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Originally published September 12, 2012 at 8:06 PM | Page modified September 13, 2012 at 6:32 AM

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Veterans outreach offers one-stop shopping for dozens of aid programs

Hundreds of Seattle-area veterans gathered Wednesday at Seattle Central Community College to seek assistance from dozens of social-service providers.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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They served on warships and in field hospitals; they flew fighter jets and fought on the front lines.

On Wednesday morning, scores of veterans were standing in line at Seattle Central Community College as part of a national program called Stand Down. It's a day for homeless and at-risk veterans to connect with social services. There are more than 600,000 veterans in Washington state, and the number of veterans with service-related disabilities is on the rise.

As organizer Adam Horton explained, Stand Down is a military term. "It's taking a moment to reassess your situation," he said. "We're trying to give people an opportunity here to figure out where they need to go next."

Inside the college buildings, about 350 men and women learned about programs to help with housing, domestic violence, debt reduction, and stress. There were scores of volunteers, as well, including dentists and lawyers and nurses and even a Wallingford acupuncturist who offers free stress-reduction sessions for vets. Vets could pick up groceries, clothes, sleeping bags, and even get a manicure.

The manicures had a purpose. Last year, only four women came to the Seattle Stand Down event; this year, organizers knew that didn't reflect the real need out there. This year, as many as 40 showed up, including Leeia Isabelle, who got out of the Navy in August 2011.

"The environment is so overwhelming," she said of the transition from the highly structured military to civilian life. "It's such a big open world sometimes, it's hard to know where to begin."

She got a temporary position as an office manager, but once that ended, she wasn't able to pay her rent and wound up living in her car. "I felt every day I had to fight for my life."

While she was trained as an IT specialist by the Navy, she's found employers have a hard time understanding just what that military experience meant. One prospective employer told her she couldn't handle the stress.

"Nobody held my hand in the Navy," she said.

Quiana Ross, 34, shared some of Isabelle's frustrations. She enlisted in the Army when she was 16, and served as a medical specialist in Bosnia and Kosovo during the war there. She helped build field hospitals; treated soldiers who stepped on land mines; and met women who were raped and children who had lost their parents.

"Some of these experiences were a little too soon for someone my age," she said. The trauma had its impact.

She worked at Public Health — Seattle & King County but got laid off. "Once you start to meet failure, you become afraid to try," she said. Sometimes, she said, she feels she should omit her military experience from her résumé. Employers too often have an image of soldiers as being unable to adapt or wracked by post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

Ross concedes to a stretch of feeling like she was unable to leave the house. "I finally said if you don't do something, you're going to become nothing," she recalled. Now enrolled in nursing school, she sees hope on the horizon.

"You can sit down for a minute," she said. "But then you have to stand up."

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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