KRTV Great Falls: Veterans Center will be located in Helena

A new federal Veterans Center, which offers mental health and other counseling to military veterans, will be opening this fall in Helena.

The Helena center will be the fifth such facility in Montana, where veterans can visit and talk to professionals and other veterans about problems they’re facing adjusting to civilian life.

Centers already exist in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula, and Kalispell.

“One of the biggest advantage of Veterans Centers is veterans talking to vets, about challenges that they have,” U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) told reporters in a telephone interview Tuesday. “These are really opportunities where a veteran can walk in and see somebody … and (who) suffered some of the same problems and give these veterans some of the tools that they need, to get through times of crisis.”

Tester said he pushed to add $15 million to the U.S. Veterans Administration 2016 budget to expand the centers, and has been pushing for five years to add one in Helena.

Diane Carlson Evans, a Vietnam War veteran, said the addition of the Helena center is important, because many combat veterans and active-military personnel live in the Helena area.

Helena may have the VA Medical Center at Fort Harrison, but vets with mental-health problems don’t want to wait weeks or months to get an appointment, she said.

“This is just going to be such a huge improvement,” Evans said. “It will be one of those key things that will help prevent suicide.”

The location of the new facility has not yet been determined.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) said in a press release, “Our veterans deserve the best care possible, close to home and without delay. Rural veterans face a higher suicide rate – and it’s welcome news to see the VA prioritize our rural veterans. This new Helena Vet Center is an important step forward in halting the tragic issues they face and will provide our veterans with the care they need.”

U. S. Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT) noted, “I’m happy to see Helena-area veterans and active duty Guard and Reserve members will have greater access to readjustment counseling with a permanent Vet Center Outstation. These centers provide much needed services to help ease the sometimes turbulent transition from soldier to civilian. I still believe the VA has a lot of work to do to get on the right path but I’m glad to see they are upping their efforts to expand care in Montana.”