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From combat to apartment flat: Veterans Resource Fair has got your back

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The fifth annual Veterans Resource Fair marches into this city on May 13th and performs from 9-to-3 o’clock inside the Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall. The event is a great place for military-affiliated individuals living in Pierce, King, Kitsap, and Thurston counties to network and learn about their Veteran’s Administration (VA) related benefits..
Event Director Shawn Durnen said the Veterans Resource Fair aims to get everyone under one roof, volunteers, veterans, and veteran family members alike. The event has their backs better than a flak jacket, or a heavy vest, as it protects against proverbial social shrapnel when veterans go through significant life changes.
Durnen said all veterans struggle with enormous life shifts. Some seem to be continually marching to the cadence, “I had a good home, but I left” when they return home and can’t seem to fit in with their new surroundings.
According to this January’s annual Point in Time count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons living in Pierce County, ten percent were veterans. In 2015, the count declared that the majority of homeless veterans were male while nine percent were female.
Durnen himself was homeless off-and-on for more than three years when he returned home from 4 ½ years of active duty service. His experiences from living on the streets inspired his getting involved with the premiere Veterans Resource Fair five years ago. For the Army, Durnen had worked for OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) as a combat vet and did engineering, construction, and demolition work.
“Sustainability was not in my vocabulary at the time,” he admitted about his mindset when he first returned home.
Because Durnen knows the social neglect that veterans feel on an intimate basis, he speaks up for his comrades in transition and said when individuals get out military service they have lost their identity and must suddenly rediscover who they are as civilians. That means they must transition into civilian housing rules, which are quite different than what the military offered. Durnen said the returning vet must also navigate many other cultural expectations.
“You’re talking about a population of individuals who have gone from being told what to do every day of their lives. When they get out of the military, they’re learning how to dress, how to eat, when to be places, and are now having to rediscover who they are,” Durnen said.
The Veteran’s Resource Fair is not dictated by any governing organization and the event is staffed mostly by volunteers. Yet Durnen said the Veteran’s Resource Fair works in affiliation with the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) and with Nine9Line Veteran Services, a non-profit organization.
“What started out as a labor of love now serves 1500-2500 veterans in a single day,” Durnen said. “These past five years since the event started they’ve served somewhere between seven-to-8,000 families, offering support and connections.”
The Veterans Resource Fair attracts somewhere between 150 and 160 providers who offer veterans and their families a wide array of community services including education benefits, medical screenings, dental resources, family counseling and legal services, as well as housing assistance and disability claims. There will also be resources specific to female veterans, widow/widower benefits and active duty transition assistance available.


Veterans Resource Fair
Sat., May 13, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Inside the Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall, 272 E. D St.
The event is free and parking can be too if you use the Tacoma Dome’s parking lot J.

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