WASHINGTON - A dozen Marines and Sailors from Headquarters Marine Corps, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Henderson Hall volunteered their time to assist veterans at the Washington, D.C., Veterans Administration Medical Center Jan. 25.

The effort was part of the Department of Veterans Affairs' Winterhaven Homeless Stand Down, an initiative to help end veteran homelessness, according to the VA's official website. The annual event offers veterans one-on-one assistance with health care, benefits and access to more than 70 community and government resources, according to the website.

For the past 20 years, the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center has opened its doors to hundreds of homeless and at-risk veterans for its annual stand down.

Presented with the opportunity to volunteer at the event, local area Marines and Sailors answered the call, according to Kea Matory, Henderson Hall's Family Readiness program trainer.

"They were excited at the opportunity to give back to veterans who served before them," said Matory.

During their visit to the medical center, the Marines and Sailors answered patients' questions and escorted veterans to their proper destination within the medical center. The medical center treats more than 50,000 veterans and has some 500,000 outpatient visits each year, according to the medical center's website.

"So far it's been pretty hectic," said Pfc. Manuel Barragan, when asked how the effort was going. "[There have been] lots of people coming and going, but it feels great to be able to help them."

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, was also on hand to support the veterans and the volunteers as he toured the medical facilities. Secretary Shinseki took the time to shake hands with the Marines and Sailors, and then posed for a group photo with them.

"This [was] not only an opportunity for the Marines and Sailors to do more for their community locally, but historically as well," said Matory.

The feeling was mutual.

"Even though I'm just giving directions it makes me feel useful because there is something to be said about helping others who have been in your shoes," said Barragan. "They served their country and that makes me feel pretty awesome."