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Friday, September 23, 2016

Harbor Homes, area agencies unite to serve veterans at Stand Down event

By TINA FORBES
Staff Writer

NASHUA - Dozens of veterans and their families turned out for the ninth annual Veteran Stand Down event at Harbor Homes in Nashua to learn more about financial, health, employment and other resources available to New Hampshire veterans.

"Veterans are more likely than other citizens to be chronically homeless," said Gov. Maggie Hassan, speaking at the start of the Stand Down event Thursday morning. ...

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NASHUA - Dozens of veterans and their families turned out for the ninth annual Veteran Stand Down event at Harbor Homes in Nashua to learn more about financial, health, employment and other resources available to New Hampshire veterans.

"Veterans are more likely than other citizens to be chronically homeless," said Gov. Maggie Hassan, speaking at the start of the Stand Down event Thursday morning.

The Stand Down connects veterans with Veterans Affairs and other agencies to learn about resources available to help them. At the event, organizations and businesses offered help with food, shelter, clothing, health screenings, VA and Social Security benefits counseling and referrals to necessary services such as housing, employment and substance use disorder treatment.

Brenna Woods kicked off the event by performing the national anthem, and local and state officials took the podium to discuss the importance of veteran support services in the state and in Nashua.

Mayor Jim Donchess said Nashua has done well in tackling the issue of homelessness among its veterans.

"Through Harbor Homes and community effort, the city of Nashua has hit 'functional zero' of veteran homelessness," Donchess said.

"Because of our veterans, our country is safer and our freedom is truly stronger," Hassan said. "Our warriors fight for our fellow Americans, even though they don't know us. We owe you all a debt of gratitude."

Vendors packed Harbor Homes for the daylong Stand Down. Local barbers and stylists gave veterans and their families haircuts, area banks offered financial resources and advice and the Manchester Veterans Affairs office had a team of officials present to lend a hand.

"The VA is a longtime partner with Harbor Homes; this is the ninth year of collaboration to bring forth this effort," said Kristen Pressly, public affairs officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Manchester.

"The VA has been an incredible force in making this successful," said Peter Kelleher, Harbor Homes president and CEO. "Working with the VA has been a real blessing for us at Harbor Homes."

VA clinical pharmacists Wanda Hunt and Anita Wallace shared information with veterans on accessing naloxone. Hunt said while they don't have specific numbers on veteran drug overdose rates, it's an important precaution given the opioid crisis in New Hampshire.

"Across the state, it's been a major problem." Hunt said VA staff are trained to connect veterans in need with naloxone.

Erik Johannessen, executive director of social work with Veterans Affairs, thanked Harbor Homes for its collaboration.

"We're grateful to Harbor Homes and the effort Harbor Homes makes every day to help homeless veterans," Johannessen said. "What you see at the Stand Down is a visible representation of what goes on behind the scenes every day."

As businesses, volunteers and service agencies coordinated with Harbor Homes and VA staff to bring resources to veterans, Johannessen noted the importance of such collaboration. "We're only here because we are all better together. Remember that: We are always better together."

Jay Gupta, of YogaCaps Inc., attended the event to share information about his therapeutic yoga sessions with veterans. Gupta said therapeutic yoga has been shown to help individuals deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Yoga and meditation clearly work, and we're hoping to get more veterans involved," Gupta said, adding that while many people can be affected by PTSD, veterans tend to deal with it more often. "We do not have any pharmacological cure for PTSD, but we have a lot of evidence that yoga and meditation, particularly therapeutic yoga, has a lot of benefits."

Gupta will begin a new 5 p.m. therapeutic yoga class at Harbor Homes starting Thursday, Oct. 13.

Hassan thanked all the agencies and service providers for participating in Stand Down.

"When we work for each other, we are stronger," Hassan said.

More information on Harbor Homes is available online at harborhomes.org, or via phone at 882-3616.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594- 6402, tforbes@nashuatelegraph. com or @Telegraph_TinaF.