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Featured Article - Helping Veterans Come Home: A Day at a Vet Center

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Helping Veterans Come Home: A Day at a Vet Center

Army Veteran and Alexandria Vet Center Team Leader Alice Ford standing in her office holding a baseball cap with the Vet Center logo. Alice Ford, Alexandria Vet Center Team Leader, like most of her staff, is an Army Veteran who knows how to listen.

Vet Center? What's a Vet Center?

A Vet Center is a place where Veterans who served in combat, or experienced trauma/harassment, can come for service. Family members of deceased service members can also receive bereavement counseling at Vet Centers.

There are 232 community based Vet Centers located in all fifty states, District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Here's a story about just one Vet Center — in Alexandria, Virginia.

(Part 1 of 3)

The first thing you notice is how friendly and welcoming everyone is.

At the Alexandria Vet Center, there are smiles everywhere and sincere greetings behind every door. Every Veteran is treated like family.

These are the people in the VA who welcome home war Veterans with honor by providing quality readjustment counseling in a caring manner. Team Leader Alice Ford, an Army Veteran, sets the positive tone that permeates the entire office with her quick smile and Alabama graciousness. "I love my job."

A photograph of the front of the Alexandria Vet Center. The Alexandria Vet Center is one street away from the main highway.

The Alexandria Vet Center is one street away from the main highway and feels new and clean and very organized; none of those dark halls and old linoleum floors. The impression for Veterans visiting for the first time is a sunny but serious, modern operation set up just for them, to help them handle coming home.

Vet Centers understand and appreciate Veterans' war experiences while assisting them and their family members toward a successful post-war adjustment in their community.

As Alice Ford puts it, "The Veterans gave so much. They deserve our help. It's an honor to assist them in every way I can."

A lot of people, and too many Veterans, don't know about Vet Centers or what they do.

That's the job of Hal Koster and Domonicque Tatum, outreach specialists at the Vet Center whose job it is to get the word out to as many Vets as possible.

The Vet Center Program was established by Congress in 1979 out of the recognition that a significant number of Vietnam era vets were still experiencing readjustment problems. Vet Centers are community based and part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

There is no cost for Vet Center readjustment counseling and no requirement for a disability rating.

Veteran and Outreach Specialist Domonicque Tatum provides Vet Center brochures and information to a male Veteran looking for assistance. Outreach Specialist Domonicque Tatum provides Vet Center brochures and information to a Veteran looking for assistance.

A Veteran Gets the Word Out to Veterans

Domonicque Tatum is the Vet Center's GWOT (Global War on Terrorism) outreach specialist. He takes his message to the streets, and malls and bus stations and anywhere else he thinks there may be Veterans needing help. A combat arms soldier who served a tour in Iraq, Domonicque knows how hard it can be - after leaving the Army, he was homeless and sleeping in the bus station.

He does a great deal of work with the Yellow Ribbon Program, TAPs (Transition Assistance Program, PDHRA (Post Deployment Health Reassessment), and various social networking and informational events at local universities.

Domonicque says, "I inform the troops of the services available to them from our local vet center and all vet centers nationally. These services include, but are not limited to, offering group and individual counseling to combat and sexual trauma victim Veterans."

"We help them with issues such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, substance related problems, and any other issues that the Veteran or their families may be facing."

He takes a personal approach to meeting the Veterans where they are in their current life situation. This means helping guide them through life situations such as homelessness, occupational issues from unemployment to under-employment, social adjustment issues, health care, as well as compensation and pension advice and support.

"I pride myself on being not only the voice and face of the Vet Center, but also a resource and referral contact for all of my brothers and sisters in arms who may have a need for assistance or just the listening ear of someone whom has been there. This is something that I love to do and that I intend to continue to do as long as there are soldiers in need."

Vet Center locations are listed on the VA website. Check the Vet Centers web site for more information.

Referrals to Vet Center staff are also possible by calling 1-866-650-1030 during normal business hours.

References:

Yellow Ribbon Program: http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_info/ch33/yellow_ribbon.htm

Post-Deployment Health Reassessment Program: http://www.pdhealth.mil/dcs/pdhra.asp

Next story: A Day at a Vet Center: A Safe Place to Talk

By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer

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