WASHINGTON – Rep. Collin Peterson, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today led the Minnesota House Delegation in a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie to highlight the importance of the Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) to the Veterans, active duty Servicemembers, Guard and Reserve personnel and their families in Minnesota, and to ask for support in increasing the level of services available in greater Minnesota. Commonly called “Vet Centers,” the RCS provides services including readjustment, family, bereavement, and military sexual counseling.
There are 300 Vet Centers located across every state, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico. However, according to information compiled by the American Legion, Minnesota is among states lacking an adequate presence of Vet Centers. It has one per 136,000 veterans. In comparison, Massachusetts, which is relatively close in veteran population to Minnesota, has one per 63,000 veterans. Maryland has one per 54,000. Colorado has one per 61,000 veterans. Wisconsin, adding two, is one per 89,000. While RCS services may also be provided by an Outstation or Community Access Point, some areas of greater Minnesota lack access to any level of RCS services.
The letter, signed by Peterson, and Representatives Betty McCollum, Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Ilhan Omar and Pete Stauber, is being sent as a sign of support and to kickstart the process of working together with VA and local stakeholders to bring more Veteran-specific counseling services to underserved, rural areas of Minnesota.
“We are concerned that the available mental health counseling services in greater Minnesota are insufficient to meet the needs of our Veterans,” wrote the Minnesota delegation House members, “and ask for your continued support as we move forward and work with local communities and stakeholders, including Veteran Service Officers, to determine the areas of greatest need and bring more Readjustment Counseling Services to greater Minnesota.”
Area veterans have long lobbied for an improvement in rural access to Vet Centers. The letter outlines the need for local communities and stakeholders to work together to address the gap in Veteran-specific counseling services available in many areas of greater Minnesota.
Improving access to rural counseling and mental health services is an important priority for the Minnesota veteran community.
Governor Tim Walz - “As a 24-year veteran of the National Guard, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges that servicemembers face when they return home. Expanding access to the critical services provided at Vet Centers would be transformative in the lives of Minnesota veterans and their families as they transition from active service to civilian life.”
Larry Herke, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs - “Vet Centers provide an important community-based option to Veterans and their families seeking mental health services. As we continue to combat challenges such as preventing Veteran suicide, ending Veteran homelessness, and supporting Veterans with PTSD and TBIs, Vet Centers’ unique resources are sorely needed. Minnesota needs additional Vet Centers to best serve our Veterans dealing with the tragedy of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma.”
Commander Chad Solheid, Minnesota Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars - “Since 1979, VA Vet Centers have been helping combat veterans and their families with the nonvisible wounds of war. The need for more Vet Centers in greater Minnesota has been apparent for over 10 years – especially this year as over 800 of our Citizen soldiers are in the Middle East with more than 800 more set to join them this spring. We thank our House Congressional Delegation for coming together to fight with us to make this need a reality.”
American Legion Department of Minnesota Commander Mark Dvorak - “The American Legion serves veterans and active service members by ensuring they receive the quality care promised to them. That includes mental health counseling for them and their loved ones as they make difficult adjustments in life, such as going from warriors to civilians and from combat to peace. Vet Centers are crucial to dealing with PTSD, suicide, homelessness, loss of a sense of purpose and similar transitions. As we travel all corners of the state, it becomes clear we need to expand Vet Centers.”
Trent C. Dilks, Department Adjutant, Disabled American Veterans, Dept. of Minnesota - “It is important to ensure the best possible services are available to our Veterans across Minnesota. The addition of Vet Centers in Greater Minnesota will help ensure we bring mental health services where Veterans need them, their communities.”
Neal Loidolt, President/ CEO of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) - The Readjustment Centers in Greater Minnesota play a vital role partnering with MACV to provide services to homeless and in-crises Veterans who may otherwise not have access to the critical services the Centers provide. The Centers are re-attacking outreach, expanding the number of rural and tribal communities in which to have a regular presence. They are at all rural Stand Down events, are active in community coordination efforts, and respond quickly and effectively to individual Veterans in need of support.
Phil Ringstrom, Navy Veteran, past director of Duluth, MN and Sioux Falls, SD Vet Centers – “Rep. Collin Peterson has supported Minnesota veterans his whole tenure. He recently asked what more can he do for us, and he accepted this challenge with his leadership on the issue of Vet Centers. He is aware that readjustment needs may occur anytime post-war. It is shown to be more effective to have community-based counseling and peer counseling in the community in lieu of hospitalization.”
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
February 20, 2020
The Honorable Robert L. Wilkie
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20420
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We write to highlight the importance of the Readjustment Counseling Service (RCS) to Minnesota Veterans, military personnel, and their families, and to ask for your support in increasing the level of services available in greater Minnesota.
The Readjustment Counseling Service helps Veterans, Servicemembers, National Guard and Reserve personnel, and their families readapt to life both during and after military service by providing services including readjustment, family, bereavement, and military sexual trauma counseling. RCS also offers mental health and substance abuse counseling and referrals, as well as referrals for benefits assistance. These services may be provided through a Vet Center, Outstation, Community Access Point, or Mobile Vet Center, depending on the needs of the community.
We are concerned that the available mental health counseling services in greater Minnesota are insufficient to meet the needs of our Veterans. Currently Minnesota has only three Vet Centers – two in the Twin Cities Metro area and one in Duluth – to serve the entire state.
In 2017, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs released the “Minnesota Veterans Behavioral Health Needs Assessment,” as mandated by the State legislature. The study concluded that there is a statewide shortage in behavioral health providers and made several recommendations related to increasing availability of mental and chemical health services for Veterans in rural areas and reducing stigma and other barriers.
We ask for your continued support as we move forward and work with local communities and stakeholders, including Veteran Service Officers, to determine the areas of greatest need and bring more Readjustment Counseling Services to greater Minnesota. Thank you for your assistance in this very important matter.