The Pasco Mobile Vet Center rolled into the parking lot at the neighborhood shopping center in Zephyrhills, ready for a day of outreach to military veterans.
By 10 a.m., five veterans had stopped by to check out the mobile van and learn about resources they could tap into as they transition to civilian life, seek help with employment or find a place to live.
It was a typical day of outreach for Frank Jones and Julie Hayes. Jones is a mobile van driver and veterans’ outreach program specialist with the Pasco County Vet Center in New Port Richey. Hayes is a veterans’ representative with CareerSource Pasco Hernando.
The van travels to various locations throughout the state. On average, it makes 10 to 12 stops a month.
“The idea is to take services to veterans in rural areas who don’t have access to services,” Jones said.
Services are offered to combat veterans and their families, but no veteran is turned away, Jones said.
The mobile vet center also provides help for first responders who are combat veterans.
Services include screening for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), referrals for sexual trauma counseling, marital/family counseling, bereavement counseling, information and referrals to community resources, and referrals for benefits assistance.
All information provided by veterans is confidential.
Whether they are still on active duty or are in transition, Jones said, “They don’t have to worry about their commander finding out.”
Often, there are no serious problems, Jones said. Sometimes, he noted, “They just want to talk about their issues.”
Jones has an easy rapport with veterans. He has been there.
He served as a U.S. Army medic in Cairo, and was diagnosed later with noncombat PTSD.
In 1999, he was a homeless veteran, and had a drinking problem.
Today, Jones is a 12-year recovering alcoholic who is married and buying his own home.
“I kind of know where they are coming from,” he said.
Hayes is based at the Dade City CareerSource site, and works with veterans in Pasco and Hernando counties.
“I help them get job-ready,” said the woman who served more than four years in the U.S. Navy in a noncombat role during the Gulf War.
She assesses what veterans need to re-enter the job market, helps with interviewing skills, job training and referrals to Pasco-Hernando State College.
“A lot of it is skills they are missing,” she said. “They do have a unique set of skills they bring to employers, but a lot of times employers don’t recognize that. They aren’t seeing the whole picture of the veterans.”
Many are degree-ready or they may have military-based skills in communications and technology, but Hayes said, “They don’t have up-to-date certification as a civilian. They don’t have that piece of paper.”
Though Jones is based in New Port Richey, the mobile van covers much of central and south Florida. Another mobile van, based in Jacksonville, travels through northern Florida and into southern Georgia.
Nationwide, the veterans’ affairs department operates about 300 community-based vet centers, according to the department’s website.
About 80 vans also provide services to demobilization active military bases, as well as National Guard armories and Reserve Centers, and do local outreach at shopping centers and other community locations.
Each van is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including laptops, telephones, remote data view, satellite televisions and video conferencing.
Jones said the van can handle one-on-one interviews or groups of up to about 10 people.
The vet centers and mobile vans are part of the care provided through the veterans’ affairs office, and are separate from the veteran’s hospitals and health care system.
The vet centers were launched in 1979 as outreach to Vietnam veterans.
“It’s evolved now to all combat veterans, not just Vietnam veterans,” Jones said.
Veterans’ Affairs rolled out the mobile vans about four years ago.
They sometimes are mobilized for national tragedies, including the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
Recently, three mobile centers traveled to Orlando after the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Staff members helped with bereavement, notifications to families and counseling for anyone struggling with loss.
On the agenda is a “Stand Down” event on Sept. 29, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson. These multiday efforts provide a range of services including clothes, hot meals, showers, counseling, dental cleanings, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, and court services to homeless veterans.
Jones expects to roll his van into the park.
“We travel where they need us,” he said.
For information, visit VetCenter.va.gov, call Pasco County Vet Center at (727) 372-1854 or the Combat Call Center at (877) 927-8387.
For information on CareerSource, visit CareerSourcePascoHernando.com.
Published August 10, 2016