Special counseling for veterans will become available in John Day through the use of a Mobile Vet Center vehicle, which will arrive for its first visit May 23.
The RV-type vehicle will be at the John Day Elks Lodge from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to Greg Ford, the veteran outreach specialist at the Central Oregon Veteran Center in Bend. The vehicle will travel to John Day on the fourth Wednesday of each month until weather prevents travel, he said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Counseling Services maintains a fleet of 70 Mobile Vet Centers. Each vehicle provides confidential counseling space for direct service provision and features state-of-the-art satellite communications, Ford said.
The VA’s goal is to provide focused outreach to communities that do not meet the requirements for a brick-and-mortar vet center but where there are eligible veterans, service members and families in need of counseling services, Ford said.
“In many instances, these communities are distant from existing services and are considered rural or highly rural,” he said.
Counseling services will be made available to eligible combat veterans and their families and people who suffered military sexual trauma, in addition to bereavement counseling for family members who lost an active-duty service member, Ford said.
Bob Van Voorhis, an active supporter of local veterans in the John Day area, said he and John Day Elks Lodge members pushed hard for these services.
“It’s one of our guiding principles to help vets,” he said.
Van Voorhis said about 780 self-identifying veterans live in Grant County. If those who wish to maintain their privacy are included, the total is probably about 1,000, he said.
“About one third of vets live in rural areas,” he said.
Van Voorhis said the Mobile Vet Center service is new to Eastern Oregon and will make monthly trips to John Day, Burns and Christmas Valley. He said the program will be in transition this summer and could ramp up to include Ford, a nurse and a counselor, depending on participation by local veterans.
The service will help fill a void left after Steve Bull, the former director of the VA clinic in Burns, retired. Bull traveled to John Day on Wednesdays to meet with about a dozen veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The program ended after about two years when Bull left, and veterans were expected to travel to Burns or Boise, Idaho, for similar counseling.
Katee Hoffman, the Grant County Veteran Services Officer, called the Mobile Vet Center “a good idea.”
“The outreach will help,” she said. “Being at the Elks Lodge is good because the veterans are already comfortable going there.”
She noted that many veterans prefer counseling through Veterans Centers because they don’t share information with the VA.
“Many veterans want confidentiality,” she said.
Hoffman said she was looking into whether the Grant County People Mover could provide rides to the Mobile Vet Center when it comes to John Day for veterans living in Monument, Long Creek or other outlying areas.
Hoffman wanted to remind veterans her office has moved from the Grant County Courthouse to the L Building in John Day. Her new address is 530 E. Main St., Suite 5. The American flag will be flying outside when she’s in the office, she said.