Reginald M. Lawrence, SRCT, CPP
Good Morning, Chairman Filner, Congresswoman Brown, and members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the role of the Jacksonville Vet Center in “Building the Critical Health Infrastructure for Veterans in Jacksonville and Northeast Florida/Southeast Georgia.” I also extend to you a warm greeting from Dr. Alfonso R. Batres, Chief Officer of Readjustment Counseling Service, Washington, D.C. I am accompanied today by Mr. Thomas Cappello, MPH, FACHE, Director of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System and Mr. Robert Neary, Director of the Service Delivery Office in the VA Office of Construction Management.
I have tailored my remarks to include not only Jacksonville, but North Florida and South Georgia as well, since our care for Veterans and their families extends to multiple counties in both states. Prior to the opening of the Gainesville Vet Center in 2007, the Jacksonville Vet Center served 14 counties in North Florida, and two counties in South Georgia. We currently serve 11 counties in North Florida, including Duval, Bradford, Baker, Clay, Columbia, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Volusia, and Union counties, and two in South Georgia, including Camden and Charlton counties. We estimate the total Veteran population in the area at just over 250,000. In Duval County alone, we estimate the Veteran population at approximately 150,000. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, we recorded 4,726 visits for direct service, totaling 3,063 hours of client contact and 7,764 hours of core staff employment. We also provided counseling services to 439 Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).
Since Vet Centers were enacted by law in 1979, the Jacksonville Vet Center has provided readjustment counseling to over 35,800 Veterans. We have documented an average of 4,800 visits per year since our initial opening in March 1980. The core mission of our Vet Center is to provide readjustment counseling and outreach services to Veterans exposed to war trauma in armed combat theaters of operations. Our Vet Center provides a wide range of services with a holistic approach to aid the returning and post-deployed combat veteran with the ability to transcend the emotional and psychological traumas of war and to re-integrate themselves back into their communities successfully. Our focus on successfully enabling this transition entails a full examination of their post-military, economic, social and family needs. Our role is central to meeting the ongoing health care needs of post-deployed Veterans in conjunction with the VA North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System. The Jacksonville Vet Center provides professional services for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other war-related issues through individual, group, marital and family counseling, along with Substance Abuse, Military Sexual Trauma, and Bereavement Counseling. In addition, we provide counseling to homeless Veterans, Veterans seeking employment, and Veterans with crisis intervention needs. We have a direct referral system for VA benefits information and assistance to other agencies in the community.
A special feature of our services to Veterans is our Fee Contracts Program, which is designed to provide counseling services for PTSD to Veterans in rural areas and to those experiencing either financial difficulties or transportation problems in accessing VA services. The program allows direct counseling and treatment by private professionals who contract with our Vet Center for these services. This program is operational in St. Augustine and Daytona Beach, Florida.
We have collaborated very effectively with existing VA programs and other community-based programs by establishing “Memoranda of Understanding” upon referrals to our Vet Center to address specific needs of Veterans. For example, we have a program for Veterans referred to us by the Northeast Florida Safety Council for Veterans cited for driving under the influence. This arrangement allows us to assess these Veterans, who may not otherwise be seeking services from a Vet Center or another VA facility, for PTSD or other conditions. Recent studies have found a disproportionate rate of returning Veterans have been cited for driving under the influence.
Another core mission of the Jacksonville Vet Center is to provide Outreach Services to Veterans and community-based organizations to inform them of Vet Center and VA services. In 2005, the Jacksonville Vet Center hired an OEF/OIF Outreach Specialist. The position is for an OIF/OEF Veteran who will conduct outreach to Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Units to inform them and their families of available VA services. Since 2003, we have served over 2,200 OEF/OIF Veterans and their families at the Jacksonville Vet Center. We also provide bereavement counseling to family members of military personnel who lost their lives while on active duty. Thus far, we have provided bereavement counseling services to 15 families of OEF/OIF Veterans in our service area.
Historically, the Jacksonville Vet Center provides Veterans a point of contact for access into the VA health care system and benefits programs. We welcome the opportunity to be a part of “Building the Critical Health Infrastructure for Veterans” in Jacksonville, Florida. We remain committed to “Keeping the Promise” of providing the highest quality care to Veterans and their families at the Jacksonville Vet Center. Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, for allowing me to appear today. I will be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the Committee may have.