Vet-to-vet mental health counseling available at vet centers

Vet Center counselors greet veterans at the Las Vegas Vet Center location. (VA photograph)

Veterans experiencing mental health challenges have many options for seeking care within the VA.

They can connect with support through in-person appointments at local VA facilities, telehealth sessions and online resources.

If a veteran is in crisis or has another urgent need for mental health care right away, he or she will receive same-day-service from a health care professional at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center or any VASNHS primary care clinic.

However, sometimes veterans struggling with mental health issues choose to seek counseling outside of a clinical setting. Some veterans would prefer to just talk to a fellow veteran, someone who can empathize with their battles, outside of a medical facility. That’s where the Vet Centers come in.

Locally, the VA has Vet Centers in Henderson and Las Vegas, as well as a mobile Vet Center — a recreational vehicle that travels to community events and crisis response scenarios. These facilities are community-based counseling centers that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling to eligible veterans, active duty service members, including National Guard and Reserve components, and their families. Vet Center counselors and outreach staff, many of whom are veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief and transition after trauma.

“We originally started as peer-to-peer counseling, so it wasn’t ‘clinicians and veterans,’ it was ‘veterans and veterans,” said Joe Lasky, director of the Las Vegas Vet Center. “Now we have progressed to where we have veteran counselors who are also licensed professionals. Everyone here is at least a master’s level clinician and is independently licensed, but more importantly, we are all combat veterans.

Lasky says that his experience as an Army veteran helps to build initial rapport, but that’s merely the first step. “Peer-to-peer is great,” he said. “It gets me a free 15 minutes where we can share stories about being in the sandbox together. But at the same time, I have to be a clinician and help that veteran with whatever issue brought them in here. Talking about bad tasting MRE’s and sand isn’t necessarily going to solve their problems, but it does give me that first opportunity to build a relationship because they aren’t going to have to explain the nuances of being in the military.”

While the Vet Center is a great way for veterans and family members to get counseling in an informal setting, those with more pressing needs are encouraged to see mental health providers within the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System.

“We are a non-diagnosing mental health center, which means you do not have to have a diagnosis to be seen here, and we are not going to give you a diagnosis while you are here,” Lasky said. “If you walk in and you’re not feeling right, not feeling normal, we’re going to work with you and try to help you figure out what’s going on and what the next best step for your care is.”

If you have an urgent mental health need, you can access same-day walk-in services at the Mental Health Clinic at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center or any primary care clinic during normal business hours. You will be triaged by a mental health treatment coordinator and a determination will be made regarding service needs. The MHTC will refer you to the appropriate program/service provider(s) to ensure your mental health needs are met.

For those in crisis or in need of emergent mental health services, help is available 24/7 at the North Las Vegas VA Medical Center Emergency Department or through the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.