Hundreds of veterans get help in Macon

wcrenshaw@macon.comSeptember 6, 2013 

About as soon as the second annual Macon Stand Down for veterans began Friday, founder James Beverly came to a conclusion about plans for it next year.

“We need a bigger location,” said Beverly, a state representative. “I think we have outgrown this place.”

Based on the early crowd, he expected there would be more than 500 veterans at the event and nearly 200 volunteers. Last year’s Stand Down drew about 300 vets.

The inside of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9709 on Key Street in Macon was packed. Veterans were getting health screenings, haircuts, counseling and other forms of assistance.

Volunteers included veterans, medical personnel, students and active duty military personnel.

Volunteer Macon is the umbrella organization in charge of the event, in partnership with more than 40 organizations.

This year’s event included a new emphasis on female veterans and handling some of their specialized needs. There was a separate section for women, which included the Department of Veterans Affairs handing out information on military sexual assault.

Margaret Dukes, a VA social worker, said one of the messages was to let women who were sexually assaulted while serving know they can get free help, no matter how long it may have been since they served. She said she talked to female veterans at Friday’s event who said they had been sexually assaulted.

Joleen McCollister, a master sergeant at Robins Air Force Base, was volunteering in the women’s section.

“I enjoy giving back, and one day we are going to need it,” she said.

She added that having a separate section for women is a good idea.

“I think back in the day there weren’t a lot of women vets, but after 9/11 a lot of women joined, and I think you are going to see a huge increase in the coming years,” she said.

Some veterans at the event said they came not so much to get help, but because they like being around other veterans.

Charles Adams, a disabled Vietnam veteran, called the event “perfect.”

“It brings us together and lets us see that we survived Vietnam,” he said. “A lot of us got hurt, cut up, bruised and shattered, but we survived, praise God.”

Johnnie Birdsong, also a Vietnam veteran, was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries suffered in a grenade attack when his unit was ambushed. He said he comes to meet with other veterans to help those who are in need.

“It’s about those who are less fortunate than I am,” he said. “There’s a need for it because you have a lot of homeless veterans.”

One aim of the event is to get contact information on veterans with needs and follow up with them throughout the year.

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