Helpful Airmen Aid Homeless Vets

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Carl Clegg
  • 108th Wing
Members of the 108th Medical Group, New Jersey Air National Guard, provide blood pressure checks to homeless veterans at the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Stand Down Day at the John F. Kennedy recreation center in Newark, N.J. On Oct. 10, 2015. The stand down day allows the veterans to get much needed care and services from a wide array of state agencies and nonprofit organizations. Members of the 108th Medical Group have been providing care at stand down days for more than 10 years and are providing blood pressure checks as a means to have conversations with the veterans about their overall health and wellness. "We service [the veterans] doing blood pressure checks and we ask them about their health history," said, 1st Lt. Sara Kucharski, Registered Nurse, 108th Medical Group. "We are more of a counselor than a provider of medical services," Kuharski added. Kucharski has been volunteering at the Newark stand down event for three years running and has been a nurse with the 108th Wing for only three years.

This year's participation may have been life saving for one veteran Kuharski encountered. The veteran had not seen a medical provider in a few years and his blood pressure was extremely high. Kuharski and her team had him transported to the emergency room at the nearby Veterans Administration hospital for monitoring and continued care. The Veteran promised Kuharski that he would use the incident as a wake up call and get seen by a doctor more frequently.

"I'm homeless right now," said Blaise Jones, a U.S. Navy veteran of Newark, N.J. "I'm here to see what Kind of help they can offer." After getting his blood pressure checked by 1st Lt. Stan Pang, 108th Medical Group, Jones learned that it was a little higher than normal and that he needed to continue with frequent checks, exercise more and possibly modify his diet if it says high. Pang took the opportunity to educate many veterans like Jones about the risks of high blood pressure including stroke and heart attack and how to combat those risks with diet and exercise.

The one thing that stood out to Kuharski the most was the care being provided by the many organizations to the veterans and, in turn, the appreciation the veterans showed back to those organizations. The day included a hot lunch provided to the hundreds of veteran attendees by soldiers from the New Jersey National Guard's 2nd of the 113th Infantry. Stand Down is a military term referring to exhausted combat units that were removed from the battlefront to a place of security and safety for rest and recovery. Today, Stand Downs are grass roots, community-based intervention program to help veterans' battle life on the streets.