Returning servicemen, women find help at Operation Stand Down
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent October 6, 2012 8:44PM
Carel Diamond, an Army veteran from East Chicago, (center left) and Bob Kuehl, an Army veteran from Hammond, join dozens of fellow vets in line during a Stand Down event for veterans at the U.S. Steel Yard in Gary, Ind. Saturday October 6, 2012. This was the first time a Stand Down event was held in Northwest Indiana. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Women veterans seeking help or information are invited to attend the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17’s monthly meeting at 5820 Hohman Ave. at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of each month. All veterans are encouraged to call the U.S. Veterans Affairs’ Crown Point office at 662-0001.
Updated: November 8, 2012 12:17PM
GARY — The differences between men and women veterans are as vastly different as they are the same, and the region’s first-ever event bringing an array of services to veterans and active military alike sought to bridge the gap among them.
At least 270 military and ex-military from all over Northwest Indiana visited Operation Stand Down at the U.S. Steel Yard on Saturday to see which of their needs could be met. With winter clothing, food, job opportunities and anything else event coordinator Akili Shakur could think of, she was quite sure at least some, if not all, of those needs were satisfied.
Shakur — who’s also the assistant director for Purdue University Calumet’s From Boots to Books: The Veterans and Student Service Members Academic Support Program — wasn’t going to leave anyone wanting, especially in the jobs department. Thirteen employers were on hand to accept applications.
“(Companies) had to be hiring in order to get in,” Shakur said. “All (the veterans) had to do was fill out a paper application and figure out a time to talk to the employer, because I don’t believe in job fairs.”
Veterans of all stripes were also able to talk to VA representatives about benefits, something Steve Breedon of Hammond said he appreciated. He and his kids, Claire, 6; and Jake, 4, arrived just as Operation Stand Down was shutting down, but the former Marine battalion infantryman still praised the appeal of the event.
“When you’re coming home, you know there are benefits out there for you, but you have to get the help yourself,” he said. “I don’t talk on the phone, so this bridges the gap for someone like me.”
More servicemen showed up Saturday than servicewomen. Shakur said she hopes future Operation Stand Downs will see more women come through.
Nancy Perez, an Army veteran who serves as the Women’s Liaison for Disabled American Veterans Chapter 17 out of Hammond, will do her best to make sure that happens.
“I didn’t know what resources I had when I got out, and a lot of women don’t know what’s out there. Men don’t know how to reach us because they don’t wear our boots,” Perez said. “A lot of women don’t know that there’s a whole women’s wing at the new VA hospital in Crown Point, with even a sexual trauma unit. The treatment’s way better there now.”
City of Gary Public Safety Director Col. Richard Ligon expounded on her point.
“When a woman comes home from the service, especially if they have children, they’re already expected to just fall back into that role without a thought as to what they experienced,” Ligon said. “And now that soldiers are getting deployed two, three times a career, it’s increasingly difficult, and women don’t always get the same leeway that men do coming back.”