"Leave No One Behind"

Stand Down Meaning & History


“You don’t leave anybody outside the wire. If you’ve got wounded outside the wire, you go get them, regardless of the cost.”
Stand Down Founders, Robert Van Keuren and Dr. Jon Nachison

Stand Down was started with belief in the triumph of the human spirit over extraordinary odds. It grew out of a conviction that the overwhelming number of homeless veterans on the streets of America is unacceptable, and that the veteran community itself must respond.

Stand Down is an intervention that was conceived from the ground up specifically for veterans, by veterans.

Video of 2009 Stand Down showing the emotional changes that take place for homeless veterans during the three-day VVSD Stand Down, which is designed to transform the despair and immobility of homelessness into the momentum necessary to get into recovery, to resolve legal issues, to seek employment, to access health services and benefits, to reconnect with the community and to get off the streets. A very tall order for a three-day event.

The first Stand Down was in 1988 under the auspices of the Vietnam Veterans of San Diego (VVSD) to provide coordinated, comprehensive services to homeless veterans over a three-day period at one site. This service model was designed to bridge many of the physical and psychological barriers between service providers and recipients.

Primary emphasis was placed on the creation of a community in which homeless veterans are treated with respect and given the opportunity to relax, interact and form ties with peers and volunteers while receiving much needed specific services.

Stand Down has helped thousands of homeless veterans since its inception in 1988. In 2011, 928 homeles veterans utilized the services at Stand Down.

Stand Down began as the dream of Robert Van Keuren, then the Executive Director of VVSD, and Jon Nachison, Ph.D., Clinical Director of VVSD. Concerned about the increasing numbers of homeless veterans coming to VVSD for services in the mid-80s, Robert Van Keuren remembered Stand Down, respite he and his military unit were given after being particularly hard hit in Cambodia during the Vietnam war.

He decided to create a Stand Down for homeless veterans and integrate, at one site, veteran services which were scattered throughout San Diego County.

Their basic premise was that this would be a community intervention which encouraged wide participation among service providers, both veteran specific and general, and sought the opinions of homeless veterans themselves to make known what was needed to get them off the streets and reintegrated into the community as productive members.

The dream became a reality and more. Each year since the first, Stand Down has grown and been refined to meet the needs of our homeless veterans. Today, many years from when the first homeless walked on the field, we have over 150 organizations/agencies and more than 2500 volunteers from all walks of life that make Stand Down happen.

Some of these never set a foot on the Stand Down field; others are there from the first day of set up until the site is returned to its original form. Perhaps the hallmark of success is that each year more and more of our volunteers were once participants who have made the courageous move to change their lives.

View Stand Down – A Step by Step Procedural Manual (pdf), written by , Dr. Jon Nachison, Robert Van Keuren and Richard Talbott, the original Stand Down organizers.


Mission: Veterans Village of San Diego serves America’s veterans in overcoming homelessness and related challenges.