As I mentioned in a previous post, we’ll be discussing the three administrations that comprise the Department of Veterans Affairs to help you better understand the role of each and how they each provide a unique service to Veterans.  We’ll profile the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery Administration later, but we start with the Veterans Health Administration, the largest component and the one most Veterans interact with on a regular basis.

If the administrations are like the branches of the military, then the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the Army.  It’s the largest of the three, boasts the biggest budget and has far more employees than the other two combined.  Out of 280,000 full-time employees that staff VA, nearly 250,000 work in the health care system of VHA.  Doctors, nurses, clinicians, x-ray techs, counselors and everyone you encounter at your local VA medical facility fall in that group.  They all work in a concerted effort to provide physical and medical well being to Veterans, who are encouraged to enroll pending eligibility.  Many myths surround health care eligibility, which we have previously debunked.

There are so many VA health programs that it would be a nearly endless task to describe them all, though you can use an alphabetized list on our VHA home page to find more information about specific topics.  From Agent Orange to Women Veterans Heath Care (sorry X, Y and Z), information on what you are looking for is likely in that tab. But what about other aspects of VHA, the things you probably should know about but aren’t particularly aware? Periodically, we’ll detail the many different components of VHA so that you can walk confidently into your local VA facility and know what you need and how to get it.  Today, we want to talk a little bit about Vet Centers and the unique role they play for the readjustment that combat Veterans face after returning from overseas.

Vet Centers

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Vet Centers may have lower visibility than regional offices and medical centers, but the services they provide are just as important. They were created in 1979 after it was determined that Vietnam Veterans had sustained readjustment difficulties after coming home from war.  Since the first Vet Centers started up around the country, they have been offering mental health-centric services like individual, group and family therapy, military sexual trauma (MST), employment assessment, drug and alcohol treatment and more.  Eligibility for Vet Centers can be determined easily: if you or a family member were deployed to a combat zone, you qualify for services.  The centers are all around the country, augmented by 50 Mobile Vet Centers reaching rural areas.  By the end of 2011, 300 Vet Centers will be open in the United States and surrounding territories.  In response to the growing number of combat Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, 91 Vet Centers have opened since 2007.  Check to see if there is one near you.

What makes Vet Centers unique to, say, a community based clinic or a VA medical center?  The difference is in both the approach to Veterans and services provided.  Vet Centers are staffed by mental health and family professionals like psychologists and social workers who have specialized training to deal with the unique challenges associated with combat Veterans, like post traumatic stress disorder.  They also offer services for families of war Vets.  All this is done in an environment that is as welcoming and non-clinical as possible.  Some Vet Centers are in small offices and buildings, a far cry from the sprawling campus of hospitals and clinics.  Artwork and photographs from Veterans may adorn the walls to give the space a more informal and welcoming feeling.

Vet Centers are also strongly encouraged to hire combat Veterans to staff the offices.  War Vets are given hiring preference when applying, and it would be difficult to think of a component of VA that would benefit more from hiring Veterans who have previously deployed. Unfortunately, some Vet Centers are staffed more than others; Congressional mandates allow for the most in demand parts of the country to fill first, with other areas following.  Soon, all Vet Centers across the country will resemble one another in terms of available services and employees, ready to help combat Veterans manage the lifelong challenges of coming home after war.

VHA is an enormous and understandingly confusing organization, so we hope these periodic entries can help explain the parts of the health administration in order to gain understanding of the whole.  Your time is valuable, so the more you know walking through the door, the better off you’ll be.

Take a look at the directory at VHA’s home page and let us know what you want us to discuss next.

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Published on Dec. 30, 2010

Estimated reading time is 4 min.

Views to date: 756


  1. William April 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I was seen during the 1980’s at a vet center for PTSD related to my service as a corpsman. I declared eligible because I served during Grenada, not in the area of hostilities, although I did play a small part, with a group that suffered severe casualties during the actual operation. My PTSD is related to this and several non combat operations I participated in.

    Recently I suffered a relapse, and when I went to a vet center I was turned away. This occurred even though several other vet centers have told me that once eligible and provided service, you are always eligible.

    What are the facts and where can I verify them?

  2. Angelo March 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I want to comment on Sandy Trombetta’s quote and say that I want to see Vets receiving the respect, honor and attention they deserve as well as see Vets giving back to the society their invaluable teachings like appreciation of EVEN the smallest things we take for granted. Veterans are living examples of how far hope and INNER power can get you…

    Thank you

  3. KRM January 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    The MVC is a great vehicle for outreach events. I am one of 50 operators of the vehicle. Nothing makes my heart sing more when I see veterans salute the vehicle . I have witnessed veterans break down in tears as they would read the slogan on the side of the vehicle. KEEPING THE PROMISE !! I want to thank every veteran WAR/PEACE time for your service. I want to thank you for allowing me to serve you.

    • Alex Horton January 6, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Thanks for what you do, KRM. The service you provide to rural Vets is very much appreciated.

  4. FJ January 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Those ‘Mobile Vet Centers’ are some of the best $$ the VA has ever spent – great for outreach events and a BIG DEAL when they pull into smaller towns.

