The Nassau County Veterans Service Agency’s annual summer Veteran Stand Down welcomed hundreds of Long Island vets on Tuesday in Freeport. The biannual event last took place in November, shortly before Thanksgiving.
The mission is to support retired military personnel with a range of services. The National Guard Armory on Babylon Turnpike in Freeport hosted the veterans, where they found representatives of the county’s Social Services and Health and Human Services departments as well as the State Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs and Division of Veterans Affairs, the Salvation Army and Red Cross.
“Programs like the Veterans Stand Down transform our gratitude into action by connecting veterans with the services they need to succeed,” said Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, of Freeport.
For Ralph Esposito, director of the county Veterans Agency, the event is personal. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He recalled a time when veterans weren’t honored for their service.
“When we came home, we couldn’t even wear our uniforms,” Esposito said. “It was heartbreaking.”
Eventually, he resolved never to see another veteran treated the way he was, he said. Supporting the stand-down and providing his fellow veterans with services and resources at the one-stop shop is a way to fulfill that commitment.
“[We] will continue to strengthen our commitment to serving our vets,” Esposito said, “and ensure dignity for all those who served our great country.”
“Through the Veterans Stand Down, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that every person who served the United States in uniform receives the resources they need to thrive,” said the Nassau County Legislature’s minority leader, Kevan Abrahams, of Freeport.
The event also included Battlefield Disciples, a nonprofit organization based in Valley Stream that helps veterans recover from combat. It gave away about 200 hygiene kits that included socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shaving cream, razors and feminine products.
“Being able to support my fellow veterans is so important to me, but this stand-down allowed me to connect with other services that can help me know where we can send our guys,” said John Frias, a Marine Corps veteran and the director and founder of Battlefield Disciples.
Elmont Girl Scout Natalie Becker, 12, volunteered alongside others from AHRC Nassau, a nonprofit agency in Freeport that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She passed out snacks to the veterans during the barbecue lunch.
“This is a great experience,” Natalie said, “because I feel like I’m helping out my community.”
Many veterans consulted with agency representatives. Others came for the food. Still others waited for a complimentary haircut provided by students from Hempstead’s Barber and Beauty Institute of New York. Marine Corps Desert Storm veteran David Cornell, from Lynbrook, sat on a barber’s chair and said he was grateful to have all of the services available.
“We have a high veteran population in Nassau County,” said County Executive Laura Curran, of Baldwin. “Veterans have served our country, protected our freedoms. Anything that we can do to help them and give back, we have to do.”