This weekend hosts Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, and Maricopa County StandDown, a local event that helps to care for, honor, and respect some very important people: our Veterans. The men and women of the Armed Forces have served our country and fought to protect us and our rights. They deserve not only our gratitude and respect, but more importantly, our recognition of the complex and unique challenges that Veterans face when acclimating to life after the Service.

Although we’ve shared a few statistics about our Veterans with you before, they’re certainly worth emphasizing again. According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics estimates, of America’s 316 million citizens nearly 22 million are Veterans, making up for one fifteenth of our population. Tragically, the suicide rate for Veterans is more than twice that of civilians. CNN reported that approximately 30% of American Veterans have had suicidal thoughts. The traumatic events and heightened, prolonged stress of combat can be extremely damaging to individuals, causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the most prevalent mental health disorder among Veterans. PTSD and other conditions, such as Traumatic Brain Injury, cause many difficulties in daily life, especially when compounded with the struggles of reintegrating into a society that does not provide adequate support in that process. Because of this, Veterans with PTSD may engage in acts of violence and substance abuse and find themselves in court. Additionally, there are still an estimated 57,000 homeless Veterans, and Arizona’s homeless Veteran population increased by nearly 11% between 2012 and 2013. Additionally, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimate that 1.4 million Veterans are “at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.”

This is where the Maricopa County StandDown comes in. In addition to the successful implementation of Veterans Courts here in the Valley, community-based organizations have banded together to connect Veterans with services and resources tailored to their needs. This coalition is known as the Arizona StandDown Alliance. StandDown aims to better the lives of Veterans by helping them regain their independence and status as contributing members of society. Another central goal of these events is to promote awareness and spread resources to conquer the battle of Veteran homelessness. AZ StandDown Alliance hosts this annual event at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, and last year, 1,759 homeless and at-risk military Veterans were connected with the specific aid they required. Services include VA HealthCare, Mental Health Services, clothing, meals, emergency shelter, transitional and permanent housing, IDs and Drivers Licenses, court services and legal aid, showers and Haircuts, and myriad others. “Working with its Housing Providers, the Maricopa County StandDown is able to assist approximately 10% of veterans living on the streets, in emergency shelters or in transitional housing to enter a higher level of housing in this single weekend alone,” and nearly 1,000 Veterans also registered for legal services. (Check out last year’s report for more details).

So Arizona, are you ready to StandDown to help our Veterans up? If you know a Veteran that might benefit from this program, offer to take him or her or assist in finding transportation. Let’s continue to work together to bring awareness to the challenges these heroes face and find creative solutions for them.