VA to open counseling center in Great Falls

The Great Falls Tribune

by Eric Newhouse

The Veterans Administration agreed to open new veteran centers in Great Falls and Kalispell, doubling the number of such counseling cen¬ters in Montana.

Billings and Missoula currently have vet centers that vets say are overloaded.

“They have more work than they have room or people,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Along with Montana’s Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, Tester made the request for the new vet centers in a face-to-face meeting last December with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

“This is great news for Montana’s veterans,” said Tester, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “These new vet centers will help veterans in Great Falls, Kalispell and surrounding communi¬ties access valuable and vital services closer to home.”

Congress added $12 million specifically for vet centers across the nation in its 2009 funding bill, said Tester aide Aaron Murphy. He said no one knows how large the vet cen¬ters will be, the size of their budgets, or the number of counselors they will employ.

“Shinseki heard from me and from other folks that the vets in rural America need additional help, and he stepped up to the plate to provide two additional vet centers in Mon¬tana,” Tester said.

The VA currently operates a sys¬tem of 232 community-based coun¬seling centers. The vet centers are staffed by small multi-disciplinary teams of providers, many of whom are combat vets themselves.

Vet centers provide readjustment counseling, mental health screening, assistance with disability claims, and other services to combat veterans. Centers also conduct com¬munity outreach on family and employment issues and provide bereavement counseling for families of service members killed on active duty.

All services are free to vets and their families.