  5. Derek Davey January 4, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I would highly recommend donations to the Fisher House Foundation ( It is not affiliated with the VA but the Fisher Houses directly aid the wounded/injured/sick veterans and their families.

  6. Dejan Jevremov January 3, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    Is there a department in the Vet. Admin. open for donations from general public – to benefit disabled veterans in general [regardless of any particular battlefield?

    Please inform me. Thank you. D.

    • Vets advocate January 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      Thank you for your offer to help Vets. I am a Vietnam Era Vet. When I was at the airport, in uniform, I was “booed” and not welcomed home. My son, who is an Iraq Vet, had people clap for him and thank him for his service. Im glad my son gets recognized and thanked for his service, however.
      If you or others want to help Vets, I do not recommend giving money to the VFW or other Veterans organizations, because often only about 35% of this money ever makes its way to deserving Veterans. Source:
      Instead, “find a Vet”, thank him for his service, and take the time to ask him what he needs and, if possible, provide that for him. It may be a warm meal, or buy him a motel room for the night, or maybe REAL preference for a job. I dont recommend giving cash that may be used for drugs.

    • Rebecca Mimnall January 4, 2011 at 9:33 am


      Thanks for your commitment to Veterans.

      The VA Voluntary Service ( can help link you to the needs (voluntary time and/or donations) of your local facilities, or you can contact your local facility directly.

      I haven’t come across anything on the national level, but perhaps someone else reading this blog will know.

  7. Vets advocate January 3, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    PTSD Vets are faced with a big obstacle to healing, that could be overcome with a few changes. Here is what they need, IMHO:
    1. They need an assurance, in writing, that they wont be prosecuted for the things they say there. In other words, there a very real possibility that the Vet did some things there that he was not proud of…maybe out of fear, or just plain wartime mistakes. The Vet needs to be able to talk about it, but he doesnt want to go to jail for something that happened in Viet Nam in the 60’s.
    2. However, Vet Center notes, if the Vet elects this, should be available to document his PTSD, should the Vet feel that is in his best interest. I will add that a Veteran should be able to choose which parts of his conversations with his counselor, if any, is to be included in his records.
    If the Vet feels he can freely speak, then he is more likely to be able to heal. Why cant the VA “get this”? Doesn’t everyone deserve someone to talk to that wont blab?

    • Alex Horton January 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm

      Vets Advocate, do you know of someone who was prosecuted for war crimes based on something they said at a Vet Center? I haven’t heard about that, and it would seem to follow the same rules of drug rehabilitation: those who participate get treatment, not arrested for taking illegal substances.

      • Vets advocate January 3, 2011 at 10:10 pm

        No, I do not know anyone who was prosecuted at a Vet Center, but I dont know any VA employees who are honest either. (I also dont know any that are dishonest because I dont personally know any VA employees) Please, remember that PTSD is not always rational. If the VA does guarantee “no prosecution”, like you suggest, what is the big deal about putting that promise in writing if it helps Vets with some of those irrational fears? If the VA does not guarantee “no prosecution” but it just has never happened in the past, I doubt if very many Vets want to be the first. It was just a suggestion to help get PTSD Vets to talk, so maybe they can sounds like you (the VA) either dont care whether they heal or not, or are unwilling to go through these steps to help them.

        • Alex Horton January 4, 2011 at 3:24 pm

          I asked because I am beginning to see how the government works from the big, strategic level. Something you describe, a disclaimer attached to applications, put on signs, posters and anything else a Veteran might see, is not as simple as making some copies and distributing across the country. I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs, but I know it involves a process for approval that is probably more complex than you think. And it would likely begin with one question: who are the affected people, and how many are there?

          I can bring this up to see if it’s possible, but it’s like a hammer trying to find a nail to be honest. If someone comes forward and says this is a barrier to receiving care, then disclaimers for confidentiality need to be considered at the appropriate level. But for now it’s theoretical, and it would be a difficult endeavor to suggest to someone that a theoretical problem needs to be addressed when considering a host of competing priorities that need attention.

  8. pex pipe December 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I didn’t even realize that VA has such a big staff.

  9. Alex Horton December 31, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    That’s correct Dave. PTSD is a serious issue no matter where it was triggered, but issues surrounding it are unique to the event itself. I’m not a doctor, but the way I understand it is: PTSD from combat is different from PTSD from, say a training accident or emergency operations (like Hurricane Katrina for example). The staff at Vet Centers specialize in mental health treatment for combat Veterans, and while they might be able to help non combat afflicted, I’m not sure their limited resources can take on everyone.

    That doesn’t mean everyone else is out of luck. You can still get counseling, treatment and medication for service connected PTSD at outpatient clinics and medical centers.

  10. Dave Bristol December 30, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    So, are you saying that a Veteran who is service connected for PTSD and was not deployed to a combat area cannot use a Vet’s Center?

    • Mary January 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

      Eligibility for Vet Centers includes both combat-related adjustment issues and problems due to military sexual trauma. PTSD due to stressors other than these 2 can be treated at the VA or a CBOC, but not at a Vet Center.

Comments are closed.

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