Stand Down—Helping Veterans Connect
Stand Down is a 30 minute documentary film produced by TouchPoint Productions on the National Stand Down that occurs each year in San Diego. Since its inception over 300 communities across the US have created local Stand Down to help Veterans connect with services and find community and connection. In 1988 Dr. Jon Nachison organized the first Stand Down at the baseball fields of San Diego HIgh School. Stand Down is part of the Called From Darkness documentary series.
The following are interviews of Dr. Jon Nachison and others filmed at the annual Stand Down.
Why did you decide to do this?
Dr. Jon Nachison: Stand Down was started because so many of the people who were homeless in America were Veterans. They’ve become invisible, they are part of the urban landscape and so we walk by them and we don’t even see them but right now the problem is really escalating and the escalating is due to the number of aging Veterans that are homeless. These are people who served their country, who have fought for their country in many situations but are now living on the street without any recourse to medical care. Medical science is telling us that people who are homeless tend to age more quickly than people who are not. The science is saying that basically somebody who is homeless is 15 to 20 years older chronologically than they would be otherwise if they weren’t homeless. The problem is they kind of gave up their youth in a way to serve this country and now they are homeless. I think we need to care and it is a shame on us as American citizens. They are part of who we are, some of them are the best of who we are.
Stand Down has evolved over time and has evolved where Veterans can get access to services. There is a court here so people can clear up parking tickets, vagrancy and other minor offenses. There are dental, medical, and optica services. Housing options, treatment options and more importantly it is presented in a format that they are comfortable with. The Marines put a camp to house those that need a break from the street. Thousands of volunteers come together to make this the place to be. There are three meals a day, food, clothing, and shelter plus conviviality.
Marilyn Cornell: They do know when they come in the gates they are going to be treated with respect, they are going to be treated like human beings and we believe in hope.
Each year over 1,000 people show up as participants with a variety of needs. Some people need employment, others are experiencing substance abuse disorders, depression, or trauma. What is most important is that Veterans can count on Stand Downto help them find the resources that they need.
This place saved my life and has given me a lot of meaning.
I volunteered to be in the women’s tent becauseI was a female combat vet and I wanted to hear their stories and I wanted them to know that they are not alone and we care.
Marilyn Cornell-Some: Veterans have been injured emotionally, psychologically, physically, morally, spiritually in combat, in war, it’s our duty to help them, it is our duty to help them heal.
It’s a chance for homeless Veterans to come out and have a reprieve, almost sheltering them and they come off the streets.
It ends up being ltherapy for me. Because in a lot of ways, I don’t feel like I belong in this society but I belong when we are together, we all belong together.
Dr. Jon Nachison: We really try to create a village, a place where miracles can happen . I want them to be able to not bring the street into with them.
When you are on the streets your main focus is where am I going to sleep tonight or what are you going to do through the day. Where are you going and what are you going to go?
Marilyn Cornell: When you are in survival mode you just don’t know how to solve problems so sometimes you need to reach that velocity to get off the streets.
Shelly Bowman- We wanna to help them move from survival under a bridge or even incarcerated to being able to live life on life’s terms. For some that is a huge shift. You know the very things that are required in survival are the things that get in the way of recovery.
Dr. Jon Nachison: One of the problems is that people are so isolated and once you are isolated you know terrible things happen. You are bored or there is nothing for you to do. Community heals all of us, we are social animals.
Eddie Agosto: I refused to admit and refused to believe that I had PTSD because I was a Marine and Marines don’t get PTSD. You have a mission, you have a task, and you just complete it. No questions asked and whatever tragedies come along the way you have to put them on the back burner.
In regards to PTSD they say it is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.
I had combat trauma issues, PTSD problems. I would have definitely died. I was going down a path where I would have overdosed or killed myself.
In the past three years I have lost six friends to suicide. It is atrocious. It is estimated that were are probably going to loose upwards of 200,000 over our life time to suicide. A lot of addicts are victims of trauma and to deal with the trauma they use substances.
I was slowly over medicating myself and not realizing what I was doing and started drowning and you don’t know what to do.
Dr. Jon Nachison: I think that people have within themselves a healthy part that is really a healing part and when they are addicted or when they are struggling it is another part of them that we see. We might see them being defensive or being irritated or aggressive or even isolated. But you have to believe, we have to believe that there is another part of that person. It is not like we put anything in them, it really is about evoking, it is about eliciting the healthier parts of people. That’s what we do at Stand Down.
