Kalispell Vet Center to Hold Holiday Open House

By Beacon Staff

Last November, the Kalispell Vet Center opened on North Meridian Road as a place where combat veterans could seek therapy, fellowship and a warm cup of coffee.

A year later, Dr. Jeff Heider says the coffee is always on, and the doors to therapy and healing are always open. And, in this therapeutic environment where veterans converge daily, fellowship is never a problem either.

On Dec. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m., the Kalispell Vet Center is holding a holiday open house in which Heider and other staff members hope to reach out to veterans who may not be familiar with their services. There will be cookies and refreshments.

“It’s an opportunity for combat veterans and their families to join us for fellowship and good cheer,” said Heider. “They can learn that this is a safe place for veterans to share things that might still represent dark places for them.”

The Kalispell Vet Center provides readjustment counseling services to combat veterans. After returning from war, veterans often must cope with any number of psychological and emotional issues, including anger, nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder, hyper vigilance, depression and more.

Counseling, both individual and group, is free of charge and confidential. In addition to counseling, outreach and referrals to other veteran services are emphasized. Though the center is under the umbrella of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), Heider said veterans do not need to be registered in VA health care to receive counseling.

U.S. Congress established the Vet Center Program in 1979 and today there are 299 nationwide, Heider said, including three others in Montana: Billings, Missoula and Great Falls. In the past couple of years, Heider said about 80 new vet centers have been established across the country to accommodate veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Heider said his center would like to welcome any veterans who return to Northwest Montana after the Iraq troop removal and are seeking services.

“We’re ready if they’re ready,” he said. “That’s the key – to get them to come.”

Heider has nearly three decades of experience working with veterans. Also on staff are Paul Hanna, a marriage and family therapist, and Fredrick Brown, a licensed clinical social worker. Brown started in August, which Heider said has helped greatly with the caseload. Ronda Kirby, the office manager, rounds out the staff.

The center also welcomes volunteers, Heider said. Volunteers assist with answering phones, clerical work and whatever else needs to be done around the office.

“We could use a few more volunteers,” he said.

The Kalispell Vet Center has seen 179 unique clients since opening on Nov. 8, 2010, and has provided 2,150 counseling sessions, Heider said. Hanna travels to Eureka twice a month and Brown holds counseling sessions in Libby weekly as well. Heider said about two-thirds of the clients are Vietnam vets, “but that balance is starting to shift.”

“Our goal is to meet the needs of anyone who walks through the door,” Heider said. “Our motto is ‘keeping the promise.’ You served us, now we’re here to serve you.”

The Kalispell Vet Center is located at 690 North Meridian Rd., Suite 101. It can be reached at (406) 257-7308.