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Fri, Feb. 21

Vet Center makes a difference in lives of combat veterans

PRESCOTT ‹ In 1979, Vietnam veterans created a legacy that reaches out to all U.S. combat vets.

Those vets testified before Congress that the Veteran's Administration was not meeting all of their needs, especially in the area of mental health.

That testimony resulted in Congress directing the VA to establish storefront counseling centers where Vietnam veterans could receive peer, vet-to-vet, counseling.

The Vet Center was born.

Originally, the VA established Vet Centers for Vietnam vets suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related illnesses. Today, Vet Centers assist all combat veterans who served in a war zone. Vet Centers also expanded services to include sexual trauma, no matter where it happened.

The Prescott Vet Center opened in 1985.

Team leader Ken Hall said the Vet Center provides readjustment counseling to military personnel returning from a "war zone. We call in 'boots on the ground.' They must have physically been in a combat area. The Prescott VA hospital provides services to those vets we cannot see."

Hall said more than 5,000 combat veterans have utilized the services of the Vet Center mental health team since 1991. The center provides only outpatient counseling.

"If a vet needs intense, in-patient counseling, we refer them to the VA hospital," Hall said.

Vet Center services are available at no cost to combat veterans from all branches of the military.

Hall said help begins with one-on-one counseling and expands into group therapy when the time is right. Vet Center counselors may also suggest marriage/partner and/or family counseling.

The Vet Center also offers bereavement counseling to families of soldiers killed while on active duty.

Fortunately for the veterans, there is no time limit on receiving help. Hall said some problems might not show up for years. Life stressors, such as divorce, death, retirement or health issues, could activate mental health problems.

Things are different for today's combat veterans.

"What is different? This is different," Hall said referring to the Vet Center. "Today's military is the best trained and the best prepared, and everyone is aware 'that ain't enough.'"

No one comes home from combat unchanged and the Vet Center is there to help veterans readjust to civilian life. It is not always easy. Sometimes the veterans themselves do not know why they are doing certain things or reacting inappropriately to everyday events.

Vet Center Counselor Norm Hummel said PTSD is like diabetes in that "it doesn't go away. We aim to diminish its intensity and frequency to improve quality of life. We can provide hope. The sooner a vet seeks help the better the outcome."

Hummel said Vietnam combat vets could be proud that they are the generation that "kicked off Vet Centers. They are having a profound impact on the young men and women of today."

Even counselors need help.

At the Vet Center, clinical consultant Don Ostendorf tries to help the staff members "meet and understand the needs of their clients. I don't see the clients. I support the staff. I help them think through cases by providing another set of eyes. Sometimes it is helpful to bring in a different perspective."

The Prescott Vet Center provides services to combat veterans in Northern Arizona. In addition to counseling, services include alcohol/drug assessment, benefit assistance and referral, job referral, employment counseling, community education, community agency referrals, liaison with other VA services, contract therapy in outlying areas and information about veterans organizations.

Vet Center counselors are vets also and combat veterans have the opportunity to work with a counselor who is a "theater vet," said Hummel.

With American flags lining the hallway and military memorabilia on shelves and lining the walls, the Vet Center is a welcoming place for all combat veterans.

The Vet Center is at 161 S. Granite Street in downtown Prescott.

Any combat vet who wants more information can contact Hall, Hummel or office manager Catherine Brinnon at 778-3496.

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