By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Shawna Munson is a licensed professional counselor and director of the Citrus Heights Vet Center, which opened its doors on Sunrise Boulevard in 2010. Her community-based center is part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and has served about 3,000 veterans and their families since opening — but many still don’t know what the center does.
“The most common public misconception about our center from some of the telephone calls we’ve received is that we’re a veterinarian’s office,” Munson told The Sentinel in an interview. “Most people in the community just don’t know we’re here, and that we’re here to help.”
Munson, a native of Texas who is married to a combat veteran, described the general mission of the Vet Center and its successes.
Its staff serves male and female veterans from World War II to the present with a “primary population of combat veterans and veterans with military sexual trauma and their families,” Munson said. “We will turn no veteran away who needs assistance.”
The Citrus Heights Center located in the River City Bank Building at 5650 Sunrise Blvd., Suite 150 is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Veterans can call (916) 535-0420 to reach the center’s multi-disciplinary team of dedicated providers, many of whom are also combat veterans themselves.
“We’re here to provide a broad range of counseling, outreach, and referral services to eligible veterans in order to help them make a satisfying post-war readjustment to civilian life,” Munson said.
Specific counseling services she said include help with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which may not surface until many years after wartime combat service.
“Most of the veterans who have completed our post-traumatic stress groups and military sexual trauma groups report that the groups were a life-changer for them and in many cases that the groups have saved their life, families and marriages,” said Munson.
“Veterans are seen on a walk-in basis, but if they would prefer an appointment, they can be scheduled within a time that meets their individual needs,” she said. Five counselors are on staff. Group counseling sessions vary in size.
The Vet Center Program was established by Congress in 1979 out of the recognition that a significant number of Vietnam-era veterans were still experiencing readjustment problems, Munson said.
“As a consequence of the #MeToo movement, we’re seeing an increase in female veterans, not just men, who describe themselves as victims of military sexual trauma,” said Munson. “We offer a place where they can talk safely.”
In all, the potential number of veterans from a wide range of combat eras who could be served by the Citrus Heights Vet Center is substantial.
In April 1991, in response to the Persian Gulf War, Congress extended the eligibility to veterans who served during other periods of armed hostilities after the Vietnam era. Those other periods are identified as Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Kosovo/Bosnia. In October 1996, Congress extended the eligibility to include World War II and Korean War combat veterans.
On April 1, 2003, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs extended eligibility for Vet Center services to veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and subsequent operations within the Global War on Terrorism.
Family members of all eligible veterans who served in these eras of conflict are also eligible for Vet Center services as well, Munson said.
Munson said that bereavement counseling services are also available to surviving parents, spouses, children and siblings of service members who die of any cause while on active duty, including federally-activated Reserve and National Guard personnel.
Although readjustment counseling services include individual and group counseling, marital and family counseling, and medical referrals, the center does not assist directly with a veteran’s application V.A. benefits.
“While our office does not assist directly with the filing of military disability claims, we do have veteran benefit service officers from the local VBA and Sacramento County Veteran Service Office who come to our Citrus Heights center monthly to assist our veterans with disability claims,” Munson said.
The Citrus Heights Vet Center also offers employment counseling, guidance and referral to alcohol and drug treatment.
Munson said services for homeless veterans in the greater Citrus Heights area are offered through Volunteers of America, the Salvation Army and HUD-VASH.
HUD-VASH is a collaborative program between the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Administration that combines HUD housing vouchers with VA supportive services to help veterans who are homeless.
VA case managers may connect these Veterans with support services such as health care, mental health treatment and substance use counseling to help them in their recovery process and with their ability to maintain housing in the community.
“We want to encourage members of our local Veterans community organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans to learn more about what the center has to offer,” said Munson. “Our staff is available to attend their meetings and events to speak about our services, as well as encouraging their members to seek help when needed to experience the services first hand.”
“We try to meet our veterans where they are. I’d like veterans to know that the Citrus Heights Vet Center is an open house for them. It’s really their center.”
The Citrus Heights Center located in the River Bank Building at 5650 Sunrise Blvd., Suite 150 is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For assistance after hours, weekends, and holidays call: 1 (877) WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387).
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