State of Women Veterans: How Vet Centers can make a difference
“When I walked in there, everything changed for me,” one woman Veteran who requested to remain anonymous said about her experience using her local Vet Center. “I had individual sessions with a female therapist, and 12 weeks of cognitive processing therapy to specifically address my PTSD. I also completed a 12-week trauma group that was designed for women Veterans. I had always felt alone in my trauma, but being surrounded by supportive women who understood what I was going through was comforting. It helped me a lot.”
Vet Centers understand and appreciate the traumatic experiences of Veterans and Servicemembers, including war and military sexual assault, and are committed to assisting them and their families toward a successful adjustment in or near their communities. Veteran-to-Veteran service is one of the things that makes this culturally competent readjustment counseling possible: 71 percent of Vet Center staff members are Veterans. And though women are less than 10 percent of Veterans overall, a full 25 percent of Vet Center staff members are women Veterans who served in a war zone, like Candace. (Watch her story below.) That may help explain why 10.8 percent of the Veterans using Vet Center services in 2015 were women, a number that has grown to 11.3 percent so far in 2016. Our experiences and service are represented and recognized.
Readjustment counseling at Vet Centers nationwide includes a wide range of services to eligible Veterans and their families so that they can make a successful transition from military to civilian life. These include individual and group counseling, family counseling for military-related issues, bereavement counseling, counseling and referrals for those who experienced military sexual trauma, and referral for other VA services including substance abuse, employment and more.
Vet Centers provide all readjustment counseling services at no charge and without limitation to eligible Veterans, Servicemembers and their family members. Those using Vet Centers are not required to enroll in the VA Health Care System or to have received a service connection for conditions caused by military service. Vet Centers provide services regardless of the nature of a Veteran’s discharge, which means that individuals with problematic discharges are also eligible for readjustment counseling services. And Vet Centers offer complete confidentiality about any and all services you receive.
Vet Centers recognize that Veterans have work and family commitments, so locations across the country provide non-traditional hours that include some weekend hours. To provide greater access to services, the program includes more than 100 Mobile Vet Centers, more than 250 veteran outreach specialists, outstations and community access points. The Vet Center program also has a Veterans Call Center staffed with qualified counselors who will answer your calls after duty hours; the phone number is 1-877-927-8387.
“That’s the nice thing about Vet Centers,” another woman Veteran said. “You just walk in. There’s no wait. I was still very nervous, though, because I didn’t know what to expect. But when I walked in there I immediately felt comfortable because there were other Vietnam Vets there. Vet Centers are great because there’s Veterans there to greet you, to embrace you, to welcome you. Eventually someone asked me if I wanted to see a counselor, and right away I said ‘yes.’
This is the fourth blog in an 11-week series on the State of Women Veterans. Visit the campaign page to read other entries.
Each month, VA’s Center for Women Veterans profiles a different woman Veteran author as part of its Women Veteran Authors Book Corner. This month’s author is Air Force Veteran Amanda Huffman, who served from 2007-2013.