Stand Down Meaning and History

Founders of Stand Down: Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison Excerpts from the Stand Down Manual

“You don’t leave anybody outside the wire. If you’ve got wounded, you go get them, regardless of the cost.” — Robert Van Keuren

Stand Down is a belief in the triumph of the human spirit over extraordinary odds. It grew out of a conviction that the overwhelming number of homeless veterans on the streets of America is unacceptable, and that the veteran community itself must respond. Stand Down is an intervention that was conceived from the ground up specifically for veterans. It is designed to transform the despair and immobility of homelessness into the momentum necessary to get into recovery, to resolve legal issues, to seek employment, to access health services and benefits, to reconnect with the community and to get off the streets.

What is a Stand Down?
In times of war, exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Today, Stand Down refers to a grassroots, community-based intervention program designed to help the nation’s estimated 275,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets. The hand up philosophy of Stand Down is carried out through the work of hundreds of volunteers and organizations throughout the nation.

What is the history of Stand Down?
The concept of Stand Down, as related specifically to the homeless veteran crisis, was the brainchild of three Vietnam veterans living in San Diego, Robert VanKeuren, Dr. Jon Nachison, and Richard Talbott. The first Stand Down was held in San Diego during the summer of 1988. The popularity of the event has steadily grown from the original in 1988 to some 80 yearly throughout the nation. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 homeless veterans have received assistance at Stand Down. In California approximately eight Stand Downs takes place annually.

What happens at Stand Down?
Hundreds of homeless veterans are provided with a broad range of necessities and services, some of which include food, clothing, medical, legal and mental health assistance, job counseling and referral. Stand Down creates an environment of safety and security under which the homeless veteran can gain a renewed sense of self-respect, comradeship, and hope. It is an opportunity for the community to connect with the homeless veteran population and address this crisis that affects each and every town, city, and state in this country.

Who organizes and delivers services?
Hundreds of caring volunteers and professionals give hours of their time and expertise to address the unique needs of homeless veterans. Committees formed specifically to put on the event stage most Stand Downs. Veteran service organizations, military personnel, homeless shelter programs, health care providers and concerned citizens from the community organize and stage the events.

Where are Stand Downs held?
Stand Downs most often occur over a two or three day period, although there have been a handful of one day events commonly referred to as Veteran Job Fairs. Some are held indoors, but the majorities are held on football fields, parks, or other wide-open spaces.

What does it take to stage a Stand Down?
There is no specific formula to plan and hold a Stand Down. In fact, each community adds its own uniqueness to a Stand Down. Some offer basic services, while others offer more by including entertainment and cultural activities in the agenda. Some Stand Downs are re-created to follow a regimented, military-style program, which is familiar and comforting to the veteran, and yet others create an atmosphere of empowerment to the extent of electing officers among the homeless veterans. All it really takes for a community to organize a Stand Down is a group of dedicated volunteers committed to assisting homeless veterans improve their situation. Additional Resources Homeless Coordinator at local VA Medical Centers Homeless Coordinator at local VA VET Centers CDVA Homeless Coordinator