EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 24, 2013

Region could get its own Vet Center

By Douglas Moser

---- — The area could be moving closer to a Vet Center that would offer counseling services to veterans and their families.

A counselor from the Boston Vet Center will hold an outreach and counseling session at 112A East Haverhill St. in Lawrence on Monday starting at 9 a.m.

The session is a trial run for a potential expansion of service out of the Boston Vet Center, laying the groundwork for having a counselor regularly available for the Lawrence and Methuen area.

“If enough people show up, he might stay longer, or reschedule for another Monday,” said Greg Debroke, a claims officer with the Lawrence chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and a Vietnam veteran. He and Don Silva, another claims officer with DAV, had been coordinating with the Boston Vet Center to bring a counselor to Lawrence or Methuen.

Jamie Melendez, the Lawrence Veterans Services officer, said he also has been in contact with Boston, and has been talking with the Lowell Vet Center about the possibility of having a counselor from there assigned part time to Lawrence.

“I definitely agree we need to have one here for the simple reason of the challenges for our veterans with transportation,” he said. “We should have one here, we need one and we definitely have the veterans population here who would use it.”

Vet Centers provide nonclinical counseling services by veterans for veterans and their families and are operated by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. They differ from outpatient clinics, like the one in Haverhill, because they can see veterans who have been accepted into the VA medical program but who are waiting to be assigned clinical counselor.

Veterans who are accepted into the VA medical program and need mental health treatment often wait more than a year before getting assigned to a counselor. Vet Centers can fill that gap with nonclinical counseling sessions. The nearest Vet Center is in Lowell.

The need for the centers has grown over the years with veterans from the 12-year war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, which began just over 10 years ago and ended in December 2011, getting diagnoses and needing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other issues.

At the same time, veterans from past wars still need counseling and treatment, some of them admitting it for the first time decades after their service.

Veterans suicides have spiked since 2005, as multiple combat tours took a toll on members of the armed services.

In an attempt to address the sharp increase, the VA announced last month that it has hired more than 1,000 new mental health clinical providers since last year, when retired general Eric Shinseki, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, set a goal of hiring 1,600 in total. In August, President Obama ordered that the positions be filled by June 30.

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