VA holds annual Stand Down Against Homelessness

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Thousands of homeless people in the Lowcountry will get free medical and dental screenings Friday thanks to an event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Goodwill Industries.They are some of life's little things that we sometimes take for granted: haircuts, new clothes and dental screenings.The line formed before the sun even made its way Thursday above the horizon. Thousands of homeless people arrived at Armory Park, looking for help to get back on their feet."It's a huge transition when you're coming back, especially from a combat arena as we have so many veterans who are returning now," said Tonya Lobbestael with the Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital. "They have experienced things that you and I just can't even begin to imagine in the first place so they may be dealing with multiple issues. It may be post traumatic stress disorder, they may have experienced a traumatic brain injury, some other physical disabilities that preclude them from actually being able to be gainfully employed to the level that they would need in order to not live on the streets." The VA estimates that, on any given night, there are 150,000 homeless veterans in the United States."One of the things that is of greatest concern is we're seeing more women veterans, especially women with children who are experiencing homelessness," said Lobbestael. "But there is good news at the same time. We're seeing nationally a decrease in the number of homeless veterans, down to about 17 percent in the homeless population overall nationwide so we are making strides but there's more work to be done."With the help of Goodwill Industries, the event provides medical and dental screenings, clothing, food, haircuts, and job counseling for thousands of homeless people in the Charleston area.The VA also provided help with substance abuse, transitional housing and even permanent housing.One of the VA's success stories comes from one of their own employees, Michael Robinson."He was chronically homeless for about 20 years, in and out of the penitentiary systems. It was a bad situation and then he finally made up his mind that it was time to get straight," Lobbestael said. "So he has been clean and sober for five years, came to the VA, got the help that he needed. Now he's working at the VA as a Peer Support Assistant and has just bought his first home."Another success story comes from a man who is currently working with Goodwill, but is going to school to join the medical field."After I came out of the Army, I got married and got a divorce and everything. My life started to went to shambles and after that I started traveling from one place to another trying to find someplace to settle and became unemployed and eventually homeless," said Bradford Platt. "I moved in with my sister, with her kids, and it just wasn't enough. So I came to the VA to get some assistance from the programs that hey have there."That was in February of 2001.{} Now, Platt says he reshaped his life, reshaped his thinking and is going to school to become a medical professional."It was something I always wanted to do," he said. "I always liked helping people and talking with people and listening."The Ralph Johnson VA Medical Center is holding its 14th annual Stand Down Against Homelessness in Armory Park from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday and is open to the entire community.