Who needs Vet Centers anyway?


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VA provides mental health services at its hospitals and Community Based Outpatient Clinics to Veterans of all eras regardless of their combat history. So, who needs Vet Centers anyway? I get asked that question often. I am a combat Veteran and I work as an outreach technician at a Vet Center in New Jersey. I would like to answer that question for you, the long way around and I’ll start from the beginning.

The Vietnam War. It was a conflict that was, and remains, a point of contention for many Americans. For the 2,709,918 Servicemembers who served in country, that time was more about survival than politics. When they returned home some of those young men and women were welcomed home by their fellow Americans with taunts and disdain for what they had been sent to accomplish in Vietnam. Others returned home in flag-draped coffins having made sacrifices so selflessly that only those who served by their sides truly understood.

For some Vietnam Veterans, the burdens of war and the range of emotions experienced during such an event did not fade when they returned home. They lingered. They haunted dreams and interceded without precaution into daily living. For those Veterans, those familiarities were far too much to experience; so they learned to cope with their past using whatever soothed their minds the quickest. Some turned to religion, some to drugs and alcohol and some turned to each other.

Realizing the latter and the need for a better alternative to structured readjustment for combat Veterans than through the traditional VA Medical Center clinics, the Vet Center program was established by Congress in 1979. By that time a significant number of Vietnam-era Veterans were still experiencing readjustment problems years after their service had ended. Thus, the Vet Center program was established and they became places where combat Veterans could get together to discuss with each other their experiences and concerns in a safe and welcoming environment. The community-based Vet Center was a place where they could speak freely about their experiences and their reservations about life since returning from war, free from the fears of persecution or stigma that they experienced elsewhere in society. In many ways, the Vet Center program accelerated VA’s involvement in community-based mental health care.

Years later, in 1991, in direct response to the Persian Gulf War, Congress extended eligibility for Vet Center services to Veterans who served overseas during other periods of armed hostilities after the Vietnam era, including conflicts in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Kosovo and Bosnia. Five years later, Congress again extended Vet Center eligibility criteria, this time to include World War II and Korean War Combat Veterans. This was the first time that the benefits of the Vet Center program were available to all combat Veterans.

Vet Center - Lexington

VA’s Vet Centers began readjustment counseling for Vietnam Veterans in 1979. Today, combat Veterans from all eras can receive counseling at Vet Centers. At the Lexington, Ky., Vet Center, community members share their thanks for those who served in Vietnam.

Most recently, in 2003, the VA extended eligibility for Vet Center services yet again, this time to Veterans of the most recent conflicts, Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and subsequent operations within the Global War on Terrorism. Today, that includes combat Veterans who served in Operation New Dawn as well.

Since the inception of the program, the most basic criterion to receive Vet Center services was combat service. Combat touches the lives of more than just the Servicemember, though. It affects families, especially in instances where a loved one has given their life for their country. So, along with the addition of the most recent generation of combat Veterans, the Vet Centers provide bereavement counseling services to surviving parents, spouses, children and siblings of Servicemembers who have died of any cause while on active duty, including combat. This change reflected a shift in the way Vet Centers operated. No longer were they a place specifically for combat Veterans. They had become a truly sacred place in which to process the traumas associated with wartime service and traumatic military experiences for all who were directly impacted, including family.

By the mid-2000s, VA was staffing Vet Centers with qualified counseling personnel to help guide discussion and provide clinical direction to Vet Center clients. Today, Vet Centers are staffed by trained clinicians, most of whom have attained the master’s level or above in their field and hold a license to practice their trade. Benefiting from this, modern Vet Centers provide a wide array of both individualized and group counseling services to clients, all under the umbrella of readjustment counseling services.

Readjustment counseling is a wide range of psychosocial services offered to eligible Veterans and their families in the effort to assist the client to make a successful transition from military to civilian life, or in the case of a family member, to process the traumatic military experience in a positive way.

So, who needs Vet Centers anyway? My answer is, “We all do.” Broadly speaking, it benefits everyone to have healthy, productive members within society. More importantly, Vet Centers impact the lives of our nation’s most honored heroes in a uniquely successful and integrative way. Since the late 1970s, Vet Centers have been quietly reassuring combat Veterans that they are safe, welcome, honored and understood. Today, thousands and thousands of visits later, Vet Centers are poised to continue to lead the way at VA in providing quality, uniquely meaningful, community-based mental health services to each generation of combat-affected families for years to come. That’s why we need Vet Centers. Because they are changing lives for the better without undue acclaim or attention.


David BrimmerDavid Brimmer is an Army combat Veteran who served as a Cavalry Scout from 2003-2011. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. He has been working at the Trenton Vet Center since January 2015.

 

 

 

 

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VAntagePoint Contributor

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Comments

  1. Sung Nohe    

    Atlanta VA Medical Center, is the recipient of the 2015 William S. Middleton Award. The award is VA’s highest honor for outstanding achievement in biomedical research.

