By Wendy Sarubbi | October 3, 2011 10:45 am

Twenty UCF College of Medicine M.D. students served as advocates for homeless vets during the VA Stand Down Against Homelessness on Sept. 24. The event provided services such as showers, clothing, warm meals, legal help and medical and dental care to homeless veterans in one accessible location.

As part of the program, College of Medicine students became “Battle Buddies,” helping veterans navigate through the program’s services to get the help they needed. M.D. students were motivated by the fact that:

  • 1 out of 3 homeless individuals is a veteran, even though veterans are only 11 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Florida has one of the highest numbers of homeless veterans in the nation, in part because the warm weather makes it easier for the homeless to survive here.
  • Elderly veterans are three times more likely to be homeless than non-veterans of the same group.

M-2 Christina Hsu saw that fact first-hand when she became a Battle Buddy to two homeless vets, ages 65 and 68. Both had served during the Vietnam War. Because they are neighbors at the homeless shelter where they stay, the two friends asked to navigate the Stand Down together. Christina was their guide, their health counselor and their friend. “Like any vulnerable population, the homeless are easy for many to ignore,” she said. “Being a doctor means you need to remember these are people who need our help. This is the reason I came to medical school.”

She learned that one of the vets had gout and offered him nutritional suggestions to help his ailment. She learned that one had high blood pressure, the other was pre-diabetic. They didn’t know much about their medical conditions so Christina offered explanations. When one of the vets had trouble reading information he had received, Christina asked about his eyesight and took him to a service that was fitting homeless vets for glasses.

As part of the Stand Down, College of Medicine students also organized a clothing and shoe drive.

“Community service fills a void for me,” Christina said about the volunteer work that has been part of her life since high school. “It’s such a tragedy that veterans who protected our country are now homeless. The Stand Down was an opportunity to be able to give back to them. I got to hear their stories and learn from them. I become friends with my vets.”

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