Veterans find assistance, camaraderie at Vet Centers


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At rows of tables in a packed community center, nearly five dozen Veterans smiled and swapped stories over a potluck meal. The Veterans spanned generations, from Vietnam, Cold War, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. Donning Veteran ball caps and jackets with their spouses nearby, the group swelled to about 100.

After the meal, hands shot up during a drawing. Shouts of “BINGO!” during the raffle brought laughs from the crowd. As Veterans heard their winning ticket called, Fayetteville Vet Center staff brought prizes to smiling Veterans. After the raffle, there were pats on the back and talking with old friends and meeting new ones. Two Veterans donning Marine Corps hats came together to talk for the first time, asking the other what unit the Marine served in.

This scene from the annual Christmas luncheon put on by the Fayetteville Vet Center Dec. 13 is typical of the camaraderie Veterans experience when they engage with any center, said Ed Clark from the Fayetteville Vet Center in North Carolina.

Vet Center servicesButton to find a Vet Center.

Congress established Vet Centers in 1979 because a significant number of Vietnam combat and era Veterans were not accessing VA services at the same levels as Korean and World War II Veterans. Over the past 40 years, Veterans have used Vet Centers as a place for assistance as well as camaraderie.

Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers. They provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling. Eligible Veterans, active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families can use the services.

Vet Center staff offers readjustment counseling to make a successful transition from military to civilian life or after a traumatic event experienced in the military. Staff offer individual, group, marriage and family counseling in addition to referral and connection to other VA or community benefits and services.

Vet Center counselors and outreach staff are many times Veterans themselves. Experienced staff can discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma.

One of the main benefits at Vet Centers is confidential readjustment counseling services. Clients can receive confidential readjustment counseling services at 300 Vet Centers, 80 mobile Vet Centers, numerous outstations and community access points as well as 24/7 through the Vet Center Call Center. More than 2,000 staff are ready to assist eligible Veterans, active duty service members and their families with a wide range of services, ranging from socioeconomic concerns to dealing with the trauma associated with war, sexual assault and psychological injury.

Impact

Veterans talk at the Christmas luncheon put on by the Fayetteville Vet Center Dec. 13, 2019.

Veterans talk at the Christmas luncheon put on by the Fayetteville Vet Center Dec. 13, 2019.

Howard Cunningham is one of those Veterans the Vet Center serves. Cunningham served in Vietnam from 1965-1968 and 1969-1972 with the 101st Airborne Division. He saw numerous fatalities during four and a half years of combat. Cunningham came in at the urging of a friend.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong,” Cunningham said. “Then I saw my first counselor. I began to see what everyone else saw.”

Cunningham has attended weekly group therapy sessions since 2002.

“I can deal with the rest of the week,” he said. “I’m with people who have gone through the same thing.”

Veterans often feel this sense of camaraderie, said Amy Meek, a readjustment counselor at Fayetteville. Meek, who’s been at the Vet Center for over 12 years, said Veterans continue to go so long because they develop strong relationships and the groups become like a family.

Most Vet Centers offer services at multiple locations. For example, the Fayetteville Vet Center resides just outside Fort Bragg, but offers group counseling at multiple locations within a 50-mile radius.

The results show

One Vietnam Veteran came up to Clark unsolicited. He told the story of the first time he came into the Fayetteville Vet Center.

Following a self-described “bad day,” the Veteran disappeared. His wife, worried the Veteran may harm himself, started making frantic calls. The Veteran walked into the Fayetteville Vet Center. A counselor stopped him and said he looked like he was having a rough day. The counselor poured two cups of coffee, talking to the Veteran for hours. In summation, the Veteran was point blank in the outcome that day.

“She saved my life.”

Author

Adam Stump

Adam Stump is a public affairs specialist with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He is a retired Air Force Veteran who served 20 years, including two deployments to Afghanistan for detention operations and special operations.

Comments

  1. Zang David A.    

    I have a friend who served on active duty got 23 years but the VaA says he earns too much money to receiving medical care. How can he obtain VA medical benefits?

  2. Rick Russell    

    How awesome the story. I’m a Navy Vet and I volunteer at Sonoma County Vet Connect every Tuesday in Santa Rosa, California. 100% non profit and all veteran volunteers. We offer a wide variety of services and help those vets who choose to live homeless, God PTSD sucks. I’m proud to be able to help my fellow vets even if it’s just a free lunch or haircut or trying to get service related benefits.

  3. James wilson    

    Need location of. center in Tampa fl

    1. Tammi    

      Hi James,
      I used the search button above and found this one in Tampa.

      Facility type: Vet Center
      3637 West Waters Avenue
      Suite 600
      Tampa, FL 33614
      Main Number:
      813-228-2621

      There are also centers in Clearwater, Lakeland and surrounding area. Hope this helps.

  4. Marguerite Gallegos    

    Good morning, I am a retired veteran and I am trying to go back to school but my VA Counselor keeps giving me the run around why I don’t qualify for Chapter 31. Isn’t it my benefit to go back to school? Why should I have to keep fighting a counselor for this benefit?

  5. Jim Briggs    

    I have been going to group sessions for at least for less then a year now. It is the best thing for me now being relaxed around people, in the last 55 years. If you go to a Vet Center, Please get in with a good group you will love it. Start 2020 off in the right direction and help yourself. I feel great now, coming out of that shell, It’s been 55 years now. I’m going on 77 years of age this month, Now I’m starting to feel like I wont to enjoy my years.

  6. Vincent A Escala    

    I have written already , why you reapet the dame questions ???

  7. Vincent A Escala    

    I have a hard time trying to get a social number for my wife , see is a foreigner ecuadorian. I live in Ecuador South America and the US Consulate give no service for veterans , they reffered me to Consulate in Santo Domingo and they give not any help. Please tell me who could help me. VA advertize about help of American consulates overseas, but NOBODY CARES ABOUT US VETERANS.
    Please give me a TRUE HELP

    Vincent A Escala

    1. Elizabeth Parham    

      Mr Escala,
      If your wife isn’t a naturalized US citizen, She’s not going to get a social security number. If she has a green card , they have a different number.

      If you’re having trouble with the Consulate near you, call to make an appointment. Getting a social security number doesn’t depend on your status as a veteran, it’s connected to you being an American.

      If she’s never been to the US at all, then that’s going to require a passport and a visa for her, which can take time.
      I don’t know if she would need to go to the US to get a social security number.

      Try going online to ssa.gov That’s the Social Security website. You may be able to find what you need there, as well as ways to contact them.

      I hope this helps – I’m a veteran, and I worked in the passenger terminal, so I’ve had some experience with citizenship documents and passports. I make no guarantee, but I wish you the best.

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