More than 1,000 veterans from all over Connecticut were expected in Rocky Hill Friday for an annual event called Stand Down; it's an outreach event hosted by the state Department of Veteran Affairs to help veterans in need. Stand Down is in its 16th year, an event VA Commissioner Linda Schwartz looks forward to every year. Here, she is welcoming nursing students who volunteered at the event. "Hey, hey!' 'Hi Commish.' 'It's the Yale School of Nursing!"
Veterans of all ages, many men, some women lined up outside the VA's auditorium to peruse clothing donated by Mohegan Sun. From there they traveled to numerous white tents filled with staff from homeless advocacy groups, social service providers, and public defenders. Some tents were filled with dentists and optometrists who gave free exams.
Many of the veterans are from the Vietnam era but this year young faces could be seen in the crowd. They're Iraq and Afghanistan vets like Marine, Kyle Konopka. He jokes about why he's at Stand Down. "Some closure. No, DMV, I needed to come talk to them, and just find a job, information about that."
In his hands are brochures and booklets about services and opportunities out there. One of the tables Konopka visited was staffed by the state Labor Department, They're also servicemembers like Marine, Tim Rockefeller, who works as a Veterans Employment Representative. "The chances of them knowing that there's somebody who's a veteran that can help them one on one, who's also a veteran, with a resume or job leads, people just don't know that exists. So outreach is crucial."
Konopka has been out of the service for two years now and he's still having trouble finding a job. He tells me he's open to everything.
Konopka: "Anything, I'll take your job!" (laughs)
Lucy: "No, really what do you want to do?"
Konopka: "Trade, I want to be outside, I want to work with my hands."
Konopka says he's even open to going back into the military because he misses the camaraderie. But today, that camaraderie is present in Rocky Hill, as veterans connect with each other and learn that there are many services available to them now that they're home.