New veterans’ counseling centers welcome and needed

The Great Falls Tribune

by Editorial

It’s one thing to set up an advanced program to screen and, when necessary, treat returning veterans for mental issues stemming from their service.

It’s another to provide additional facilities to make that program work. Montana, fortunately, is poised to have both.

In the past year, the programs Montana established to assist National Guard soldiers returning from theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq have become models for nationwide programs aimed at detecting problems and providing a safety net for the returning veterans — including those with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, both of which are occurring with increasing regularity in the present wars.

Now comes news that Montana will get two new Veterans Administration counseling centers, one in Great Falls and the other in Kalispell.

Such centers already operate in Missoula and Billings, and both reportedly are overloaded.

Sen. Jon Tester, DMont., and Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger requested the additional centers in a meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki last December.

“This is great news for Montana’s veterans,” Tester said last week.

“These new vet centers will help veterans in Great Falls, Kalispell and surrounding communities access valuable and vital services closer to home.”

Details about the new centers’ staffing and budget levels were not immediately available, but anything would be better than the present levels in those communities.

Nationwide, the VA operates 232 communitybased counseling centers that are staffed by small multi-disciplinary teams of providers — many of them combat vets themselves.

Such centers provide readjustment counseling, mental health screening, assistance with disability claims, and other services to combat veterans.

They also conduct community outreach for family and employment issues and provide bereavement counseling for families of service members killed on active duty.

All of the services provided by the centers are free to vets and their families.

The new centers, which will double the number of centers in Montana, are important and welcome additions to the services extended to our returning war veterans.