Police & Fire Commission Supports Creation of Veteran Service Center
Proposed center would be a “one stop shop” for all veteran services, mimicking locations in Wausau, Milwaukee and Madison
By Brandi Makuski
The Stevens Point Police and Fire Commission this week began a conversation some say is long overdue- bringing access to all military veterans services and resources under the same roof.
While a simple idea in theory, members of the commission said it begins to address an un-discussed nationwide rise in military veteran suicides. Many available resources go untapped by veterans because while many are too proud to ask for the help, many are preoccupied and overwhelmed by the drastic transition from soldier to civilian.
“When a (military) member gets back from being deployed, all they’re thinking about is getting back with their family, but at the same time all these benefits and resources are being thrown on them. I can only imagine that’s got to be hard to comprehend,” said Police Chief Kevin Ruder. “When I started looking at this, I realized there were resources spread throughout the county.”
Ruder said there were dozens of veteran- geared organizations serving the 4,700 veterans in Portage County, including the VFW, American Legion and AmVets, but one organization might offer services another does not, making the need to bring all the resources together even more essential.
Police Officer Mike Bink, who acts as the department’s liaison for veteran services, said the idea of this “one- stop shop” for veterans was born after police encountered a suicide a few years ago, when a female veteran took her life with a shotgun.
“You think of that stuff happening someplace else, but it happens here,” Bink said. “We’ll never know what drove her to that, but that kind of got the ball rolling on this center.”
In February the Pentagon released its most comprehensive study to date which showed military veteran suicides have hit record numbers- one suicide every 65 minutes, or 22 every day. According to the study, more American veterans died of suicide in 2012 than were killed in combat in all of Afghanistan.
The commission, along with Portage County Veteran Services Officer Mike Clements, isn’t sure when they will roll out this new initiative, which encourages service members battling depression or post-traumatic stress to seek help. The center would be open to all veterans, whether World War II or the most recent battle in the Middle East. Services would also be available to family members.
What form the center would take is still unknown. Clements said the discussion is “still in its infancy” but could take form in a physical building or office inside the courthouse.
Bink, who acts as a middle man between the city police and Portage County Veteran Services, said the department has always tried to be sensitive to the unique needs of veterans, but not having a formal network with the various veteran groups in the community also means not having all the information they need to do so. The veteran service center, he said, would fill that need.
“What I’ve been trying to do a little more is try to find some of these resources and communication more with the university veteran’s office, the VFW, American Legion- there’s a lot of different groups out there where we’ve never formally communicated with them. There haven’t been any spectacular, headline- grabbing successes or anything like that, but we have had a few successes,” Bink said.
Bink went on to list several incidents where police were later informed the offender was a veteran suffering from some type of trauma, and added some of those offenders were better helped by being sent to a treatment program rather than jail.
“We’re looking to make this a big project; a place where families can go when their spouse or family member is deployed,” Ruder said. “A veteran services center would be that place where a vet can go anytime when he or she needs any services available to them. But sometimes it would be a spouse or other family member who comes forward, because we’ve found veterans are sometimes reticent to do so because they’re embarrassed or too proud. This way it’s all in the same place and also available to the family members with needs.”
“So few people are veterans now, compared with back then,” said Commissioner George Hanson. “When I got back home from Vietnam, all I could think about was getting back to my family and my life. They throw all this information in your face all at once, and you’re never really looking at it.”
“People today don’t really encounter veterans as much as they used it, they don’t understand the stress a vet goes through,” he added.