A veteran who gave his name only as “Bear” said he lives in his camper, partly because money’s tight and partly because he wants to. Some people would call him homeless, and some wouldn’t, he said.
“I prefer to call myself neither. I’m a vagabond. I travel around. I don’t have a permanent spot,” he said.
Bear was one of about 200 veterans who visited the annual Veterans Stand Down for Douglas County Thursday at the Roseburg Veterans Medical Center.
Homeless veterans or veterans at risk of homelessness attending the event signed up for help getting VA benefits or housing. They also got haircuts, dentists’ appointments and checkups for their cats and dogs. A few veterans who were already on campus for appointments dropped by to pick up granola bars and inquire about services.
Bear grew up in South County and considers Douglas County his home base. He served in the U.S. Army infantry in the 1970s. While he was at the VA on Thursday, Bear picked up some food and information on veterans services and got a flu shot. He was happy to run across the event.
Bear said he attends the event every year if he can, “not only because of the free stuff but to see the community support.”
Ken Steller served in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne and just missed the Vietnam War but went to Iraq and Kuwait. He made it through those tours safely but was subsequently injured in a training accident in Colorado. He’s not homeless, but he happened to run across For the Love of Paws, a veterinary clinic that accepts payment on a sliding scale, which was offering services on campus as part of the event. His daughter, Renee Steller, went to the event as well and got shots for her 2.5-month-old tabby kitten.
Ken Steller said there are a lot of homeless veterans in the community, and Stand Down provides a great service.
“It’s good they’re getting some help,” he said.
Charles Davenport of Drain isn’t homeless either, but is fighting to keep his house. For a long time the VA was his only medical provider and it saved his life a couple of times, he said. Davenport served in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg in the mid-70s.
“The main reason I came down was to get a flu shot. I didn’t know the rest of this was down here,” he said.
Gail Kinsey is a case manager at Columbia Care Services, which contracts with the VA to help veterans find housing programs. She said about 50 people stopped by her table seeking help with homelessness. Many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, so being without a home can create severe stress for them.
“Our first priority is to get them housing so they don’t have to worry about that,” she said.
At the Stand Down, veterans were also able to obtain Department of Defense surplus gear like boots, parkas and backpacks they’d need for living outdoors.
Frank and Diahn Escalante were with the Vietnam Veterans of America, Umpqua Chapter 805, which brought the traveling Vietnam War Wall to the VA for the event. Frank Escalante is a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne.
“There’s so many people who know veterans who are on that wall,” he said.
He has also taken on a mission to help veterans who don’t even know they’re eligible for benefits figure out how to sign up for them.
“That helps me with my PTSD,” he said, “because they’re all my brothers.”
Diahn Escalante’s desire to aid veterans is connected with her feelings for her father, who she said died of Agent Orange-related causes.
“I would put my life down for them in a heartbeat,” she said.
She spoke Thursday with veterans who needed help but were frustrated with the system.
“I’m trying to help them not to give up,” she said.