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Senator Hassan Highlights Importance of Vet Centers to Supporting Service Members Leaving Active Duty Military Service

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Senator Maggie Hassan highlighted the important work that Vet Centers do to support the mental health needs of veterans and their families. Vet Centers are designed to provide confidential, community-based social and mental health services to veterans in spaces that are separate from Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. Vet Centers offer confidential counseling and reduce barriers to care for veterans who may not be comfortable using VA health care or may not have easy access to VA medical centers, such as those living in rural communities. There are currently Vet Centers in Hooksett and Gorham in New Hampshire, as well as one in White River Junction in Vermont, and a Vet Center Outstation in Keene in New Hampshire.

In the hearing, Senator Hassan asked Michael Fisher, the Chief Officer of the Readjustment Counseling Service at the Veterans Health Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, about how Vet Centers are supporting different groups of veterans in New Hampshire and across the country, especially women.

To watch Senator Hassan’s hearing questions, click here.

Senator Hassan began by discussing the importance of Vet Centers for service members transitioning out of the military and building ties in their local communities as civilians. She asked Mr. Fisher, “What are Vet Centers doing to help newly separated veterans build stronger connections within their surrounding communities, and what more should we be doing?”

Mr. Fisher emphasized the importance of creating community partnerships that are tailored to best meet the specific needs of local veteran populations. He said that a new outreach application will help Vet Centers access information about all service members leaving the military and coming to the region and help them establish new ties.

Next, Senator Hassan addressed peer support counseling programs, such as the Women Veterans Network, and asked, “How can Vet Centers maximize opportunities to incorporate peer support models into the services that they offer?”

“Our view on peer support is veteran-to-veteran, which is why we hire a large number of veterans,” Mr. Fisher said. He mentioned that all outreach staff are veterans. He also committed to reaching out to the Office of Suicide and Mental Health Prevention to look into leveraging more direct peer support programs within Vet Centers and reporting back to Senator Hassan on what they find.

Senator Hassan highlighted the success of the “Buddy Check” program, which Senator Hassan led the effort to pass into law, and how veterans in the Granite State often tell her that knowing who the other veterans are in their community can have a major impact.  

Senator Hassan then followed up with another question about tailoring Vet Center resources to women veterans. “Women are the fastest-growing group of veterans using VA services, tripling in number over the past two decades,” Senator Hassan said. “What type of specialized training do Vet Center employees receive on the unique military experiences and post-service needs of women veterans, and how does that training impact the care that these women receive?”

Mr. Fisher said that every new employee receives an orientation that involves instruction on working with women veterans. “Our customer feedback scores, and specifically our trust scores, for women veterans are in line with the national average,” Mr. Fisher said.

“What I hear from women veterans in New Hampshire is simply that they would like to know where the other women veterans are,” said Senator Hassan. “So again, that talks to the kind of informal, peer outreach, and peer supports that you all can help build.”