Dozens of veterans picked up pamphlets and gear at the first Southeast Alaska Stand Down Outreach event Friday and Saturday, taking advantage of an opportunity to learn more about available services, benefits and other forms of assistance.
The event at downtown Juneau’s Centennial Hall marked the first time Stand Down, which is hosted by the Alaska VA Healthcare System, has been held in the state capital.
“It’s very exciting,” said Susan Yeager, the Alaska Department of Veterans Affairs’s rural health program coordinator. “We’re very excited to be here, to be communicating with veterans and active-duty folks who will become veterans in order to provide information about VA benefits and services so that all veterans will know the VA will support them in getting the services they’ve earned with their military service.”
Yeager led an opening ceremony Friday morning, at which the Southeast Alaska Veterans Group posted colors and members of the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, representatives from two congressional offices, and other speakers offered a few words.
Deputy Mayor David G. Stone told the attendees, many of whom came from elsewhere in Southeast Alaska for the event, “Thank you so much for your service, and we’re delighted to have you here.”
Stone’s sentiment was echoed by Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium board member Lincoln Bean, who said of the event, “This is just a small portion of giving back to you what you worked so hard for.”
“Those of you seeking the assistance, or if you know of someone who is seeking the assistance and did not realize it’s available to them, please reach out to them and bring them here,” said Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker, a veteran of the Army National Guard.
Former Mayor Sally Smith, representing Democratic Sen. Mark Begich at the event, referred to Begich’s position on the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in welcoming Stand Down to Juneau.
“I know he extends a heartfelt thanks to the VA for bringing this Stand Down to Juneau,” said Smith. “It’s been in Anchorage and it’s been in Fairbanks, and it’s wonderful that the VA has come to Southeast Alaska.”
After the colors were retired, event attendees, the majority of them middle-aged and elderly veterans, began filing into Sheffield Ballroom 1 to pick up information from display tables offering information on veterans’ benefits, brain injuries and assisted living, among other things.
“There’s still some people who weren’t aware of the services we offer, so it’s an opportunity to educate them on what we have,” said Elizabeth Baltensperger, who was running an Alaska VA Healthcare table Friday on services for women veterans.
Next to Baltensperger’s table, other VA representatives were helping veterans enroll for health care.
Vietnam veteran Wayne Smallwood, who said he lives in a cabin near Sandy Beach, was one of those who enrolled Friday.
“I need a knee replacement, and SEARHC, the Native hospital, won’t cover it because it’s a new type of operation,” Smallwood said. “The VA will cover it, but the SEARHC doesn’t.”
In Sheffield Ballroom 2, 126 pallets’ worth of gear provided from the U.S. Department of Defense was distributed to veterans and their family members. The items handed out included wool blankets, clothing, bags, backpacks, sleeping bags, towels and boots.
“This is for veterans in Juneau and Southeast,” said Michael Brown, a Tribal Veteran Representative from Klawock volunteering at the event.
Brown said he was not getting paid to help out, though he was compensated for the cost of bringing his truck up to Juneau to haul back gear for 30 veterans back on Prince of Wales Island.
“I do it because I’m a veteran, and I want to help veterans get the benefits that they’re allowed,” Brown said.
Darrell Brown, another attendee with TVR training, said he was familiar with most of the services showcased at the event, but said he is trying to get the word out about what is offered to veterans and military families.
“I think it’s not only important that I know it, but be able to encourage others to learn about it,” said Darrell Brown.
For Smallwood, Stand Down was just what he needed. He said, “I’m impressed so far, because that’s what I was looking for — help.”
The event was supported by a number of local partners, including the Sealaska Corp. and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida, which Yeager said helped pay for lunch both days of the event, as well as SEARHC, the TVR program and the Southeast Alaska Veterans Group.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.