Saint Leo Committed to Veterans, Helps at Stand Down

October 06, 2017

MSW student (orange shirt) listening to veteran (in red,white,blue hat) Saint Leo University is known for its commitment to veterans. That commitment extends beyond those enrolled at the university and its alumni. From September 28 to September 30, Saint Leo faculty, staff, students, and alumni took part in the One Community Now Stand Down, assisting veterans in need and veterans in transition.

The event, held this year at The Concourse Rotary Pavilion in Shady Hills, FL, helps put those who served in the U.S. military in touch with needed services including medical care. Perhaps most importantly, the annual Stand Down provides camaraderie, something most people experienced during their time serving. This year, the event was expected to host 150 homeless veterans and 350 at-risk veterans.

Saint Leo once again was a sponsor of the Stand Down, and social work faculty members and students provided counseling services in the R & R (rest and relaxation tent). There veterans could relax on comfortable couches, chat with new friends and old, play games, and speak with trained volunteers.

Nathanya Bastian helps James Pressley, Army VeteranIn addition, the Office of Military Affairs and Services collected new socks, which were distributed to veterans in need during the Stand Down. Admissions staff members also were on hand to assist veterans with information about Saint Leo and helping them know where to turn to use their education benefits.

When warriors are exhausted physically and mentally on the battlefield, combat units have a “stand down”—a time to rest, get clean, change uniforms, enjoy a meal, and relax in safety. And that’s the goal of Operation Stand Down in Pasco County.

 “Stand Down is all about community,” said Gil D’Amore, a senior, who will earn his Bachelor of Social Work degree in April.

D’Amore, who also is a veteran, said Stand Down volunteers partner to help veterans adjust and transition into civilian life.

“There was an awesome moment this morning (at Stand Down),” said John Morgan, also a Saint Leo senior who will earn his Bachelor of Social Work degree in April. “A Marine veteran got all of his traffic tickets expunged.”

During the Stand Down, veterans’ court was held and this enabled veterans to deal with legal issues, and some were able to get their driver’s licenses renewed. One gentleman, unbeknownst to him, had a $165 ticket for a red-light violation. The veterans’ court expunged that charge, and he was able to get his auto registration.

Unlike previous Pasco County Stand Downs, veterans did not “bivouac” and stay in tents at the location, but rather stayed in an air-conditioned facility in Hudson, FL. They were awakened at 5 a.m., served breakfast, got showers, and were transported to The Concourse. Once there, they could get haircuts, receive clothing, share meals, obtain career counseling and medical and dental care, and receive referrals for housing and mental health counseling. Veterans also were able to obtain and print their DD 214 forms (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty forms) that enable them to receive veterans’ benefits.

Group photo of Jay Snead, Jesse Diaz, Dr. Vok, Gil D'Amore, John Morgan “Friends are made here,” said Dr. Patricia Tobin-Senger, associate professor in the Master of Social Work program. Veterans often return to the Stand Down each year to see friends they have made and also to help others, she added.

Operation Stand Down also links veterans to services in the community, said Dr. Courtney Wiest, associate director of the Graduate Social Work program and associate professor. “We help them move forward in their [transition] process,” Wiest said.

The event also is important to Saint Leo social work students as they receive experience in the field and practice engagement skills, Wiest added.

The students also had the opportunity to meet with representatives of various agencies, which could lead to internship placement and jobs, said Dr. Veronika Ospina-Kammerer (Dr. VOK), professor of social work.

The “real world” experience is invaluable to Saint Leo students as they were able to put into practice what they learn in the classroom.

“It’s a proud feeling to share my experiences and what I’m doing to help veterans heal,” Morgan said.