A founder of Operation Stand Down Rhode Island in 1993, Anthony DeQuattro still gets worked up when he talks about how our veterans are treated.
“We will be in business as long as they aren’t doing what they should do,” DeQuattro said of the Veterans Administration.
He spoke at the Thursday meeting of the Rotary Club of Warwick. A former Marine of the Vietnam era, DeQuattro is also angered by the two-, three- and four-time redeployment of military personnel.
“These guys keep going back and they shouldn’t be,” he said.
Today’s Operation Stand Down Rhode Island is a long way from where it started off. The initial purpose was to host a weekend where community, state and federal groups could come together at a single location to provide information to veterans as well as assistance to homeless and at-risk veterans. It still does that and much more.
Operating on a $2.5 million budget, Operation Stand Down has a staff of 15, houses 275 to 300 veterans and provides services for 2,000 veterans a year. Even with all the organization is doing, the need continues. In addition to addressing permanent and transitional housing needs, OSDRI offers food and clothing assistance, job training, rental assistance through VA Supportive Services, transportation assistance and computer literacy, among other programs.
OSDRI executive director and legal counsel Erik Wallin said the state has 71,000 veterans. He said there is a backlog of 1.2 million veterans nationwide seeking their benefits at the Veterans Administration and that the VA is responsible for over-medicating veterans, leading them to a path for opioid addiction and that nationally one veteran commits suicide every hour.
Homelessness is an issue OSDRI deals with consistently, said Wallin. While he said some reason that efforts to address homelessness are successful, Wallin said the findings are skewed because homeless don’t identify themselves as veterans.
In addition to services provided to veterans, OSDRI will run for a third year its Boots on the Ground for Heroes, planned for Memorial Day. Planned for May 25 to 28 at the Temple of Music in Roger Williams Park, OSDRI will place nearly 7,000 pairs of boots in the park representing those who died fighting the war on terrorism. Each pair of boots carries a tag with the name, branch of service and the date of that soldier’s death.
The idea of Diana DeQuattro Rothermel, DeQuattro’s daughter, Boots on the Ground for Heroes attracts hundreds of people and may be displayed in other states, said Wallin. He said the idea of a tribute to fallen in the war against terrorism had instant appeal, but when it came to donations of boots the going was slow. Then, after making contact with military surplus, he received a call inquiring whether they had the space to accommodate 10 pallets of boots. In one call it looked like their boot dilemma had been resolved. That was until the boots arrived and they discovered none had been laced. An appeal went out and, over four days, volunteers laced about 7,000 boots.
The story is illustrative of the community involvement and support for OSDRI.
DeQuattro doesn’t see that kind of community support elsewhere in the country, where all but three of 47 Operation Stand Downs – Rhode Island, San Diego and Tennessee – are operated by the VA. He said the VA sponsors the Operation Stand Downs for public relations reasons.
“It’s a numbers game with the government,” he said bitterly.
Operation Stand Down Rhode Island continues to lead the way in giving veterans “A Hand Up…Not a Hand Out,” he said.
And, to quote his words from the OSDRI website, “Homeless and Veteran are two words that should never be in the same sentence. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. At Operation Stand Down Rhode Island our commitment is when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.”