OGDEN — Members of Utah’s Congressional delegation have asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide more help to veterans who live north of Salt Lake City.
Last week, Republican Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, along with Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, asking for a permanent Vet Center to be established somewhere in Northern Utah — specifically to serve veterans living in Weber, Davis, Morgan and Box Elder counties.
Vet Centers provide readjustment counseling for combat veterans, military sexual trauma counseling and grief counseling for families of soldiers killed while serving in combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, drug and alcohol assessment, and suicide prevention are also provided.
According to VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, there are about 300 Vet Centers around the country, with Utah’s three locations in Salt Lake City, Provo and St. George. The letter from the three delegation members says that approximately 40,000 veterans live in the four-county Top of Utah area.
“Nearly a quarter of veterans living in Utah reside around, and north of, Ogden city,” the letter says. “Which means they must drive a two hour or longer round trip in order to access these services in Salt Lake City. For many of these veterans, taking this amount of time away from work and family is a major obstacle to seeking the treatment they need.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Davis County has 19,515 veterans, Weber has 16,381, Box Elder has 3,636 and Morgan County has 719. Depending on the source, the state’s total veterans population ranges somewhere between about 140,000 and 190,000.
Jill Atwood, spokeswoman for the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System, said readjustment counseling services similar to those found in Vet Centers are available at the George E. Wahlen Nursing Home in Ogden — but those services aren’t available full time.
“This is not an adequate long-term solution for the nearly 40,000 veterans and their families living in this area,” the letter says.
Atwood said that in March at least 29 veterans that could be served in Ogden were sent to the Salt Lake City vet center. Atwood said the veterans could have gone to Ogden, but would have faced longer waiting periods.
Terry Schow, former head of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs and now a veterans activist, said he’s seen the need for an Ogden-area Vet Center for years.
Vet Centers technically fall under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, but they are community-based and all services are offered free. Any records kept at the centers are confidential and not shared with other branches of the VA. Schow said the confidentiality policy eliminates a barrier that could potentially prevent a veteran from seeking treatment.
Schow said soldiers are often weary that mental health problems could affect their promotion status, security clearances and other military matters.
“(Veterans) need to have the ability to be open and trusting when they’re dealing with these kinds of issues,” Schow said. “That’s why Vet Centers really work. We need one in Ogden. I’m a fan of equity and I think somehow, we got lost in the shuffle.”