Vets helping vets

Local organizations offer counseling and other services

Wes Shockley

Wes Shockley

Photo courtesy of Wes Shockley

Army veteran Wes Shockley, a licensed counselor at the Chico Vet Center, served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He started at the center as an intern while attending grad school at Chico State in 2009. Today, he splits his time between counseling and administrative duties. As a vet now helping other vets, there's been no real escape from the military. But that is fine, he said, because of the sense of satisfaction he gets from the job.

It can be difficult for vets to admit they are in need of some sort of counseling, Shockley said.

“There are so many unknowns and they can feel uncomfortable coming in. We like to advertise that there are vets serving as counselors here, which is one of our strong points,” he said.

Shockley said he knew early on that he wanted to become a counselor to help returning veterans and that he began doing so while still in the service. “Going to Iraq, I got to see what they go through, which galvanized my desire to help vets,” he said.

Vet centers started back in the post-Vietnam era of the late 1970s and early '80s, when those who'd returned from that war did not feel welcomed back, Shockley explained.

“The movement was to have vets helping vets and getting them in and getting them talking,” he said.

The Chico Vet Center offers a number of programs, including treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, as well as employment services, a storytelling workshop and an offering for combat veterans to get together on a regular basis to socialize by playing golf. The center also helps vets who've experienced what is referred to as MST—or military sexual trauma.

And now, thanks to the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, the center can better serve its target demographic. The law, signed in February by President Obama, extends by one year the period (normally five years) during which returning combat troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan can obtain Veterans Affairs health care without first proving a service-related disability. It applies to troops who left active duty between Jan. 1, 2009, and Jan. 1, 2011.

“The law also shines a light on the fact that these vets need attention when it comes to transitioning back into society,” said Tara Ricks, spokeswoman for the VA's Northern California Health Care System. “Plus, it can make it not so uncomfortable for them to seek help.”

The Vet Center's services are free, confidential and available for as long as they are needed, Shockley said. The center, which is located at 250 Cohasset Road in Chico, recently expanded its hours and is now open on Saturdays. Appointments and walk-ins are available.

“One of the ways we are trying to meet the needs of the veteran is to increase availability, especially for working vets or those who have busy schedules during the day,” Shockley said. “We currently have four counselors and are in the process of hiring more staff to help meet the demand and expand services.”

The Chico Vet Center covers Butte, Glenn, Tehama and Shasta counties as well as portions of Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties. It has satellite services available in Redding, Burney and Yuba City.

Another resource for local veterans is the Office of Veterans Services at Butte College's main campus, which is available during school hours for student veterans. Chico State is home to an Office of Veterans Affairs at Siskiyou Hall that is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Additionally, the Butte County Library recently opened its Veterans Resource Center at its Chico branch at the corner of East First and Sherman avenues. Its hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays.