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L.A. Stand Down to Assemble Vital Services for Female Vets

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When I was doing homeless outreach in 1993 I helped Navy veteran Linda Miles-Celistan off skid row.

Now she's on our board of directors helping lead U.S.VETS, the nation's largest nonprofit devoted to helping homeless and at-risk veterans.

She once did anything on the street to buy drugs and alcohol. Last month, she made a financial contribution to U.S.VETS.

Linda's compelling story is proof that female veterans, even after falling into the hell of substance abuse and homelessness after serving their country, can succeed with the right kind of help.

And a lot of female veterans need help.

The population of female veterans without permanent shelter has more than doubled in the last half-dozen years and will continue climbing now that the Iraq war has ended, sending women home with the same stress as their male counterparts -- plus some gender specific ones that make them more susceptible to homelessness.

Female veterans make up about 8 percent of all veterans, or about 1.8 million, compared to just 4 percent in 1990. The number of homeless female veterans has more than doubled - numbering more than 3,300 - and about 25 percent of women experience sexual assault while serving in the military.

After being sexually assaulted by her commanding officer before her discharge, Linda spent 12 years on skid row in Los Angeles. She was in and out of rehab 15 times.

I met her in 1993 when I referred her to a substance abuse treatment program. She was ready to change her life and before too long she was working with us at our first U.S.VETS' site in Inglewood, Calif. She had finally found the help she needed.

Thanks to the encouragement and support of the U.S.VETS staff, Linda was able to remain sober and to eventually obtain certification as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor from UCLA. She then went on to get a Bachelors Degree.

Since these initial successes, Linda has served with AmericCorps, worked as a women's outreach coordinator with U.S.VETS, and helped to develop the U.S.VETS ADVANCE Women's Program that addresses the specific needs of female veterans.

Linda is also the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization called the Arise & Shine Haven for Homeless Women and Children in Los Angeles. She joined the U.S.VETS board in 2006 and received her Masters Degree in 2010. Linda's success is dramatic, but, as I said, the problem is huge. There are a lot of Lindas who need help.

In times of war, weary troops "stand down" to rest and recover from the physical and psychological toll of combat. The ultimate goal of a stand down is to offer the veteran renewal of spirit, health and overall well-being in a safe environment.

On Friday, July 20, U.S.VETS Second Annual Female Veteran Stand Down will bring together service providers to offer free medical, mental health, dental, nutrition, housing services, employment workshops, legal services and financial counseling to female veterans.

The Second Annual Female Stand Down will bring together hundreds of volunteers and organizations to one location. It will provide immediate help to our region's female veterans so that they, like Linda, may regain their spirit and continue their personal fight in this tough economic climate.