Hundreds of disadvantaged military veterans received medical help, counseling, employment assistance and other services as part of the eighth annual Compton Stand Down organized by the nonprofit group U.S. Vets on Sept. 24-26.
According to usvetsinc.org, the name “stand down” comes from a term used in time of war when exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety. Now the name of a series of grassroots, community-based intervention programs, Stand Downs are designed to help the nation’s estimated 150,000 homeless veterans deal with life on the streets.
“We hold the Stand Down events to get the community involved,” said Stephen Peck, president and chief executive officer of U.S. Vets. “When veterans become homeless, they become isolated. We need to let them know that people care about them.”
For the first time in the event’s history, free dental care was available to veterans through the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC’s Mobile Dental Clinic. Members of the DDS classes of 2012 and 2013, as well as residents of the school’s advanced endodontics program, worked with faculty members to provide restorations, extractions, root canal treatment and referrals for further care to nearly 130 patients.
“We especially want to help them get pain-free and infection-free,” said Santosh Sundaresan, director of the clinic. “And if they need treatment that can’t be performed today or if they need follow-up care, we’re also providing referrals to other free and low-cost clinics in the area.”
Mobile Dental Clinic patient Edward Scott, an Army veteran, said he was looking forward to receiving dental care in the clinic and felt the care and services at the Stand Down were absolutely necessary for veterans.
“When you come out of the service, you feel like you’ve lost a weapon,” he said. “You really want to feel protected again.”
Marine Corps veteran Kerry Zavala, who has not been able to find full-time employment since 2003, said he had not received dental care since 1997 and that the poor condition of his teeth lessens his chances of getting hired.
“I’m trying to do everything I can to get on my feet,” he said. “First impressions when you’re trying to get a job are really hard when you have bad teeth – this is a big help.”
Thomas Levy, director of undergraduate endodontics at USC, said taking part in the Stand Down was important on many fronts.
“For me, personally, it’s very fulfilling to give back in this way, and it’s also a good experience for students,” he said. “After taking part in events like this, we really expect our graduates to continue this kind of service.”
Conan Teng, a volunteer from the DDS class of 2013, agreed.
“It’s really good for us to get out into the community, and it makes me happy to be helping the veterans today,” he said. “It’s important for us to treat not only a variety of pathologies but also a variety of people. It’s a good learning experience.”
Levy added that the most important aspect of the event was giving back to those who already have given so much for the rest of the nation.
“Veterans need our help, and they have tremendous stories to share,” he said. “This event allows us to give back a tiny bit in comparison to what they’ve done for us.”
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