Charley Funderburg knew the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Veterans Stand Down could help his friend.
So, the retired Army veteran joined more than 100 people at the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza on a recent Saturday for the twice-a-year resource fair for the LGBT veteran community organized by the Center’s Senior Services department.
“I always try and look out for my friends,” Funderburg said. “You get a lot of information about housing and benefits. I have a friend who is having mental health issues so I talked to the people here about mental health. He couldn’t come today.”
The fair serves all veterans over the age of 50 and is not limited to the LGBT veteran community. It offers free services and referrals in various areas including VA enrollment, CalVets benefits, VA benefits, education, housing, legal, employment, medical, and mental health.
It was at a previous Stand Down where Funderburg, who served during the Vietnam War, got help for himself.
“For a long time I was denied my benefits and I came to one of these Stand Downs and I was able to finally get my benefits for the VA hospital,” the North Hollywood resident said. “It may have been (because of his sexual orientation) but I never told anybody I was gay.”
The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law enacted in 1993 barred openly gay, lesbian and bisexual persons from military service. It was officially repealed in 2011 and resulted in many of those kicked out of the military for “homosexual conduct” becoming eligible for benefits.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and volunteer attorneys are a regular presence at the event to help dishonorably discharged veterans begin the process of such obtaining benefits as health care, pension, and education.
Kevin Lewandowski of Volunteers of America said his organization had a booth at the Stand Down because it is working to get veterans experiencing homelessness off the streets and into permanent housing.
“It’s very important to have these tables and to be out here because a lot of these people don’t know how to access what they need – especially of they are living in the streets,” Lewandowski said. “They feel like they are put through the ringer when it comes to trying to get help. They need to know that there are people out there who care.”
The event provides a multitude of information and giveaways. But once lunch is served and the musical entertainment begins, it’s clear the Stand Down is also an opportunity to catch up with old friends or make new ones.
“We host two Stand Downs a year to give an opportunity for our senior veterans to connect with each other,” said Kiera Pollock, the Center’s director of senior services. “They can get together to talk about their service and talk about the commonalities of that experience – especially LGBT veterans who have historically experienced discrimination in the military.”