Sherri Write, the president of the Auxiliary Montezuma County VFW, chats with Navy veteran Douglas Gould on Tuesday afternoon during the Four Corners “Stand Down” for veterans at the La Plata County Fairgrounds./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Taking a stand

Stand Down for veterans offers services to those who have served

by Tracy Chamberlin

In the midst of something so familiar lingered so much change.

Rod still manned the barber chair in the corner. Charlie still sat at the Disabled American Veterans table, talking with anyone who took a seat across from him.

Janna still moved constantly, solving any issue that sprung up; and Rich filed
paperwork, answered questions and handed out gas cards without his bouncing knee missing a beat.

Just like last year, volunteers came from all over the Southwest to support the veteran community during the Four Corners Veteran Stand Down event at the La Plata County Fairgrounds on Tuesday.

The difference was that this year there was more – much, much more. In just its second year, the Stand Down had more contributors, more donations and more veterans attending.

Last year, organizers had a total of 79 veterans who signed in. This year, before the day was even over, they’d already served more than a hundred.

“Word spreads,” explained Charlie Parnell. “People are coming up from Farmington, Cortez, all over.”

Parnell, who entered the Air Force in 1962 and served for 26 years, is a volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans, the organization behind the Stand Down event.

“We did a lot of good last year,” he explained. “And, I think more good this year.”

He said many merchants doubled their contributions, adding almost 20 tables to last year’s count. They were also able to
secure some additional grant money from the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.

With those funds and additional donations from local businesses, the DAV served breakfast and lunch, supplied warm winter coats, razors, deodorant, shoes and more.

The increase in attendance wasn’t limited to this corner of Colorado, either. According to Janna Schaefer, volunteer coordinator for the event, other Stand Down events in the state doubled in size and reported twice the number of veterans served.

The word is also spreading outside Colorado. Winona Bracken traveled all the way from Missouri, where she said there’s a similar need. She volunteered at this year’s event to learn, taking pictures and plenty of notes. Bracken plans to bring the Stand Down home to southwest Missouri.

The event springs from a concept born during the Vietnam War, when U.S. soldiers serving there could find a secure camp where they could get showers, clean uniforms, hot meals and anything else they needed to rejuvenate before heading back to the battlefield.

Today, the Stand Down again gathers all the things veterans might need, whether its support services or just a warm winter coat.

On any given night across the country, almost 50,000 veterans are homeless,
according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Although most of the programs offered during the Stand Down are meant to decrease that number, the event also offers a homeless veteran a place to recuperate. Tuesday’s event gave out passes to the Durango Rec Center, where they could shower. Clothes and hot meals, massage and acupuncture were also available. This year, they even had dog food.

Only one dog came into the fairgrounds last year, but this year several veterans were able to bring their best friends.

“They need to be taken care of as much as their human companions,” explained Tammy Jivery, “Bone Ranger” for Zukes. The Durango-based company donated dog food and treats. Alongside Bakers Bridge Veterinary Clinic, which gave vaccinations, the canine companions were also taken care of.

Another change to this year’s event was the timing. Last year it was the held in mid-November. Because some veterans living on the streets of Colorado head for warmer weather in the winter, organizers felt they could help more people if it was held earlier. So, they bumped it up one month.

“The first year is always a learning experience,” explained Tayla Fieselman, project manager for the Volunteers of America Back Home Program, which focuses on homeless prevention.

It was her second year at the Stand Down representing the Volunteers of America and helping veterans navigate the support programs they offer.

The Back Home Program is a companion to the Transitional Housing Program, which works with the Durango Community Shelter to help find long-term housing solutions for homeless veterans and offers intensive case management.

“So, once they move into housing they can make it on their own,” explained Rachel Bauske, project manager for the Durango Community Shelter and Veteran Transitional Housing.

Bauske said they’ve had one individual who’s been involved with the Volunteers of America programs for the past eight years. He’s been able to keep his health care and stay sober. He’s moved out of the shelter and into his own home.

“A lot of our clients have been struggling for a long time,” she said. “They’ve never really been stable … don’t know how to be stable.”

That’s where the Transitional Housing and Back Home programs come in. Bauske said they bridge the gap between the first step veterans take in coming to the homeless shelter and the second step into their own home.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes - no one’s giving up.

Bauske said the first question she typically gets at the event is: “Are you a veteran?” That’s one reason why the case managers for the programs are veterans themselves. “They’ve had to walk through the same paperwork,” Fieselman said. “They’re familiar with it and they know how frustrating it can be.”

After all, the paperwork maze for most veteran programs is, at its best, challenging to navigate. This is what keeps Richard Schleeter so busy during the Stand Down.

As La Plata County’s Veterans Service Officer, he not only knows the maze, but can help veterans find their way through it.

“That first year is a bloody nightmare for those guys,” Schleeter explained. “Nothing I do happens tomorrow.”

He said community services, like the ones filling the fairgrounds on Tuesday, are what help veterans in the interim.

“This event really helps bring together all the services in the community,” said Bauske, calling it a “one-stop shop.”

Schaefer said veterans told her “I didn’t know anyone cared.” This event shows the community support, she added. It shows the community does care.


Veterans looking for help of any kind can contact Richard Schleeter, Veterans Service Officer with La Plata County, 1970 E. 3rd Ave., Suite 102. Email: or phone: 759-0117 or 382-6150.

In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows