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Gregoire honors local veterans group

The honors are nice, but Voices for Veterans volunteers say their sense of accomplishment comes from helping troubled vets in their times of need.

The nonprofit group's president John Braasch received a certificate of appreciation and verbal commendations Jan. 27 from Mike Gregoire, Gov. Chris Gregoire's husband, during a Clallam County commissioner meeting.

Gregoire, his wife's emissary to veterans and a vet himself, commented briefly on the group's organization and ability to coordinate services to veterans.

He said the program impressed him.

About three dozen veterans and family members attended the meeting, cheering and clapping after the award was presented.

"What we're about is having veterans help veterans," Braasch said.

"Although this is appreciated," he added, holding up the certificate and looking back and forth from the crowd to Gregoire.

"We hope it will only serve as an example of what people can do to help each other, especially those who served their country for all of us."

Braasch said Gregoire isn't the only one to recognize the group for its contribution to the veterans community. The U.S. Department of Labor may take the group's Stand Down model to a national training forum.

"If something like this takes off nationally, our vets will be in a better place than they are today," Braash said, indicating the local success stories are enough to keep him involved in the program.

The group hosts Veterans Stand Downs three times a year, one each in Port Angeles, Forks and Port Townsend. All veterans - especially homeless vets - are welcome to stop in and get a wide variety of help.

"We do dental, medical and optical

screenings and try to get them fixed up if need be," Braasch said, adding the Clallam County Pro Bono Lawyers and Social Security experts often are present to give advice.

"We also offer new clothes, toiletries, amenities, camping gear for the homeless and nonperishable foods."

Sequim barber Art Rogers has been a part of the Stand Down since it began five years ago and, according to Braasch, has cut the hair of hundreds of veterans' heads in Clallam County.

"I'm a vet and I know many vets had a tough time coming back from a war, especially Vietnam," Rogers said while working an electric shaver on a Sequim vet in his shop.

"You hear about how these guys were treated and shunned from society, and they came back with issues of their own from the war. So any way I can instill a sense of pride in these guys, even if it's through a haircut, I'll do it."

The next Stand Down is set for May 7 in Forks. One is scheduled for July in Port Townsend, and one in Port Angeles in October.

"We don't have a Sequim Stand Down just yet," Braasch said.

"But we organize with Clallam Transit to get those living far away from the nearest Stand Down to get there for free if need be."

For a list of services available to veterans and for more information on the Voices for Veterans organization, visit www.voicesforveterans.org. To make contact with the group, e-mail info@voicesforveterans.org or call 683-6495.



Reach Evan McLean at

emclean@sequimgazette.com



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