At the Veterans Memorial Complex in Saugerties on Friday, local veterans got assistance with medical claims, learned about the newest therapy options, and packed a tent of surplus shoes and clothing — which were donated by the U.S. Military.
Within the first hour of the five-hour event, more than 300 veterans and their families had already arrived.
"Today is a special day," said 93-year-old WWII veteran Joseph Nista, as a volunteer helped him into a wheelchair so he could navigate the park — which seemed more like a bustling market during the event.
Nista's first stop at the 'Veterans Stand-Down' was the military surplus tent for shoes and warm clothes; items he can afford but are not always easily accessible.
He told Spectrum News local veterans and organizations hold monthly gatherings where peers and volunteers can check on him. At the yearly stand-down, though, he got much more. He said to get all these supplies and information on his own would be a hardship.
"I'm homebound so I can't buy anything," Nista said. "Good thing there's a bunch of volunteers from the Ulster County Veterans Agency who look after me."
Ulster County Director of Veterans Services Steve Massee describes the stand-down as "primarily an awareness event." Massee said the annual event used to be meant mainly to help homeless veterans.
It has changed over the years to accomodate veterans who are not homeless, but ill-informed about resources meant to help them. Upon leaving the service, veterans typically are not briefed on how to transition into civilian life.
"Too many veterans don't know what their benefits are," Massee said. "They don't know about the services available to them in this community ... It's grown to be that if a veterans needs something to be stable in the community, it's offered here."
Friday's stand-down was the sixth so far here in Saugerties, and there are an estimated 300 stand-downs nationwide each year. Organizers said the planning for next year's stand-down begins on Monday.