Helena Vet Center is getting a permanent home

by Helena IR, Tom Kuglin

A community mental health and transitions services resource for combat veterans will open its new permanent home in Helena in the next few weeks.

The Helena Vet Center has operated temporarily from the Helena Job Service building, 715 Front St., providing individual, group, couples and family therapy to combat veterans. The center also offers bereavement for military families and substance abuse services, as well as treatment for military related sexual assault.

On Friday, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced that the new Helena Vet Center is expected to open by the end of December at 1301 Elm St.

“Montana veterans, transitioning service members and their families rely on Vet Centers for mental health care treatment and counseling,” Tester said in a statement. “The Helena area has one of the highest populations of veterans in Montana, and I’m encouraged that these brave men and women will soon be able to access these services closer to home.”

Eric F. Kettenring, a licensed clinical professional counselor and vet center director, says the center is open to any combat veteran who wants to seek services in a community setting, rather than the VA center.

“The cool thing is that any combat veteran, any vet that served on the field of battle, can walk through the door and say they’d like to talk, and we’ll do our best to help them,” he said, clarifying that counseling does not require a doctor’s prescription.

The vet center has operated temporarily from the job service for at least five years, mostly through counselors coming from Missoula or Great Falls, he said. In August 2016, Kettenring moved to Helena to work full-time, providing direct services so far to about 45 veterans and working with more than 100 this year.

“It’s an issue that from my experience there are many, many combat veterans in our community of Helena and some are struggling with PTSD, depression and anxiety from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan that would like to seek services in their community,” he said.

Staffing at the new center will include an office manager and Kettenring. Based on productivity, there is potential for adding another counselor, and the new center is complete with two counseling rooms.

The centers are also unique in that they typically hire combat veterans, Kettenring said.

Kettenring did not have an exact opening date for the new center but said he expects it to open by early in the new year. In the meantime, the center remains open from its temporary home.

Those interested in seeking services can call 475-0816.