The second annual Stand Down event in Cortez served about 140 veterans Saturday, exceeding the previous year’s number while providing access to basic needs, medical benefits and financial support.
The open house in the Montezuma County Annex building was lined with vendors, booths and representatives from organizations like the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ELKS Lodge, The Bridge Shelter, Disabled American Veterans and the Colorado Department of Labor Employment.
“Vets have this thing where they think they can’t seek help or want help, and we are trying to change that attitude,” said Ron Terry, junior vice commander of the Cortez chapter of Disabled American Veterans. “They are worth getting help.”
The vendors offered services for free or at reduced rates for veterans, and volunteered their time.
Because of event restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic, the Stand Down event in Cortez was one of only three or four Stand Down events for veterans in Colorado this year.
“This event really does save lives,” said Kayla Maynard. Both she and her husband served in the Navy. A military sexual trauma therapist that Maynard met at a Stand Down event last year “made a huge difference” in her life, she said.
Sexual trauma is a topic that often gets “swept under the rug,” but meeting the therapist at the Stand Down event was a “godsend at the time.”
Her husband, Rogelio Maynard, said the event is important because there are many homeless veterans in Cortez, and a large veteran population in general.
Rick Torres, the county veterans services officer, helps veterans navigate confusing paperwork from the Department of Veterans Affairs and access benefits, Rogelio Maynard said.
Bert Valencia, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he applied for his own benefits when he retired, but it was a pain.
“I had to do a lot of research, but they give much better briefings now,” Valencia said.
He was one of the veterans that petitioned county commissioners for a full-time veteran services officer, because there’s “a real need for it,” he said.
Of Montezuma County’s population of 26,000, 10% are veterans. But that number is likely lower than the actual number of veterans, because it is based on the 2010 Census and includes only veterans registered with the VA.
Accessing benefits is especially difficult for younger veterans, who are focused on going to school, working and raising families, Torres said. The Veteran Services office is seeing younger veterans from the ongoing overseas conflicts coming in for help, including those afflicted with asthma and other respiratory problems from burn pits.
“When a vet comes to us, we screen them until we get them any and all benefits they are eligible for,” Torres said.
Representatives of the VA department were also at the event, checking blood pressure and handing out gear to veterans, including waterproof sleeping bags, boots, socks, underwear, shirts and fleece liners.
Charles Smart of the ELKS Lodge was handing out packs of food and hygiene products to veterans, though this is something the organization does every week, as many of its members are veterans.
David Atkinson, a business outreach specialist from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, helps veterans with disabilities – mental or physical – find employment in their chosen field.
His division helps veterans pay for school if they need it, and if veterans need help obtaining proof from a doctor of their disability, CDLE will pay for the doctor’s visit to get the proof.
Mental health support information and representatives were available to those who might need help but have yet to reach out. Cortez City Council member Arlina Yazzie brought informational material from the state Office of Suicide Prevention specific to veterans.
David Nelson, senior vice commander of the Cortez chapter of Disabled American Veterans, said the organization’s mission is to give veterans something productive to do, to encourage them to get help if they need it and to use the financial help available to them until they get back on their feet.
“We are not the VA, we are brother and sister vets helping other vets,” Nelson said.
The local VFW Post 5231 and the Montezuma County Veteran Services office organized the Stand Down. The Montezuma County Patriots rode by the county Annex building Saturday morning in a nod to the veterans.