New vets center OK'd for Kalispell

The Daily Inter Lake

by Jim Mann

Kalispell and Great Falls will be getting new Veterans Centers, with the U.S. Veterans Administration recently approving requests from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

"This is great news for Montana's veterans," said Tester, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "These new vet centers will help veterans in Great Falls, Kalispell and surrounding communities access valuable and vital services closer to home."

Tester made the requests, along with Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, in a recent face-to-face meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

The effort to expand services in Montana 'started 2 1/2 years ago when we started going around the state talking with vets," Tester said.

Montana now has centers in Missoula and Billings.

"But there are lots of vets living up in the northwest part of the state and in central Montana," Tester said. "It's pretty clear those two areas could use some help."

He noted that the Veterans Centers are different from veteran medical hospitals and clinics. The centers provide readjustment counseling, mental health screening, assistance with disability claims and other services to combat veterans. Centers also conduct community outreach on family and employment issues and provide bereavement counseling for families of service members killed in active duty.

The new centers already are funded through the 2009 budget for the Veterans Administration, Tester said.

"Now it's about getting action on the ground," he said, adding that he will be pushing for opening the new centers within the next year.

Tester is the author of the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which is aimed at enhancing services for veterans in less-populated areas of the country. Tester expects the legislation to improve care for more than 100,000 veterans living in Montana.

The bill has cleared the Veterans Affairs Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.