Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Carolyn S. Hebenstreich, Veterans Service Officer, Stanislaus County Department of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Chairman and members of the Sub-Committee, thank you for the invitation to appear before you to discuss Veterans VET Centers. I am a certified Veterans Service Representative for Stanislaus County, and have been serving Veterans in this County for more than twenty-two years. Prior to coming here, I worked for the VA Medical Center in Livermore, CA, for approximately twelve years, serving in several different positions.
At the time I was hired as a Veterans Representative, I was aware of Vet Centers, but did not have much information about them. In 1989 when I took this position, the closest Vet Centers were in Fresno, CA, and Concord, CA, both over 80 miles from here. The closest VA Medical Center was over fifty miles from here in Livermore, CA. The Vet Center in Concord did contract with counselors in Stockton, CA, and for a while, even sent some to our VSO here in Modesto. Around 1993 I started requesting to have a Vet Center located here in Modesto to help our Veterans, as we were filing numerous claims for PTSD. The VAMC Palo Alto opened a clinic here in Modesto with mental health availability around 1995-1996, but they were extremely overloaded, and getting an appointment there was very difficult. The Concord Vet Center began contracting with someone in Modesto to see our Veterans: although it was helpful, it was not as helpful as a real Vet Center would have been. Needless to say, we in Stanislaus County are very grateful to finally have a Vet Center established here. It is a tremendous asset to our Veterans, and the Counselors are always willing to go the extra mile to assist our Veterans and their families.
After working with VAMC’s, VA Regional Offices, and Vet Centers for many years, I still find one major thing that does not happen within the Veterans Administration: COMMUNICATION. Whether it be Federal, State, or County government, we are here to serve Veterans, and we need to communicate about our services to each other, as well as to our Veterans and their dependents.
I believe the VAMCs could do a better job working with the Vet Centers. I personally have had Veterans here in my own County be put on Fee Service contracts for PTSD counseling, instead of being referred to the local Vet Center. I truly think this is all due to lack of communication.
Please understand, I have been serving Veterans for over thirty-five years, and I have seen the VA change for the better in many ways, and I applaud them for making these changes to improve their service to our Veterans. But, the VA still needs to do more in the way of communication, and becoming ONE VA.
Thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you.