New Vet Center in Swansea aims to help clients adjust to civilian life, tackle mental health
Belleville News-Democrat - 5/28/2019
May 28-- May 28--SWANSEA -- A newly relocated Vet Center aims to provide more mental health and social services to veterans in Southern Illinois.
The newly relocated Metro East Vet Center, which was formerly located in Caseyville, is set to officially open at 228 West Pointe Drive in Swansea on Friday. Director Elizabeth Bennett said the new location is an opportunity to serve more veterans in need in the area.
Vet Centers, which are located nationwide and are funded by but separate of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. offer a gambit of mental health and social services for veterans and their families, including counseling, outreach, referral services all free-of-charge. That includes help with post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma, bereavement counselings and suicide prevention.
Bennett said two major issues the center has tackled in its 34 year past in the metro-east are preventing suicide and dealing with sexual trauma sustained during service.
According to the VA, 20 veterans kill themselves every day. In 2016, the VA reported 162 veterans had killed themselves in Illinois.
Bennett said she hopes the new center will bring in more veterans looking for help. The building's former location the center had operated out for decades was less than half the size of the new locations 5,200 square foot building.
The space offers room to do more than everyday counseling with a therapy garden, space for Tai-Chi, meditation, yoga and more. Group sessions will also be able to grow, as the building has more room for larger meetings.
A "Difficult Transition"
Bennett said counseling activities can play a huge part in healing after military service.
"It's a difficult transition after you've been in combat or been deployed to someplace," she said. "You have a lot of responsibility -- life and death responsibilities at times."
She said leaving the military can have a huge effect on veterans both short and long term. With more time on their hands, they have time to reflect on their service.
"We want to welcome home our veterans and help them make a successful transition from military to civilian life in areas such as PTSD, relationship issues, and employment assistance," Bennett said. " We offer veterans an opportunity to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma."
In 2018, the center had more than 6,800 visits from veterans. In 2016, there were 665,968 veterans living in Illinois. The center also has a hub at Scott Air Force Base, but Bennett said many active-duty military and veterans visited the Caseyville location.
Two other Vet Centers in the region are located in St. Louis and Springfield, Illinois.
Helping veterans readjust to civilian life is a major part of the work at the center, Readjustment Counselor Matthew Rabbitt said. Rabbitt served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the 90s. He, along with the center's many other counselors, are almost all veterans.
He said working with veterans to reacclimate with their everyday life is an important step in life after service.
"It can be quite a challenge," Rabbitt said, "readjusting to civilian life."
Many Services Offered
Bennett said, however, that older generations of veterans also seek help. She said as they grow older and have more time to reflect on their service, they too look for help processing the realities of war.
She added Southern Illinois provides a mixed bag of young and old, those who need serious mental help or just need help finding a job after being discharged. Being flexible is a major part of the center's repertoire.
"We treat the whole gauntlet," Rabbitt added, noting that the center goes beyond counseling and into social work as well. The center often helps veterans with VA claims, legal issues and more.
But there are limitations, the center doesn't have a psychiatrist and can't help veterans with medical issues or those who are fully suicidal. In those cases, the center does make sure those individuals get the help they need.
Another challenge, Bennett said is out of the center's hands, is the stigma that can surround getting help. She said that, however, is something that veterans share with civilians.
"A lot of things you see military people go through you see civilians go through too," Bennett said. "People don't want to come in and seek mental health because some see it as a weakness. That's true for the military as well.
The center takes walk-ins and appointments. Bennett said any veteran who visits the center can be seen by a counselor.
Veterans who are looking for confidential assistance also can call the Vet Center Call Center at 1-877-927-8237, a line to talk about readjusting to civilian life and their military experience.
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