The local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5231 and the Montezuma County Veteran Services office will hold a free and open Stand Down event for veterans and their families Sept. 19 in Cortez.
The term “stand down” comes from a phrase for downtime in the military – a time soldiers can use to get their hair cut and buy necessities. The Stand Down in Cortez aims to help homeless and at-risk veterans with access to food, haircuts, employment, benefits and assistance with car or mortgage payments.
The event Sept. 19 is Montezuma County’s second annual Stand Down, and only one of three or four Stand Down events in Colorado this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Durango has canceled its Stand Down event.
The Cortez Stand Down event will be an open house, but attendees will be required to wear masks and hand sanitizer will be available.
About 40 vendors will offer services such as medical and dental benefits for veterans, as well as legal help. Vendors volunteer for the event, and veterans are not charged for services.
“There’s a lot that goes into this,” said John Davis, one of the organizers and a member of VFW Post 5231. The main goal is to educate veterans about all of the help and services available to them in the community, Davis said.
Food and drinks will be available all day, provided by local businesses. The Elks Lodge and VFW Post 5231 also will give out boxes of food and hygiene products for veterans to take home.
Donations of winter clothing and gear, such as backpacks, also will be available.
The Montezuma County Veteran Services office will be there to enroll veterans in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system and help veterans navigate benefits available to them.
Other volunteers will help veterans navigate the floor and acquire the services they need.
Of Montezuma County’s population of 26,000, 10% are veterans. But that is low in Davis’ opinion, because it is based on the 2010 census and includes only veterans registered with the VA.
“Younger vets are not showing up in those numbers,” Davis said. “It’s a challenge to make them understand that asking for help is not a weakness.”
About $140,000 is available in grant funding to help veterans in Montezuma County with car and mortgage payments as they get back on their feet.
“Young people don’t understand the advantages of belonging to VFW, but there is power in numbers,” Davis said. “You’re overlooked as an individual.”
One young veteran’s wife had a premature birth, and the VFW helped the couple with bills and navigating benefits from the VA.
Davis said organizers expect at least 150 veterans to attend the Stand Down event. While not every veteran has trouble returning and adjusting to civilian life, some veterans struggle, just like civilians, Davis said.
The previous year, 113 veterans came – an attendance higher than Durango’s.
Davis attributes the higher turnout to Cortez’s location in the Four Corners. Veterans from five states, including Idaho, attended the Stand Down. With restrictions on large events in place, Davis said organizers expect additional veterans from across the West to attend given the fewer number of Stand Down events.
Cortez will have COVID-19 screening and tracking forms for visitors.
Handicapped parking spots and a ramp will be available for those in a wheelchair, Davis said. If veterans with medical conditions are unable to attend, volunteers are willing to do home visits, he said.