunity for many homeless and at-risk vets to tap into critical support services offered by the VA and other area groups, including the Madera County Department of Social Services and Mariposa County Human Services.
Organizers characterized the event as “veterans helping veterans.”
Barnett spent the morning swapping stories with fellow Vietnam vet Ray Soler of Oakhurst. “Sometimes it just feels good to talk to someone who understands where you’ve been and what you’ve been through,” Soler said.
For many, the Stand Down offered not only companionship and camaraderie but also the chance to improve their lives materially.
“Some of these guys may need a pair of boots for work or maybe a blanket or cot,” said event coordinator Brandon Murray. “Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot of local vets who still aren’t getting the support they need” — and the government benefits they’ve earned.
“It’s hard to get some vets to even come in for help,” said Murray, a disabled vet who served in operation Desert Storm.
“A lot of these guys have PTSD and don’t trust anybody,” he added. “Some are more comfortable and happier living out in the woods. But once we get them connected, they’re really grateful.”
Terry Cole, an Oakhurst resident and Vietnam veteran, started the event. Cole is “commander” of CVA’s board of directors. On Saturday, he and Murray were ably assisted by a platoon of area volunteers, including Madera resident Bill Hamilton, who served for eight years in the Marines.
“I just came up to lend a hand,” Hamilton said as he dug through a mountain of boxes to help one vet find the right sized boots.
“It feels good to see these vets get the attention and help they deserve,” Hamilton added.
The Fresno Veteran Administration provided most of the clothing and supplies distributed at the event.
“I can’t say enough good things about the support we get from the Fresno VA,” Murray said. “They sent nurses to help us and even have people on hand who can arrange [temporary] housing in Fresno for our homeless veterans.”
CVA hosts the Stand Down twice a year. The event, which started in 2004, used to be held at the Sierra Pines Church.
On Saturday morning, a steady stream of veterans registered for benefits and were offered help arranging healthcare services and submitting claims. Employment and additional resource information was also available.
Murray says many struggling veterans remain reluctant to tap into the the services they need.
“Some are angry, some have turned to drugs or are too proud to ask for help. That’s what these Stand Downs are all about,” he says. “Trying to reach out and connect these vets with the resources they need — and deserve.”
For more information about supporting Caring Veterans of America or participating in future CVA Stand Downs, contact Murray at (559) 676-8463 or Assistant Commander Bob Binder at (559) 709-4497.