MADISON COUNTY − Veterans seeking mental health counseling services need look no further than the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3012 in Rexburg.
Ron Naegelin, a county veterans service officer, said the local VFW county veterans can go to the Rexburg VFW to meet with a counselor from the Vet Center in Pocatello.
Naegelin said that about 22 veterans die every day from suicide, and they are bringing counseling closer to vets in the area, so that they can get the help they need without traveling to areas like Pocatello and Salt Lake City.
“We are scheduled (to travel to Rexburg) the third Wednesday of each month. Counselors are going to be available for appointment,” said Darshan Soske, the Vet Center director. “We want people to schedule ahead but between 10 a.m. and noon people can come in and meet with us, have some coffee and hot chocolate, chit chat and let us know what they’re looking for.”
She said that counselors want to sit down with vets to understand what they want, and what veterans are looking for in counseling and try to meet their needs.
“It can be uncomfortable to seek access to counseling and mental health services,” Soske said. “We want to create a safe environment where people can build that trust. We’re just gonna have it available during that time. People can call us for an appointment.”
Soske said she and two other counselors will be traveling from Pocatello to meet with veterans in person.
“I think it’s important for people to know that the services are free,” she said. “There is no copay and no charge. We do have some eligibility criteria. They can call us or swing by and talk to us to see if they qualify. We are a part of the Veterans Affairs but not part of the hospitals and clinics. We are our own little entity inside the Affairs. There is a higher level of confidentiality. The staff at the hospital and clinics do not have immediate access to our records. Some people find that more comfortable knowing that what they talk about with us stays with us.”
Naegelin said many veterans in the area are worried that seeking mental health could mean someone taking away their firearms.
“Local veterans think ‘If I talk to them, and they say that I have PTSD, then they’ll take my rifle away’ and that’s not true,” he said. “If they go to these people, those records will never get out. Even if they release the information, the criteria to take guns is that they have to be institutionalized. It has to be that severe.”
Naegelin said that he has PTSD, but he still has his weapons.
“I was in Vietnam and I was wounded twice,” he said. “I was a combat medic. I have PTSD, and I have weapons. There is no problem with me owning weapons. I have a concealed carry permit and carry often.”
Soske said they offer readjustment counseling services.
“Our primary mission is to help combat veterans and their families adjust to civilian life. We also have people that have experienced military sexual trauma. Those are our primary criteria pieces. But it’s always changing, they’re always making new rules, and we always encourage people to call us.”
Lana Davis, the Veterans Service officer for Fremont County, said it is their hope to someday bring similar services to Fremont County but first they will watch how well the programs work in Madison County.
Veterans and their families can contact the Vet Center at 208-232-0316 or contact the Office of Veterans Advocacy in Madison County and speak with Naegelin at 208-359-6249.