JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The Western Pennsylvania Veterans Leadership Program hosted area veterans Saturday at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center in downtown Johnstown for a “Johnstown Stand Down” event that included free lunches and information about veterans programs.
“Withdrawing” means relaxing after being ready or alert, and that’s not easy in many cases for veterans, said Melvyn Frazier, an avionics technician for 17 years with the US Air Force, the Air National Guard and Army National Guard. .
Frazier, of Altoona, said his career centered on “devotion to the flag and the Constitution.”
He was one of the conference center veterans who somehow struggled financially or in a way that was not fully apparent to others.
“It could be mental health, it could be drugs and alcohol — PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) — some don’t like being indoors at all,” Frazier said.
Service members used to being in a country that is the center of military activity can often experience difficulties when separated from the military, he said.
Some have lost their homes, lost their marriages or gone through terrible breakups, not to mention inflation, he said.
“We suffer from the same things that average Americans suffer from,” he said. “Nevertheless, a small percentage of American citizens choose the military, and we should be entitled to certain things.”
According to the US Census, about 18 million Americans, or about 7% of the adult population, are veterans of the US Armed Forces. Ranging in age from 18 to over 100, they have served in conflicts as diverse as the Korean War and the Global War on Terror.
Veterans Mike Edwards, of Altoona, and Wayne Westover, of Johnstown, had lunch together on Saturday and spoke with veteran service providers.
“I love it,” Edwards said. “There’s a lot of information here about some programs that should get more air, but the fact that we have it here is great.”
Providers included the Veterans Crisis Line, Highmark Health, VA Connected Care, the Pennsylvania Department of Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs, and the Veterans Leadership Program (VLP).
“I am grateful to the VLP for what they have done in my time of need,” Westover said.
Kim Portser, VLP’s veteran program manager, said times are uncertain for many people.
Consumer prices rose 9.1% in the year ending June 2022, the biggest increase in 40 years. The consumer price index has since fallen to 7.7%.
“Some older veterans have reached out, saying they’re struggling with fixed incomes and the costs are going up,” Portser said.
The event provided veterans with coats and items to help them through the winter. For people who need housing assistance, this is also part of VLP’s services, Portser said.
Local businesses contributed with giveaways including free haircut vouchers and coffee.
“It’s important for veterans to know that we are here to support them, to hug them and connect them to services,” Portser said.