A new veterans services and counseling center celebrated its grand opening in Helena today.
Eric Kettenring, the vet center director, says Helena has never had a place where veterans can go that is dedicated to giving them mental health services.
"We provide individual, group, and family counseling. We also provide bereavement counseling. Our individual, group, and family counseling is available to eligible veterans that are typically a combat veteran or a survivor of military sexual trauma, or someone who is a family member of someone who has fallen in the line of duty. "
According to veteran center staff, Kettenring is the lone counseling provider and can serve between 30 and 50 veterans at the center.
For several years the Helena vet center previously shared a space with the Helena Job Service.
The funding for the new center comes entirely from the federal Veterans Health Administration.
Kettenring says Senator Jon Tester was a major drive behind getting the new center, because his constitutes urged more than three years ago that there was need for a center dedicated to veteran mental health in the area.
Before, veterans could end up having to drive to other towns to get that help.
Senator Tester, who joined the ribbon cutting ceremony, says the other than the state VA hospital in Helena, the next closest local community veteran centers are in Great Falls and Missoula.
"We were able to get some secretaries out here and see the need, and we were able to get it funded. And I think it’s a good use of federal dollars," Tester says. "Our veterans served this country in a big, big, way and these veterans centers are a critical piece of the infrastructure out there to help, particularly if they have some mental health issues."
According to Veterans Administration data, between roughly 9 and 10 percent of Lewis and Clark county’s population are veterans. The latest U.S. Census data says Montana is second only to Alaska in the percentage of veterans per capita nationwide.