Tester tours new veterans counseling center

Great Falls Tribune

by Peter Johnson

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., on Friday toured the veterans counseling center he helped place in Great Falls, and liked what he saw.

He visited with a dozen or so veterans in the office that opened Oct. 24 at 615 2nd Ave. S.

Veteran Roger Flatt said he was at the center for his regular counseling session.

“We vets can use all the help we can get,” he said.

Army veteran Bert Dowell showed Tester and his veterans’ liaison a big stack of paperwork extending back to the Vietnam War. He said he is trying to get more help for post traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s helped to come to this center for counseling, and to talk to other veterans who’ve gone through the same problems,” he said later. Tester thanked the veterans for using the facility and urged them to have other veterans come to the center.

“These offices are here for you folks who served our country, came back and maybe need counseling help for what you went through,” he said. “It’s something you can’t always do by yourself. We want to help you get reintegrated back into society.”

Tester, a member of the Senate Veterans Affair Committee, pushed to get two of the nations’ 28 new vet centers placed in Great Falls and Kalispell last year, and also won approval for new VA clinics, which provide medical care, in Lewistown, Havre, Cut Bank and Libby, bringing the number of such clinics in the sprawling state to 14.

He also raised the reimbursement rate from 11 cents a mile to 41.5 cents per mile for veterans traveling for medical treatment at the state’s veterans hospital at Fort Harrison near Helena, or to the veterans clinics. Tester said he will try to extend the mileage compensation to veterans travelling to vet centers for counseling, such as the one in Great Falls. Veterans currently receive no compensation for driving to counseling centers.

The Great Falls veterans center already has a caseload of 140 combat veterans, who come in for regular PTSD counseling and some marital counseling, office manager Tony Figarelle said. The center employs two mental health counselors.

Team coordinator and counselor Christine King said she also provides counseling outreach to about 20 veterans twice a month on the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, and will start doing counseling this spring for about 40 veterans at Heart Butte on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.