MARTIN J. KIDSTON of the Montana Independent Record wrote an excellent article on 07/04/09 about how veterans in rural Montana who cannot travel for counseling will benefit from two new mobile treatment units.
This example should be replicated across the country!
Contact your representatives today and ask them to push legislation providing these benefits to all U.S. Veterans. Find your representatives contact information at http://www.congress.org
The units include private interview rooms and a satellite feed capable of linking up with a doctor’s office for live interviews.
“We can provide counseling outreach to those who have denied themselves service, whether it’s because they can’t get to us or because of the stigma attached to it,” said Alvie Penskin, a readjustment counseling technician with the Missoula mobile vet center.
While both centers received their vehicle several months ago, neither has the staff needed to fully operate the units.
The Billings center is close, waiting only for the counselor it has already hired. The Missoula center expects to hire a social worker in about a month. Once the hiring is done, the units will set out to market the service and establish a circuit around the state. The Billings center has already displayed its mobile center in Bozeman and Miles City. The Missoula center expects to showcase its unit in Hamilton and Libby in August.
“The point is to reach the veterans who are out in the remote areas of Montana,” said Dirk Robinson, a counselor at the Billings Vet Center. “Sometimes they get missed with the mental health issues. We want to reach the veterans who aren’t getting reached, and this will definitely help with that.”
The mobile units continue a push to deliver counseling and readjustment services to veterans living in remote areas of the state.
The Montana National Guard, along with the state’s congressional delegation, began making outreach care a top priority about three years ago by working harder to identify post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in its soldiers.
Since then, the state has been recognized as a national leader on the subject. The Montana National Guard has already revamped its post-deployment process, and, among other things, now requires troops to attend a mandatory counseling session upon returning from deployment.
With Montana being the fourth-largest state in the nation — and with one of the smallest populations — providing care to veterans in rural areas has long been a challenge. But in recent years, new efforts have chipped away at past problems to effect beneficial changes.
The new mobile counseling units, Robinson said, will continue that effort. The Billings-based counselor has seen his share of PTSD in soldiers, and he often assists those struggling to readjust to society after serving in a war zone.
“We as a state are doing a better job in getting our soldiers back and getting them the services they need,” Robinson said. “Everything makes a difference. The more resources we have for the veterans, the better off they are. Montana is doing a fairly good job of leading the way.”
The state’s congressional delegation has taken the fight to Washington as well. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a member of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, has pushed to bring health care to rural vets by allowing the VA to work with community mental-health centers in areas where the VA cannot provide such services.
Over in the House, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., has pushed to require soldiers to undergo sit-down mental health screenings before deploying for war. Doing so, Rehberg has said, would help improve treatment of PTSD by establishing a “before and after” picture of a soldier’s mental health.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., this month also announced legislation to provide mental-health screenings to returning combat troops in an effort to identify and treat PTSD. It was the 2006 suicide of a Helena soldier, who was a veteran of the Iraq war, which started the push for change in Montana.
“When I hear of young men and women whose life is ended too soon, or who have to silently battle behavioral health issues, it absolutely devastates me,” Baucus said. “I want every one of our brave servicemen and women to have access to the resources we have in Montana. If we can prevent just one needless tragedy, it will be worth it.”
The vet center in Billings covers eastern Montana to the North Dakota border. The center in Missoula covers an area extending from Great Falls and Havre to eastern Idaho.
The circuit taken by each mobile center has yet to be established, but both centers said the tours will likely evolve as the centers become known.
“The vehicles have a large amount of technology on board,” Penskin said. “It’s a completely secure system and you can do anything from the mobile centers that you can do to a fixed site.”
Care on the go
For more information on the mobile unit in western Montana, contact the Missoula Vet Center at 406-72.... For eastern Montana, contact the Billings Vet Center at 406-65....
Martin Kidston: 447-4086 or at firstname.lastname@example.org