VA Western New York Healthcare System
Robert Van Keuren: Vietnam Veteran, Visionary
Robert Van Keuren of Canandaigua has earned the 2011 Secretary’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Service to Homeless Veterans. The award was presented on January 27 at the Syracuse VA Medical Center by Peter Dougherty, Director of the VA Homeless Program Office.
Van Keuren, a Navy Veteran, recently retired from the Canandaigua VA Medical Center after serving as the Coordinator for the VA Health Care Upstate New York Homeless Veterans Program. The Secretary’s Award honors his four decades of service, which included over 200 combat missions in Vietnam, serving as the Director with Vietnam Veterans of San Diego, and 18 years working for VA on homeless Veteran issues.
Along with his friend and fellow Vietnam Veteran, Dr. Jon Nachison, Van Keuren is credited with creating Stand Down for homeless Veterans 25 years ago. Applying the Stand Down concept to assist homeless Veterans has been a way to give them a respite from life on the street. Stand Downs provide needed services such as medical care and assistance that improves the quality of life for homeless Veterans. Further than that, the counseling and employment services provided at Stand Downs have helped many Veterans find a more stable and successful life.
Stand Downs lit the path and created national awareness of the tragedy of homelessness among Veterans. The program is now described as "the most valuable outreach tool to help homeless Veterans in the nation today" by the National Collation for Homeless Veterans. To date, Stand Downs have aided hundreds of thousands of homeless Veterans in over 200 locations across the country, including Veterans throughout New York State. These great works all grew from the vision of a man who wanted to make a meaningful difference.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking decisive action to end Veteran homelessness within 5 years and has been an active partner in the Stand Down effort since its beginning. All Veterans at risk for homelessness or attempting to exit homelessness must have easy access to programs and services. VA offers a variety of resources, programs, and benefits that can be accessed by calling 1- 877- 424- 3838 or visiting www.va.gov/homeless.