Good Afternoon Chairwoman Buerkle, Ranking Member Michaud, and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the invitation to discuss the Modesto Vet Center’s efforts to provide the best care possible to, not only our Central Valley Veterans, but also to those who are discharged from active duty and move to different parts of the United States.
I am a 13 year Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I have served in areas such as the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I was introduced to the Vet Center by my father, who is a Vietnam Veteran and a Vet Center client. I also have other relatives and friends that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan who use Vet Center services. I have seen firsthand the difference the Vet Centers have made in their lives. I believe in the Vet Center’s mission, and what VA officials do for Veterans who have experienced trauma, and for their families, who want to be there to offer support.
VHA’s Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) has implemented initiatives to ensure that Veterans have access to Vet Center services. Following the onset of the current hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Vet Center program hired 100 Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF), and later Operation New Dawn (OND), Veteran Outreach Specialists to proactively contact their fellow returning Veterans at military installations across the country. Veterans such as myself, with military and combat experience, provide an instant connection to returning Servicemembers, making it easier to build rapport, overcome stigma, earn trust, and ultimately engage in discussions about access and referral to services.
In my role as outreach specialist, I proactively seek out my fellow Veterans where they are in the community. This usually includes participation in a variety of Federal, State, or locally organized Veteran-related events or actually going to places Veterans and Servicemembers frequent, such as their Unit Armories or area Universities. I also ensure that the family members of eligible Veterans are aware of the services that the Vet Center can provide. I have worked closely with other VA programs, such as Vocational Rehabilitation, VHA Enrollment, and Homeless Veterans Programs, in hopes that any Veteran attending an outreach event can receive information and referral to all VA services.
The Modesto Vet Center also has access to the Mobile Vet Center Program. Mobile Vet Centers provide early access to returning combat Veterans via outreach at a variety of military and community events. The vehicles extend Vet Center outreach to more rural and highly rural communities that are isolated from existing VA services. Furthermore, the vehicles are a part of the VHA’s Emergency Response to leverage readiness in times of national and local emergencies. Each Mobile Vet Center has space for private counseling and is equipped with a state-of-the-art satellite communications package that includes fully encrypted teleconferencing equipment, access to all VA systems and connectivity to emergency response systems.
The Modesto Vet Center has used local Mobile Vet Centers at various events such as homeless Veteran stand downs. In another instance, Mobile Vet Centers and staff provided outreach and referral to more than 1500 returning members of the Idaho National Guard after a recent combat deployment.
Finally, Veterans and family members have access to the Vet Center Combat Call Center or 1-877-WAR-VETS. It is an around-the-clock, confidential call center where eligible combat Veterans and their families can call to talk about their military experience or any other issue they are facing in their readjustment to civilian life. The staff is comprised of combat Veterans and family members of combat Veterans, from several eras. This benefit is earned through the Veteran’s military service.
The Call Center, which opened in 2009, is the product of VA leveraging technology to condense a national system of toll free numbers into a single modern center located in Denver, CO. Call Center staff has state-of-the-art technology to provide warm handoffs to the VA National Crisis Hotline, the National Caregivers Support Hotline, and the Dayton VA Primary Care Triage Hotline when medical care is needed.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify. I am prepared to answer any of your questions.