Today was the 18th annual Healthy Cities Health Fair and Veterans Stand Down at the Wayne Township Trustee’s Office. I had to stop at my work before I went to the Trustee’s Office, so I drove by the Trustee’s Office on my way to see how many people were already in line. I expected that there would already be quite a few.
At 9:10 a.m., the line already stretched into the parking lot – the rain was cold and drizzling down. Many were standing in line without umbrellas or hats. Children accompanied the adults. I immediately felt a pang of sadness to see so many who were in need of care.
I arrived at about 9:30 a.m., and I spent several hours assisting and directing veterans and others to find the proper rooms for the medical care they needed. The medical care is always located in the Trustee’s Office with the clothing and the food located out in a huge tent put up for the event. The clothing is divided into two sections with one section for non-veterans and the other section for veterans.
Many of those in need were Burmese. Fort Wayne has the largest concentration of pro-democracy Burmese dissidents in the United States. The Burmese population numbers about 3,000. Aided by Catholic Charities and other refugee-assistance groups, they began moving to Fort Wayne in large numbers after a pro-democracy uprising in Burma was put down in 1988 by the ruling military junta.
Photo Credit: Burmaissues.org
We had only a few translators to help the Burmese, and I would imagine that there aren’t too many in the City who have bi-lingual skills when it comes to speaking Burmese.
THE VETERANS STAND DOWN
A stand down is a suspension and relaxation from an alert state or a state of readiness. In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 200,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets.
The hand up, not a handout philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of thousands of volunteers and numerous organizations throughout the nation. The first Stand Down was organized in 1988 by a group of Vietnam veterans in San Diego. Since then, Stand Downs have been used as an effective tool in reaching out to homeless veterans, reaching more than 200,000 veterans and their family members between 1994-2000.
The fact that the Stand Down began in San Diego doesn’t surprise me because I have been to San Diego a couple of times when my second youngest son was in the Navy. I had flown out the first time with my youngest son to attend the graduation of my son who was completing his “boot camp.” His girlfriend at the time also joined us. As we toured some of the streets, a veteran with a backpack came up to us. He began to talk to us, and he continued to talk to me, in particular, as we walked across the street.
He was a Vietnam veteran, and he was homeless. When we reached the other side, he gave me a hug and thanked me for talking to him. I think it unnerved my sons. Maybe they thought he was going to hurt me or something, but I wasn’t afraid. It sounds silly, but I feel a real connection to veterans, in general, and to those who served in Vietnam, in particular – my generation.
Photo credit: Dept. of Veterans Affairs – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
Every year I have worked at the event, I come home with such an appreciation for all I have. And, I come home angry – angry at a system that has the means to provide health care for all but is too greed driven to provide it.
Almost 47 million Americans were without health care in 2005. Health care costs are far higher in the United States than in any other advanced nation, whether measured in total dollars spent, as a percentage of the economy, or on a per capita basis. And health costs here have been rising significantly faster than the overall economy or personal incomes for more than 40 years.
But health care isn’t the only issue addressed at the Fair and Stand Down. The participants also are provided a hot meal of a number of selections. Something so simple, most of us never think about the importance of food. Yet, we live in a society that throws away tons of food a day. According to the USDA, just over a quarter of the country’s food – about 25.9 million tons – gets thrown in the garbage can every year. There is no justification for this much waste. It is inexcusable and unacceptable.
So, another year down, and another year of wondering how on earth we can justify the lack of health care for those in need and the homeless who still roam our streets and sleep under bridges. I will go back again next year, and I will again be reminded just how much I have for which I am thankful.