Some estimates state that nearly one-third of America's homeless population once wore a uniform in service to our nation. So, there was special urgency to the homeless veterans stand down event on Nov. 10, sponsored by the Boise VA Medical Center, the Department of Labor and the Boise Vet Center.
The term "stand down" traditionally represents a cease fire or a relaxation from a state of alert. But the Nov. 10 stand down meant different things to the approximately 200 veterans and their families: a hot meal, a new pair of boots, a sleeping bag or blanket and, perhaps most importantly, myriad health care services.
A long steady line of smiling faces filled the Boise Vet Center on Bank Drive, with some vets talking to social workers about housing while others accessed job counseling, dental care or a massage. A veterinarian was even on site to check on the pets that have become the closest thing to family for some of the veterans.
"This is a wonderful service," said Dr. David Reff, who oversees the dental hygiene clinic for Carrington College. "But sometimes it breaks my heart. We see significant gum disease or even oral cancer."
Reff brought 10 of his soon-to-graduate students to provide dental checkups and make referrals to about one-third of the vets who accessed the free service.
Meanwhile, across the hall, a team of three massage therapy students, also from Carrington College, provided back and neck massages to a steady stream of veterans. To the person, each of the veterans that Citydesk spoke to said they couldn't even remember the last time they'd had a massage.
Lee Schocker, who served in the U.S. Navy in the 1980s and early '90s, proudly shared with Citydesk that he was accessing in-patient services at the VA Medical Center.
"I reached out for help," said Shocker. "I need some help getting better right now, but I thought I'd come over here to talk to somebody about getting food stamps and possibly a new job."
Schocker said when he walked through doors of the VA Medical Center recently, a security guard asked him, "What can I do for you?"
"That simple question; I started to cry," said Schocker. "That's all I needed to hear."
It's estimated that there are 400-500 homeless veterans in the Treasure Valley.
The sign on the door at the Nov. 10 event had a direct but dramatic message:
"You fought for us. Let us fight for you."