After years of advocacy, veterans see push for St. Cloud veterinary center paying off

ST. CLOUD — The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced plans to open a veterinary center in St. Cloud, which will provide confidential counseling to veterans and service members.

It’s an announcement that comes after more than a decade of advocacy work by veterans with ties to St. Cloud.

Phil Ringstrom is a St. Cloud-area veteran who has been pushing for a veterinary center in St. Cloud since 2008 or 2009, he said. He has a nursing degree and has worked as a leader at veterinary centers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Duluth. He retired in 2008. Working at veterinary centers, he has seen firsthand that there are veterans who are afraid to go to VA hospitals to talk about their mental health.

“When you go to the vet center, it’s a lot more comfortable,” Ringstrom said in a February interview.

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A veterinary center outstation is a satellite office in rented space that houses at least one full-time counselor, who provides their services free of charge to a veteran or service member, according to a joint U.S. Department of Health press release. Veterans. and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs provided following a request from The Times. Those eligible for services have access to individual counseling and on-air group counseling. The statement said the outpatient stations are “add-ons” to physical veterinary centers, of which there are about 300 nationwide.

“Service and staffing levels may adjust and grow as community demand increases,” the statement said.

years of preparation

Veteran Tom Mullon has also been involved in efforts to create more veterinary centers in Minnesota. Before retiring, he was director of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis and regional director of the VA system, responsible for 34 hospitals in the Midwest. He also served as assistant director at St. Cloud VA Medical Center in the early 1970s. Mullon worked nationally helping to establish veterinary centers and gain congressional support, and served on national committees on centers veterinarians.

He wants to see veterans and their families have the chance to talk about their experiences with people who have been through similar things, Mullon said. Many of the staff at the veterinary center are veterans themselves.

Both Ringstrom and Mullon mentioned the importance of veterinary centers for active duty military personnel, including those in the National Guard. Mullon said people returning from deployments with the National Guard aren’t surrounded by the same kind of support as service members who can live on base.

“There is no support system – very little support system, if any,” Mullon said in a February interview. “And what they need is what is provided by the veterinary centers. And Minnesota needs more veterinary centers.”

According to Mullon, other states with similar veteran population measures have more veterinary centers than Minnesota.

Full-fledged veterinary centers can also offer support to families, who typically don’t receive extensive services and help through the VA, Mullon said.

For Ringstrom, the announcement marks a victory in the veteran-led campaign for more mental health support for Minnesota veterans. But while Ringstrom said this antenna would be a step in the right direction, neither Ringstrom nor Mullon see this antenna as the end goal of their advocacy work. Both said they wanted to see several other veterinary centers in Saint-Cloud to bridge the geographical gap between the existing centers.

“We’re more concerned right now with getting something in the middle of the state, and that’s our goal, our desire, our push,” Mullon said.

Mullon and Ringstrom both said they want to see St. Cloud have a full-fledged veterinary center, with more on the way for veterans and service members in central Minnesota.

“I’ve seen it work,” Ringstrom said. “I’ve seen him save lives. And I’ve been to the VA hospital too. They save lives – but usually at the end when it gets bad.”

St. Cloud Veterinary Center

The VA has set a goal for a spring 2024 opening of the St. Cloud Veterinary Center Outpatient Station. Veterans and service members looking for support can schedule telehealth appointments with the Anoka Veterinary Center, which will oversee the St. Cloud branch when it opens.

Mayor Dave Kleis and area state government officials have supported veterans’ efforts for a veterinary center in St. Cloud.

“It’s great to see this happening,” Kleis said.

Kleis said he thinks adding an antenna would further support local veterans and reduce the need to travel for some of those services.

“We have to make sure that we serve those who have served this nation,” Kleis said.

An outstation is an abbreviated version of a veterinary center, of which there are three in Minnesota – one in Anoka, St. Paul and Duluth. In addition to what is provided at an outpost, veterinary centers also offer couples and family counseling and referrals to other resources. The press release indicates that remote stations are

“In partnership with Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke, the Minnesota Commanding Officers Task Force, and other veterans organizations, VA determined that a branch in St. Cloud would fill the gaps in service to meet the needs of Minnesota veterans,” the statement read.

The St. Cloud Vet Center Outstation will support nine counties, according to the release.

“In partnership with Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke, the Minnesota Commanding Officers Task Force, and other veterans organizations, VA determined that a branch in St. Cloud would fill the gaps in service to meet the needs of Minnesota veterans,” Governor Tim Walz said. said in the press release.

Sarah Kocher is the economics reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Contact her at 320-255-8799 or Follow her on Twitter @SarahAKocher.

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