On January 25, 2014, Paralyzed Veterans of America joined the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for an annual event that seeks to eradicate homelessness among the veteran population.
Jim Fischl from Paralyzed Veterans of America's Benefits Department and Cristina Mousel from Operation PAVE. View more photos from the event.
The annual Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down drew together volunteers and staff members from the Department of Veterans Affairs, local employers and several veteran service organizations to educate homeless veterans on their benefits, provide clothing and other items and provide information on vocational rehabilitation and educational programs to help them get a job.
Cristina Mousel, a counselor for Paralyzed Veterans’ Operation PAVE (Paving Access to Veterans Employment) program in Richmond, VA, was on site to help homeless veteran attendees learn about vocational, educational and training opportunities, while Jim Fischl, associate director of field services operations at Paralyzed Veterans of America, was available to explain VA benefits and help veterans file claims.
The annual Stand Down – which Paralyzed Veterans of America has been involved in since the event’s inception in the mid-1990s – is part of an effort by the VA to end homelessness among veterans by the year 2015. The effort also encourages monetary donations to help veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“Everyone agrees that no veteran should be homeless; that’s a given,” Fischl said. “The way to do it is to listen to the problems our veterans have and resolve what we can and refer what we cannot. People have many reasons why they’re homeless – medical, psychiatric, employment or disability – and we try to look at their issues and determine what can be done to help them.”
This year’s Winterhaven Stand Down also included the public unveiling of the Community Resource and Referral Center, which opened two years ago to help reintegrate formerly homeless and at-risk veterans into the community by giving them skills and jobs. Recent graduates of the center’s culinary training program were on hand to share the food they made and stories about their experiences.
The event – which drew roughly 500 to 600 participants and volunteers – also included triple the amount of employers as the year before, a significant achievement as the VA and service organizations seek to support veterans with services and opportunities to improve their lives beyond the one-day Winterhaven event.
And that’s a sentiment that has always been inherent in Paralyzed Veterans of America’s mission to be a partner for life to the veterans it serves, Fischl said.
“We are partners for life, and once we start working with a person, we keep track and monitor them,” Fischl said. “It’s ingrained in our spirit to help people on a continuous basis, and we don’t stop once their question is answered. We are never finished. Their needs change, and we change with them.”
Learn more about Operation PAVE
Read more about how Paralyzed Veterans of America is assisting veterans nationwide
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.