Veterans’ service center moves into permanent location in Helena

by KTVH, Jonathon Ambarian

HELENA – Almost 100 people gathered in Helena Friday for the official grand opening of a center to provide support for local veterans.

The Helena Vet Center held a ribbon cutting at its new permanent location, 1301 Elm St. It marks the end of a years-long effort to bring these services to the area.

Vet Centers are community-based service centers, under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Readjustment Counseling. They offer a wide range of services for eligible veterans, including mental health counseling, outreach and advocacy.

“We just try to meet the veteran where they are and help them find resources,” said Eric Kettenring, the Helena Vet Center’s director.

Helena is the fifth city in Montana with a Vet Center. Leaders said they have been working for years to make the center a reality.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester spoke at the grand opening. He credited advocates like Maj. Gen. Gene Prendergast, Montana’s former adjutant general, for consistently bringing attention to the Vet Center issue.

“He’d say, ‘You know what? Helena’s got more veterans than anywhere else, and we don’t have a Vet Center, and we need one,'” Tester said.

Tester said he was honored to be able to see the Vet Center arrive at a permanent site.

“It’s a great step in the right direction, and I think that the number of people that are here today speaks to that fact,” he said.

Representatives from Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte’s offices were also on hand for Friday’s celebration.

The Vet Center has been operating in Helena for more than a year, but in a temporary office at the Helena Job Service building. Last year, the center received about 1,000 visits from local veterans.

Kettenring said having a permanent location will help them reach many more veterans across the Helena area.

“Having a Vet Center is really important because it creates a space, it creates community for our nation’s combat veterans and the victims of military sexual trauma,” he said. “It’s really important to just have that space where you can create community.”

Leaders say Montana has one of the highest per capita populations of veterans in the United States.