  2. Neil Rappenecker    

    I recently went to a Vet Center in upstate New York. I wanted to find out what was offered. The first question was “are you a combat veteran”. No, but I served during the Cold War overseas for most of my 20+ years. There was no combat between the U.S. and the communist bloc and Russia. We were the first defense with other NATO countries. I was shocked; when told I couldn’t use the facility.
    What difference does it make if you’re combat or non combat? A VETERAN is a VETERAN no matter what!!! Once the Berlin wall came down. Desert Shield and Storm were the next missions. We were faced with preparing ammunition, rations, water, medical, uniforms etc. For shipping to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. For troop support. Without these items the military sent there wouldn’t have anything until supplies came from CONUS. While we weren’t physically in the combat zone. We were a very important integral factor for the launch of the war. So we were in the war. We also provided the protection of the wives and children in the housing areas and the installations. We put in 18 hour days with minimal sleep. It was no partytime in Germany. Is a clerk typist who’s not on the front lines any different than the we were. Yes he’s physically in the combat zone but didn’t see any action. Wouldn’t the soldiers be exposed to almost the same effects. Then have traumatic memories of their actions. Thus some couldn’t handle the situations, endless tiresome days performing their mission. The possibly other noncombat maladies! Or the possibility of later PTSD problems. So my point is in reality. We weren’t in the Middle East. But we made sure the soldiers received what was needed. The same as Vietnam. If you were on Okinawa loading bombs for destroying the enemy. They weren’t physically in Vietnam. It’s the same situation. Anybody helping to support the mission. No matter where you were should be able to utilize the vet centers.

  3. Cesar Texidor    

    These centers need to be manned by combat vets, and they need to be able bring in the wife who to be taught how to deal with our PTSD.

    Consider hiring Combat vets who are trained as PA’s and have a medical license to provide medication if needed. It can take months to go to regular VA were the wife is not welcomed.

    1. Dave Brimmer    

      Cesar, Many of us are combat vets. In my Vet Center, four of us are combat veterans and we staff three other veterans who have not deployed to a combat theater. We also have a couple really passionate and knowledgeable civilians working here as well. They are totally committed to assisting veterans. It’s great to have a variety of experiences and styles in a place like this, because not everyone who walks in is looking for the same thing.

      As far as Physician’s Assistants go, I can’t disagree with you on that one. What I will say is that any good clinician who is seeing a veteran at a Vet Center while that veteran is getting care from a VA Psychiatrist or a VA Physician will review and coordinate care as a part of that veteran’s “Veteran-Aligned Care Team.”

      Lastly, spouses of eligible veterans are welcomed and encouraged to come use the Vet Center. We even have groups specifically designed for them. The goal here is to treat the veteran as a whole person, not just a single aspect of themselves. We wouldn’t really be able to do that without being able to work with relationship issues.

      Thanks for your service and for your comments, brother!

  4. Jack Doan    

    I’m a combat Marine who spent over a year in Vietnam before being seriously wounded and med-evaced to the states. I spent over a year in Naval hospitals before being medically discharged and told to go to the VA. In short, the VA systems were grossly incapable of dealing with all of the veterans returning from RVN, especially in dealing with emotional and psychological effects of combat stressors. They resorted to medicating with drugs like thorazine, haldall and prolixin. They lacked an experienced staff to facilitate adjustment. I suffered the effects for over 35 years until 2005 when a fellow soldier directed me back into the VA medical system and Vet Center. My care has been great for the most part.

    The Vet Center counselor has helped me tremendously. My quality of life has improved exponentially because of their help and support over the last 10 years! It has also carried over to my family because they were involved in the initial stages of my re-adjustment therapy. I owe the Vet Center huge!!

  5. Cory Lockridge    

    I sure could have used this when I got out of the Navy in ’99. I was told that I wasn’t eligible for any benefits or anything at all from the VA. And who was I to argue or question a LCDR at the time? I have many, many issues after I got out and could have really used things like this. I’m glad it’s available and the word gets passed around via email and social media now. To the other Vets out there, use these benefits!! I sure wish I would have had access to them when I needed them!

    1. Dave Brimmer    

      Cory, it’s not too late. Visit this link to find your nearest Vet Center and they can verify your eligibility for services. http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/22365/needs-vet-centers-anyway/

      Of course, you may also qualify for VA Healthcare and may be eligible to receive counseling services through our medical centers. To check your eligibility for VA Healthcare, you can go to http://www.va.gov/opa/persona/index.asp for more information.

  6. Robert P. Ryan    

    Great article. Thank you. How do I find the VA Center nearest me? I live in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area (in the San Fernando Valley to be exact)?

    1. Gary Hicks    

      Robert, you can find your nearest Vet Center here http://www.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp. Also, if you back up a page or two, you can locate any VA facility by type by beginning here: http://www.va.gov/landing2_locations.htm.

  7. Pat jahnke    

    Will what if the veteran was told he/she told the veteran I can’t cc u NO MORE. Due u can’t control the pain. Which its nerve pain from a 2nd,3rd degrees burn which respark by meds for a va doc. They gave me the min narcotics drugs pull them when doc retired, va refused give any to help with pins and needles, at time ring of fire on ankle . seen many non doctors nurse what a bees, seen one using flip card to explain pain, never touch or look at leg. Got her degree from the computer , seen one told be hug a tree breath with a tree . it did not help with pain. So where is my help????? Today I can’t cc the doctor , nurse tell veteran whst to do buy over counter drugs give worse problem for the veterans

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