The 2022 DAV Homeless Veterans Stand Down made Brian Pinkard feel strongly connected to the veteran community and cared for despite a relapse in a lifetime battle with substance abuse.
“Even though I may be in a situation, they [DAV] are not leaving me out there to dry,” he said. “They’re giving me services, and things happen to people for whatever reason. You know, we all need a helping hand sometimes.”
In October, more than 200 veterans received assistance through the Stand Down at DAV National Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. DAV held the annual outreach event in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pinkard said he was glad to “rub shoulders” with fellow veterans, loosen up and have fun.
“We don’t leave our wounded behind, no matter what,” he said.
Among those volunteering at the event and engaging attendees was National Commander Joe Parsetich, a service-connected disabled Air Force veteran of Vietnam.
“To my fellow brothers and sisters, it is my great honor and privilege to be here with and for you today,” Parsetich told attendees. “Each of us have donned the uniform in service to this country. No matter how you found yourself here, we are bonded as a family.”
Every veteran who attended received a DAV backpack filled with personal hygiene kits, as well as information about further assistance opportunities. Other service providers from around the Greater Cincinnati area also offered assistance with jobs and housing.
“It has been a glorious day,” Parsetich said. “Folks from all over the community and Cincinnati have been coming down here to partake of our warmth, our hospitality and our services.”
The Stand Down couldn’t happen without the partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers in Cincinnati and Fort Thomas, Kentucky, said National Voluntary Services Director John Kleindienst.
“Many thanks go to the VA for helping us provide attendees with the much-needed resources that they can use to transition from homelessness or at risk to being in a transitional or permanent structure,” Kleindienst said.
Roughly 38,000 veterans are homeless in the U.S., Kleindienst added, noting that DAV departments and chapters offer Stand Downs across the country.
“We want to make sure that all veterans have access to the care and benefits that they earned,” he said. “This is just a great outreach opportunity to let veterans know that DAV is here, about the services that we can provide and the resources that are available to them as a result of their military service. We don’t want them to think that they are forgotten.”
Marine veteran Michael Sellmeyer, who served in Afghanistan, said he was able to receive help with his claim and enroll in school while at the Stand Down.
“It’s just been a blessing to me,” Sellmeyer said. “I’ve been on the streets for the last three years.
“I served two tours in Afghanistan,” he continued. “On one of those, I was medevaced out due to being blown up, and I’ve had a lot of issues with getting along with people and trusting people since that point.”
Sellmeyer said he started drinking heavily after he got out of the service.
“My household fell apart,” he said. “I have five kids, and I picked up meth. If you would have told me four years ago I would ever pick up meth, I would have told you that you were crazy. But now, I’m here.”
Sellmeyer said he lived in a van for three years while trying to work as a mobile mechanic to feed his addiction. One day, he decided he’d had enough. He walked 9 miles from the public park he was at to the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
“I’ve been clean for a year,” he said. “It feels amazing, but still, society is a little different trying to go back to normal. But I feel amazing. I was 137 pounds coming off the street. I am 202 pounds now.”
In 2021, Sellmeyer said he participated in the DAV 5K as well.
“Anything the DAV does has been amazing for me,” he said.
Pinkard, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who served in the early 1980s, said he was able to talk with DAV about ongoing service-connected VA claims. He spent time talking with representatives at a booth about the Department of Housing and Urban Development and VA Supporting Housing Program, which could help him get into permanent housing.
Pinkard also got a haircut and reveled in having his fingernails manicured for the first time in his life.
“I feel fabulous, I really do,” he said. “It helps build your esteem.”