It happens once a year in Buffalo, when the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs hosts what is called a Veterans Stand Down. It's a gathering where representatives of various agencies set up and provide information to veterans about their wide range of services. On Thursday, the VA brought the Stand Down to Niagara County for the first time in a decade.
An estimated 50 agencies representing health care, legal services, financial, education and other fields assembled inside the Frederick F. Cadille American Legion Post 1664 on Market Street, in the heart of the city's Pine Avenue Business District. Among those offering information on educational options was Willie Pullman of Bryant and Stratton College.
He explained his institution offers packages for veterans to turn their military experience into a career path.
"A career path that can focus on somthing of their interest," he said. "Something with longevity, something with stability since they're returning back from service. These are services such as information technology, business courses and criminal justice."
Stand Downs were first created to work exlcusively with homeless veterans but they have since been expanded to welcome and serve all local veterans.
"We have done a great job working with our community providers to drastically reduce the number of homeless veterans in our community," said Kristen Weese, VA Health Care for Homeless Veterans program manager. "One homeless veteran is too many, but we are very proud of the work we've done."
A hot, free meal was also provided during the Stand Down and local barbers were offering complimentary haircuts. There were even personnel standing by to offer services for pets of veterans. Banfield Pet Hospital operates several clinics at PetSmart retail outlets throughout the nation, including several in Western New York. Ashley Miller, chief of staff, traveled from Connecticut to assist local vets at the Niagara Falls Stand Down. She previously came to Western New York earlier this year, to assist with the Stand Down held at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
"We like to particiapte in as many events as we can," Miller said. "If we can't see the pets here, we're happy to send stuff home as much as we can, to keep them healthy with their owners."
About 1,000 veterans were served at the Buffalo Stand Down in June. Officials estimated only a fraction of that turnout would attend the Niagara Falls event. But they wanted to finally come north and they hope they'll be able to offer another Stand Down in Niagara County in the not-too-distant future.
"We anticipate a smaller crowd than the thousand that we see in Buffalo, but we wanted to bring the services right here in the second-largest county in our coverage area," Weese said.