Shelly Bowman: It is a cross between Woodstock and a family reunion with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs built in, a clean and sober Woodstock family reunion.
Jack Lyon: The primary point of reference is to understand that it is an inside job. People can come in all day long and get some food and some clothing and take a shower and whatever. That is not going to transform anything. It is going to buy you some time. But the transformation comes when you turn inside and you are willing to say yes and yes to these services, there is every service that anyone could want.
Dr. Jon Nachison: We have a judge that comes on site , we have a bailiff that’s there and we have all these attorneys that help prepare people to go before the judge and the judge adjudicates minor infractions and misdemeanors and gives people, assigns them community service for participation at Stand Down to offset any jail time , So it really is a win-win . There are less people going to jail, more people doing community service and over time the legal court has really come to love Stand Down.
Marilyn Cornell: So, Veterans come here to stand down and while they are participating they realize that there is another life. It helps you get back on your feet in every way possible. It heals the body, the mind and the spirit.
Dr. Jon Nachison- So Stand Down is about awakening and valuing the self and this is absolutely necessary in order to have that awakening.
The stuff that I used to have when I was in the military, the camaraderie and that is what I think I missed. The connection and I didn’t have that before and I didn’t know how to trust people. After I got discharged from the military I felt hopeless. I didn’t think I could do anything else in my life anymore. I felt abandoned.
The first lesson I learned was about asking for help. For somebody in the military for an addict that is the hardest thing ever to learn how to do and then when you do it, you find out it was the easiest thing that you could have done.
Being vulnerable is such a big part of recovery for myself, if I am not vulnerable then I am not feeling and if I’m not feeling. I’m masking and if I’m masking I’m going to start using again.
You can be around people but if you don’t have the sense of belonging that they are actually with you and you belong with them that sense of community with them you can be around people and still be alone and you can still feel rejected.
Eddie Agosto: We want to answer the million dollar question. Why do I do the things I do? I know where this is going to go. I know where it is going to lead to but I still do it, why? That is the underlying issue.
Jack Lyon- The whole issue is spiritual, in a weird way what war does is bring us to that intersection of life and death and once you are there and once you are present for even a moment, one moment of being totally present where the mind is quiet and back here, you’ll never be the same.
Spiritually wise I was crippled, absolutely crippled.
Addiction is a spiritual disease. It is physical. It is psychological and it is definitely spiritual- yes it is a soul sickness.
Shelly Bowman-: Addiction and alcoholism requires disconnection from human beings and from living. It is a connection with a thing or a substance. So if we take a substance away we have to replace it with something as it creates a vacuum will be filled with something else.
Rabbi Nev Caine: I think that addiction is a spiritual affliction because on some level we are trying to make ourselves well. We are trying to feel more like ourselves and sometimes the problem is that you find the drug, you find the thing that makes you feel more like you but the only thing that can make you feel more like yourself is your soul
Richard Rohr: If you do not transform your suffering you will with 100% certitude you will transmit it to other people. That is as certain as the dawn. You will take it out on your wife, on your children, on your neighbors because that negative energy has to go someplace.
Eddie- I have a spiritual peace about myself that I can address the challenges. I can overcome the challenges and I don’t have to take on everything that comes my way.
In a lot of these guys they have been run over, time and time again and by the time they come to me they are at the bottom and they are not feeling good about life and I tell them, it’s ok, it’s ok. We have all been there and we have been at the bottom before but we can work our way back up. But, we need to get up and work.
All addiction is taking, taking taking. And when you are finally recovering you give. You finally want to start to give back and that is when you start feeling the healing that is when you are able to give back. You really do. You don’t even think about it. you just do . it is not something that you feel like you have to do, you just want to do.
I want my life to have meaning and the people who were there for me while I was going through the loss of my sister and my son’s recovery when he was in rehab. I couldn’t have done it without them. Losing someone really close to you at least for me makes me focus on what’s important.
Marilyn Cornell- . If you are giving back, if you are doing something meaningful and it feeds your soul . There is a emptiness sometimes in us at different times in our life and feeding that light that is within us; That is the part, that is the part that makes it community
Richard Rohr: Someone has said that there is really only one virtue and it is courage. The courage to love. The courage to open your heart space one more time.
Marilyn Cornell: I don’t know, these people are so real, they are so dear, is it wrong to love someone after three days? And it’s true, I am a civilian but I feel like I am in an army of love warriors that is going to be there for three days when they come in, That’s what they will get, care, compassion, respect and love.