Cass County Veterans Stand Down

Sep. 22—Cass County veterans have options, and people within the community want them to know it. AMVETS Cpl. Humberto Sanchez Post 82621 hosted Cass County Veterans Stand Down to connect local veterans to a variety of resources on Wednesday.

"Stand Down is very important to veterans," said Roger "Buzz" Spencer, commander of Post 82621. "It gives them the resources to come out and visit with our (veteran service officer) from the county and visit with the state veterans organizations. As you can see, there's home health care. Area Five is here. Look around the room; Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield is here. There are funeral homes here. There are free haircuts. Anything that a veteran can ask for is here."

Spencer said he was more than happy with the number of vendors who showed up to the event with resources for local veterans. Some vendors had to share tables, and the 4-H Building at the Cass County Fairgrounds was packed with various groups and businesses.

Stand Down events are held in communities throughout the country and typically provide homeless and at-risk veterans with options and help. Christy Stockwell, a homeless outreach social worker at the Northern Indiana Veterans Affairs Homeless Program, said homeless veterans can receive help with housing.

"I just would want them to know to reach out to the VA for help with that type of thing," she said.

While Cass County does not seem to have a large homeless veteran population, Stockwell said homelessness is still a big problem in many other areas throughout the state. Regardless, Stockwell added that she would love to see more veterans from Cass County attend the event next year.

Not all resources advertised at the event were for veterans going through a difficult time. Vendors like Fisher Funeral Chapel Owner Dawn Fisher aimed to make veterans aware of benefits they might not be utilizing.

"I try to tell veterans, 'You need to know where your DD Form 214 is,'" she said. "That's your honorable discharge. There's a whole bunch of benefits for them."

One of those benefits includes being buried in a national cemetery free of charge. Indiana currently has two national cemeteries: Crown Hill Cemetery and Marion National Cemetery. As an added perk, spouses and any dependent children can also be buried with the veteran. Fisher said that particular benefit can save veterans' families a significant amount of money.

"They just need to educate themselves about the benefits because they're out there and our country wants to honor (veterans) for their service," she added.

Cass County resident John E. Wilson is a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Army from 1971 to 1973. His main job was ordering parts for tanks and helicopters.

Wilson was not looking for anything in particular when he decided to attend Stand Down. However, he walked away with useful information about dental and insurance benefits.

"That was very helpful," Wilson said. "When you're retired, you don't have dental insurance. That was interesting."

Some of the help offered at Cass County Veterans Stand Down was as simple as a haircut. Hair by Dyan owner Dyan Neuendorf normally offers free haircuts to veterans at her salon, so it made sense for her to set up a booth at the event. She gave free haircuts on the spot.

"This is me giving back in my small way," Neuendorf said. "To see how many veteran-supporting businesses are here and to just talk to all the veterans is just amazing."

Neuendorf said she is grateful that there are resources in the community for veterans and people willing to connect them.

"Veterans who didn't know these services existed can get their questions answered and be pointed in the right direction," she said. "I'm thankful for the vets, for their sacrifices and for all that they've made. It's amazing to see how everybody comes out to show this special group of people just how much we love and appreciate them."

Veteran William James was hopeful that he would learn helpful information from some of the booths. He said it was uplifting to see the community come together to support veterans.

"It feels pretty good," James said. "There's been a lot of times where they put veterans down. I'm glad that there are some people who are proud of us."

Cass County Veterans Service Officer Tamara Derrick was another vendor at Stand Down. Derrick works in the Cass County Government Building and spends most of her time helping veterans file disability claims and tracking down other resources.

"Locally, we have a utility fund that is mostly provided by donations from the community," she said. "We help veterans who are struggling to pay their utility bills. Whether it be their light bill, their gas bill, they can't fill their propane tank, or they need help if they're behind on rent, we help them."

If Derrick cannot help a veteran, she will always find someone who can. She added that many people in Cass County are eager to show their support and used the number of vendors at Cass County Veterans Stand Down as an example.

"This community is really a big supporter of veterans," she said. "I saw it today. I really saw it today."