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Veterans Helping Veterans" has expanded its scope from the first local event held last year and is now an opportunity for all veterans to take advantage of services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stand Down (a term from the Vietnam War when troops were allowed to take a break from the front lines) last year was aimed primarily at homeless veterans, but the event from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 3495 Bailey Ave., is intended for all vets.

A special emphasis this year will be on Type II diabetes, which has been added to the list of diseases recognized by the VA as associated with Agent Orange exposure and so considered service-connected and eligible for benefits, either treatment or disability compensation.

More than 200 veterans attended last year's two-day session, most of them homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

"It was our first year, so we were happy with the turnout, but we hope to have even more this year," said Herb Wittmeyer, co-chairman of the event.

A success story from last year was a homeless vet who was suffering from depression.

"He received services during the year and is back on his feet, attending college," said Diane Kozak, program assistant.

More than 100 VA personnel and volunteers and 17 community agencies are involved.

Even veterans with dishonorable discharges (and so not eligible for VA services) can get help.

"If we can't help him, we'll find someone (from among the community agencies) who can," Wittmeyer said.

The event is intended as a "one-stop shopping" experience where down-on-their-luck vets can receive health care, food, clothing and shelter and all vets can receive information on services.

Representatives of veterans' organizations and the state Division of Veterans Affairs will be available to offer advice.

Those who might be eligible for pension benefits can receive an evaluation on the spot.

Agent Orange was a defoliant used in Vietnam between 1965 and 1970 that has been recognized as responsible for 10 diseases.

Information sessions on Agent Orange and Type II diabetes are scheduled at 11 a.m. in Room 425-B and 1 p.m. in Room 414-B. Other sessions are on sleep disorders at 11 a.m. in Room 414-B and on men's health in general at 1 p.m. in 425-B.

According to VA estimates, about 9 percent of the 2.3 million living Vietnam veterans have Type II diabetes.

The illness is characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by the body's inability to process the hormone insulin. It is most common among people who are overweight and don't exercise regularly and is more common among blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans.

It can lead to blindness, kidney disease, leg and foot amputations, heart disease, strokes and death.

Symptoms, which frequently take several years to develop, include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, sudden weight loss, weakness and fatigue, irritability, frequent infections, blurred vision, tingling or numbness in feet or fingers, slow healing of cuts (especially in the feet) and frequent skin infections.

Last year's Stand Down was one of 179 nationally that drew a total of 34,000 veterans and family members.

Information is available by calling 881-5855, Ext. 239. Those requiring transportation are asked to call 862-6544.


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