SPARTANBURG, SC — During the Vietnam War, a "stand down" was a chance for troops to rest and restock in a place of relative safety during the grueling conflict.
"You could get a hot meal, a haircut and a shower," said Dr. Craig Burnette, an infantry platoon leader during the conflict.
That small reprieve a chance for shelter amid an otherwise chaotic reality is what Burnette and others hoped to accomplish with the second annual Upstate Stand Down on Thursday at the Spartanburg Expo Center.
Dozens of service providers and volunteers welcomed veterans at the expo center, eager to help them with their every need clothing, employment, housing, education, medical and mental health care.
"I'm learning a lot," said James Wallace, a U.S. National Guard veteran who served from 1980 to 1982. A volunteer walked with Wallace to the various booths that could help him pay for housing and take care of his health.
"This is good," Wallace said. "A lot of people don't have a way to get around and figure out this stuff."
James Field, a veteran of the U.S. Army who served from 1979 to 1981, needs his blood pressure checked regularly because of a heart condition. He goes to the Veterans Affairs clinic in Boiling Springs when he can, but Thursday he had it checked at Upstate Stand Down.
"There's something good about it because they help you get everything you're supposed to," Field said.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there are more than 62,000 veterans homeless on any given night in the United States. During a year, more than twice that many will be homeless at some point.
Countless others live on the brink of homelessness, struggling to meet their own needs every day.
The primary causes for suffering among veterans are mental health issues, substance abuse and lack of health care, Burnette said. When he left the Army, Burnette spent his career working to help other service men and women through the Department of Veterans Affairs and other support organizations. Though he formally is retired, Burnette stays involved in the cause to support veterans and regularly does independent outreach as a volunteer.
"Small things can mount up over a long period of time, and before you know what happens, you're on the street, or in a shelter, and wondering how you got here," Burnette said.
Many individuals and organizations made the stand down successful, Burnette said. Reidville Elementary students made comfort kits of toiletries for the veterans. Dorman High students packed more than 200 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were given to veterans. In 2012, Upstate Stand Down's inaugural year, the event served almost 200 people. This year Burnette expected to serve just less than 400 veterans and family members.
Chuck White, a volunteer, said he gave his time to Upstate Stand Down because he wants his fellow veterans to know they are appreciated and supported.
"As veterans, we have an obligation and a sense of responsibility to help those who have less," he said. If nothing else, Burnette said he hopes the veterans who attend Upstate Stand Down leave knowing they haven't been forgotten and there are places to go for help.
"Every veteran who walked in the door today got treated with respect. Some of them for the first time in years," Burnette said. "They were welcomed. They were treated with respect, and they were thanked for their service."
For more information on Upstate Stand Down, visit www.upstatestanddown.org.