DOL VETS HVRP Stand Down Grant Program

In times of war, a Stand Down functioned as a call for combat units to recuperate and rest while removed from the battlefield to a place of relative safety. This recovery model inspired Vietnam veterans, Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison, to develop the first Stand Down Event, a gathering to provide resources for veterans experiencing homelessness, in 1988 with the support of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego.

Over the last 30 years, Stand Down Events have become more than just fairs offering a menu of services and referrals; these essential community events offer veterans experiencing homelessness a sense of community and a feeling of hope that has been long absent in their lives. For veterans, connecting to service providers and agency representatives who give realistic and empathic support can mean the difference between an acceptance of assistance and further isolation.

A consistent theme throughout the NVTI JVSG Companion Program Series has been the best practice of JVSG personnel integrating multiple federal programs. The Stand Down program provides an ideal environment to facilitate the integration of services for unhoused veterans. In order to maximize the delivery of services to our veterans, their spouses, and their families, organizations that assist veterans and the services that are provided to veterans must collaborate and develop combined services.

At present, the Stand Down grant funding available under the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Education and Training Service (DOL VETS) Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) is the only federal program that focuses on the employment of veterans experiencing homelessness. The Stand Down grant program resides within the VETS HVRP family of grants, awarded to community and non-profit organizations that support veterans and their families with the transition from homelessness and incarceration.

Stand Downs may be single or multi-day events, catering to the various needs of the veteran communities benefiting from the program. Organizers consider the size of their unhoused veteran population (both sheltered and unsheltered), and the requirements of that population, including other special or vulnerable populations such as women veterans, the families of veterans, justice-involved veterans, and veterans with disabilities. Each community is unique, both in the assets it has and the veterans it serves, and thus leads to a variety of Stand Downs specifically catered to the needs of their audience.

Despite the differences in needs for veteran populations, certain needs of homeless veterans have remained consistent over time. Stand Down events across the country provide baseline services such as food, clothing, shelter, showers, hygiene kits, haircuts, health screenings, Veterans Affairs (VA) and Social Security benefits counseling, as well as referrals to health care, legal aid, employment, substance abuse treatment, and mental health counseling resources.

There are three minimum services that, as a best practice, should be available for homeless veteran participants during a Stand Down event:

  • Medical and mental health services (including benefits counseling and access)
  • State workforce agency employment and training services
  • Referral services to secure immediate emergency housing.

Stand Down Events are grassroot and community-based partnerships where homeless veterans are brought together in a single location to access community resources and supplies needed to begin addressing their problems and rebuilding their lives. These events are primarily volunteer efforts that are organized within a community and bring together service providers including the VA, the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), state workforce agencies (SWAs), the local Continuum of Care (CoC) network, veterans service organizations (VSOs), military personnel, civic and faith leaders, and other individuals, groups, and government agencies that advocate for and support veterans. Stand Downs are models of cross-agency and program collaboration that build capacity for the effective and efficient delivery of services to special population veterans.

During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the VA determined it unsafe to plan events where hundreds of veterans converged on a single location. The agency committed to go out into communities and bring the Stand Down to each individual veteran. This COVID-19-safe Stand Down model is centered on resource bags, providing veterans with portable versions of the donations and resources they would receive and access during an in-person event. Each bag contains VA-branded cloth face masks, hand sanitizer bottles with the telephone number to the VA’s crisis line, brass hands-free door openers, insulated cooler bags, $10 dollar gift cards to local restaurants, fresh fruit, and information on area resources. For a personal touch, bags may be customized to include additional items for individual veterans’ unique needs and living situations.

NVTI recently completed an online curriculum titled 9648: Stand Down Grants that is available for enrollment. This online curriculum was developed for HVRP Grantees as well as others who participate in the planning and execution of Stand Down Events. It provides an overview of Stand Down grants and each phase of a Stand Down Event. Through this online curriculum, you will review how to conduct the four phases of a Stand Down Event (initiation, planning, implementation and monitoring, and reporting and closeout). To register for this, or any National Veterans’ Training Institute (NVTI) class, review how to register for NVTI classes and work with your leadership to take the appropriate steps. You might also want to visit NVTI’s Making Careers Happen for Veterans (MCHV): Community of Practice to engage in conversation around this topic.