Vet counseling center hits the road
By Amy Joi O'Donoghue
WEST VALLEY CITY — It's big, shiny and new, with all the bells and whistles of a recreational vehicle and then some.
But the Veterans Administration's mobile outreach van is more than an RV — it's a life-line for Utah veterans hindered by geography in getting the help they need.
VA services to veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, difficulty readjusting to marital life after a long military stint or depression and anxiety have been previously confined to the "institutional" walls of buildings.
That doesn't help veterans who may live in the rural outstretches of a state, from the farmlands of Wellsville in Cache County to the sagebrush and shale of Roosevelt.
The mobile outreach van made its official debut Friday morning in the parking lot of a West Valley City clinic and is one of 50 across the United States.
Ben Webster, a veteran who served in Afghanistan and has worked as a readjustment counselor the last two years, said the idea is to be more proactive in delivering services to veterans.
"There are a lot of veterans in their 40s who are working, who have young children, and an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule doesn't work for them in terms of getting help," he said. "We need to go to them."
The Veterans' Administration estimates that nationally, as many as two out three veterans are not in the "system" receiving benefits for which they are eligible or the medical or psychological help they need.
Dave Brown, with the Salt Lake City Vet Center and "just the driver," says the plan is to piggyback off the outreach already being done by veterans' services organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
"We're hoping this will facilitate a way for the veterans to find us and come to us," Brown said, adding that, too often, veterans may have a hard time reaching out, and if they decide to get help, they are unaware of how to find it.
"Readjustment services" were set up in the late 1970s at the admonition of a large contingent of mostly Vietnam War veterans and service organizations, Brown said.
"PTSD wasn't even a formal diagnosis" for a long time and went by a variety of names, depending on the era, such as shell shock or battle fatigue, he said.
"It always doesn't show up immediately," he said, adding that he knew of a Vietnam veteran who didn't experience symptoms until 35 years later.
"That is kind of the insidious nature of this problem," he said.
Ray Ross, also a licensed clinical social worker and the "team leader," said the mobile vet center will be on the road on a weekly basis, and next week plans are to have it available to a large battalion of returning National Guard members.
The beauty of the mobile center, too, is that it can be utilized in any local, state or national emergency in support of first-responder efforts. Three of the centers were deployed earlier this year to provide assistance to flood victims in the Dakotas.
If you, or someone you know is having difficulty "coming home from the war' do not hesitate to call for help. A good place to start is to call Ray Ross at the
Salt Lake Vet Center
1354 East 3300 South
Salt Lake, UT 84106
Normal working hours are 8:00am to 4:30pm Monday through Friday. In an effort to better serve the veteran and family members, upon request Vet Centers will provide services after normal work hours and/or on weekends.
For more information about the VA mobile vet center, call 800-613-4012, ext. 1294, or 800-246-1197.