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By Joe Siegel
Fort Adams in Newport will be the location for the 3rd Annual Gold Star Gala honoring Rhode Island’s Gold Star families. The event, which will benefit Operation Stand Down’s Rhode Island’s Veterans Endowment Fund and the Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial, is May 24 at 6:30 pm.
Operation Stand Down, based in Johnston, provides housing, rental assistance, employment, education and training services, and legal representation for veterans.
OSD was founded almost 30 years ago by Tony DeQuattro, a Vietnam-era veteran from Johnston. DeQuattro noticed the state had a glut of homeless Vietnam veterans and there was not a lot of attention being paid to the problem. DeQuattro serves as the organization’s President and Chairman of the Board.
The organization operates 88 housing units in Rhode Island, including 7 at their Johnston headquarters. OSD also has offices in Newport and West Warwick.
The 27th Annual Stand Down Weekend will be held in September at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland. The event serves homeless vets as well as “those who are most at risk of homelessness,” said Erik Wallin, Executive Director of OSD.
OSD has an employment and training program, which places hundreds of veterans in jobs every year, according to Wallin.
Wallin, who is an attorney, works with two other full-time attorneys and a paralegal to provide services for veterans.
“This is our newest program,” Wallin explained. “We provide legal assistance to veterans in the Veteran Treatment Court, which is a diversion court for misdemeanor offenses. We restore driver’s licenses through the DMV. We represent veterans in the traffic tribunal. We represent veterans who are appealing their disability claims through the (Veterans Administration) and social security, as well as landlord/tenant disputes.”
OSD’s staff of 24 serves approximately 2500 veterans a year, Wallin noted.
“In addition to the housing we own and operate, we provide temporary financial assistance,” Wallin continued. “So if a veteran comes in here, and they’re either homeless or they’re being evicted for back rent, we can either pay a security deposit in up to six months rent in the community while we work with them to figure out what their problem is – is it a job, is it benefits or a combination of the two that we need to solve? Or we can pay back rent if they owe rent and it makes sense.”
OSD receives federal grants, state grants, individual donors, and corporate partners including Ocean State Job Lot, Cardi’s, National Grid, AMGEN, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and The Home Depot Foundation.
Younger veterans have become increasingly in need of services in the past few years, Wallin said.
“The Rhode Island National Guard is the second most highly redeployed force per capita in the entire country,” Wallin noted. “Our guard members during the Global War on Terror were sent back three or four times. One of their specialty areas was the military police, civil engineering, and the air guard. Our guard members got called back a lot and during a bad economy so many of them ended up unemployed.”
Another problem for veterans is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as traumatic brain injuries.
“This is really the group we’re working with the most now,” Wallin explained.
Older veterans, from the Korean and Vietnam wars are eligible for social security benefits, elderly housing, and other government programs.
“Our staff uniquely understands the population we’re serving,” Wallin said, noting Operation Stand Down’s employees possess several years of military experience.
After graduating from law school, Wallin joined the United States Air Force and served as a Captain in the Department of the Judge Advocate General.
John J. McDonough, IV is the Director of Supportive Services. He retired after completing 36 years of active duty military service with the Rhode Island Army National Guard, having served for the final seven years as the State Command Sergeant Major.
Dee DeQuattro Rothermel serves as the Director of Communications and Development and Staff Attorney. In February 2018, she was commissioned a First Lieutenant in the Rhode Island Army National Guard and is assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. Rothermel is the spouse of a OIF/OEF war veteran and the daughter of a Vietnam Era Veteran and volunteered over a decade at Operation Stand Down Rhode Island. In 2016, she founded OSDRI’s Boots on the Ground for Heroes Memorial.
Operation Stand Down has had a profound impact on the veterans who have sought assistance.
“It’s life changing, as you can imagine,” Wallin said. “It’s not an uncommon story for us to have encountered a veteran sleeping in their car, someone who has been sleeping on the street, or who has been coach surfing for months because they have run out of options. We run a sober housing program in some of our facilities. Sometimes it’s a matter of them getting a ‘time-out’ really to begin to put their life back together.”
For more information about Operation Stand Down, visit their website at www.osdri.org.