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Homeless vets get care

December 14, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- Homeless Army veteran Lester Smith said he has the common aches, pains and illnesses that plague most 70-year olds.

"I had two heart attacks over the last 18 months," Smith said. "I have all of those elements that they call the golden years. I don't see that it's so golden."

On Saturday, Smith joined about 100 other homeless veterans from the Quad-State area to attend the HeroHaven Homeless Veterans Stand Down at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg.

The program offered several benefits, including free health screenings, job information and a hot lunch.

Smith said he was more fortunate than some of the other veterans who had lost a limb or were mentally ill.

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"We'll see what (the doctors) say," Smith said. "I just need a little help, and I'll be on my way."

Michelle Cooke, stand down coordinator, said the VA provided a shuttle service to bring the veterans to the hospital.

When they arrived, the veterans were directed to several stations where, among other things, they could have their blood pressure taken, get a flu shot, receive a dental exam or learn about housing assistance.

In addition, every veteran had the opportunity to receive a package of clothes that included thermal underwear, arctic boots and a sleeping bag.

"We find they don't have much," Cooke said. "Our goal is to have the opportunity to bring in homeless veterans who might not be aware of the VA services."

Cooke said stand downs have been held since 1988, but Saturday marked the first one in Martinsburg.

"We hope to make it an annual event," she said.

The operational cost for a stand down is about $3,000, Cooke said. Donors also lend their support.

Anthony Hawkins, 50, said he served in the Marine Corps for 13 years.

Hawkins, who lives at the Martinsburg Rescue Mission, said the stand down was a great way to help homeless veterans.

"Sometimes, we fall into a slump," Hawkins said. "We shouldn't be turning down this type of medical care."

Hawkins said he attended the stand down because he has mental health problems. Hawkins' disorder is one of the reasons that he quit his job as a roofer in Chesapeake, Va., he said.

"I'm a Christian," Hawkins said. "My faith is in God - not the circumstances. If it wasn't for that, I'd probably be dead."

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