Mobile Vet Centers: Reaching Out in Rural Areas

November 16, 2009 at 11:23am

When a VA Vet Center is miles from your home, it’s a long drive to access its many services. When those services come to you on wheels, life gets a little more convenient.

The Mobile Vet Centers (MVCs) of Dept. of Veterans Affairs provide readjustment counseling and information resources to Veterans across the country. Like community-based Vet Centers, Mobile Vet Centers focus on services that help Veterans make the difficult transition between military and civilian life.
The Mobile Vet Center based out of Fresno made its presence at the Oakhurst Stand Down in Sonora, Calif., in September.The Mobile Vet Center based out of Fresno made its presence at the Oakhurst Stand Down in Sonora, Calif., in September.
The 50 motorized vehicles – resembling super-sized recreational vehicles – are driven to far-reaching rural areas to provide Veterans with services such as counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma, bereavement counseling, marriage and family counseling, and resources like VA benefits information and suicide prevention referrals.

On the Road: Outreach in Idaho…and Oregon

The Vet Center in Boise, Idaho, acquired a Mobile Vet Center last March. Since then, the MVC staff has traveled to each of the 44 counties in its coverage area and attended various crowd-filled community events. Each trip has helped expand visibility and familiarity with VA services to Veterans residing in Idaho and eastern Oregon.

The value of the MVCs continues to increase as more Veterans discover the vital resources and support provided by readjustment counselors. “On an average day, we see four or five Veterans for readjustment counseling,” said Dennis Udlinek, readjustment counselor assigned to the Boise Mobile Vet. These numbers vary depending on the daily travel schedule.

At a recent Stand Down for Veteran Homelessness, the staff at the MVC saw nearly 100 Veterans, with 45 attending counseling sessions.

The MVC has a commitment to reach as many of the 135,000 Veterans in the area as possible by visiting those clients who currently travel long distances to receive counseling services at the Vet Center in Boise.

“In this area, Veterans travel about 130 miles to see us biweekly or monthly, so we’re traveling out to do more stuff where they live,” said Terry Tippery, Team Leader at the Boise Center.

Counseling sessions are made possible with WiFi, fax, DVD and videoconferencing equipment in each Mobile Vet Center.Counseling sessions are made possible with WiFi, fax, DVD and videoconferencing equipment in each Mobile Vet Center.Veteran Bryan Handerson started attending counseling services at the Boise Vet Center last summer. He would drive more than 2½ hours roundtrip to attend these sessions. Now that the Mobile Vet Center is on the road, Handerson has been able to meet with his counselor in his hometown of Weiser, saving him time and travel expenses.

“The Mobile Vet is an excellent idea. It’s certainly been handy and I doubt I would have continued my sessions if I had to drive to Boise every other week,” said Handerson.

Veterans Helping Veterans

Jesse Davis made use of Mobile Vet Services in a different way. He came to the Vet Center in Morgantown, W. Va., for employment assistance and was promptly hired as the driver for their Mobile Vet Center.

Davis’ experience as a seven-ton truck driver in the Marine Corps helped him qualify to drive the 38-foot long Mobile Vet vehicle. Since his employment, Davis has traveled to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., to help Veterans with VA information and referrals.

He greatly enjoys helping Veterans, especially because he can relate to the challenges of transitioning into civilian life. “The more Veterans I’m around, the more my confidence goes up. And the more my confidence goes up, the more I can help others with information. That’s important for me and I love my job because of it.”

Gadgets Galore: An Office on Wheels

Mobile Vet units are equipped as “offices on wheels,” with the capacity to provide emergency support for natural disasters. Each motor coach houses a satellite dish that connects to communications and audio-visual equipment, six phone lines, a fax line, notebook computers, four encrypted computer lines and WiFi gear.

Two dividers separate the motor coach into private counseling rooms. The cushy blue seats, tables fit-for-two, and couches allow for either individual or small group counseling sessions.

For emergency situations, the vehicle comes with a medical exam table, a defibrillator (AED), first aid kit, beds, a shower, refrigerator, microwave, and a long list of amenities useful in severe situations.

“Whoever designed it didn’t miss a beat,” said Samantha Blevins, Team Leader at the Vet Center in Morgantown, W. Va.

The 50 Mobile Vet Center units travel across the country, reaching Veterans in every county of the lower 48 states. Readjustment counseling services are provided for Veterans who served in combat as well as their families.

For more information about Vet Centers and Mobile Vet Centers, click here.