Homeless veterans in Reno attend VA's Stand Down

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Homeless veterans in Reno attend VA's Stand Down

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Senator Dean Heller talks to veterans and service providers at the VA Stand Down event in Reno on Friday.

More than 150 veterans, many of them homeless, went to Friday's VA Stand Down event in Reno to learn about local services for basic needs like housing and employment.

Attendees got a meal and were offered clothing and linens, along with flu shots and HIV testing.

Along with the issue of chronic homelessness, Senator Dean Heller says the VA's massive backlog of disability claims means at least 6,000 veterans are waiting to receive the care they need and some are waiting up to 2 years. He's working with Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey to speed up that process.

"We've put together a coalition. I'm working with the senator out of Pennsylvania to see that we can make--Senator Casey--trying to put together a working group so that we can figure out what the problem is. It may be 6,000 or 7,000 in Nevada, but it's well over a couple hundred thousand nationwide."

The VA's Homeless Veterans Program in Reno sees 12-20 new walk-ins every week who are either homeless or are greatly at risk. Elizabeth Pope is the program's healthcare supervisor. She says lack of transportation is a huge barrier for veterans in need of these services. Another barrier is pride.

"Transportation is a huge issue, and so having everybody in one place on one day is nice for folks--it makes it much easier. And, also, it allows the veteran to meet somebody and to have somebody to connect with, so maybe through that relationship they might be willing to engage in and accept help that they maybe were a little hesitant to receive before."

Two years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Marc Murdoch was one of those walk-ins after being homeless on and off for five years. He knows other veterans who are reluctant to get help.

"You know, a lot of them would say, 'I don't need that. I'm fine the way I am.' I think there's a lot of pride there. They might feel bad about coming in for it. I don't understand why--it's a beautiful program. Thank God it's here. I'd be still out on the street."

For veterans like Murdoch, the VA in Reno has about 200 vouchers for section 8 housing through its housing program.