You’d have to be there
is a casual phrase. But when it comes to sharing vivid memories
and personal combat experiences, for many veterans it’s an
absolute. Which is why Congress created Mobile Vet Centers:
Traveling resources housed in state-of-the-art motor coaches that
are 38 feet long and outfitted with satellite capabilities. Out of
the four in California, one is stationed in South Santa Clara
“You’d have to be there” is a casual phrase. But when it comes to sharing vivid memories and personal combat experiences, for many veterans it’s an absolute.
Which is why Congress created Mobile Vet Centers: Traveling resources housed in state-of-the-art motor coaches that are 38 feet long and outfitted with satellite capabilities.
The United States has about 50 of them. Out of the four in California, one is stationed in South Santa Clara County.
It’s captained by retired Air Force Master Sgt. Danny Molina, 49, the center’s onboard readjustment counseling technician who was born in Gilroy and graduated from Gilroy High School.
Together with his partner, Readjustment Counseling Therapist Brock McNabb, the pair have cruised up and down the golden state from San Francisco to San Diego administering counseling, story-swapping and camaraderie.
“We don’t have a boundary,” emphasized Molina, who said his unit has been on the road for about 18 months. “We do rural outreach, and that’s what the mobile vet center is there to do: Go to the communities, so they know the Department of Veterans Affairs is there for them to help them readjust after war.”
Molina said he’s on the road between four to five days a week, and is often gone two weeks at a time.
“Wherever they need us,” he said.
Established in 1979 for Vietnam veterans, the service is a division of the VA and has grown to include a broad range of outreach for all war zone and military sexual assault victims of any era.
It’s cost-free, completely confidential and offers a healthy outlet for anyone who’s experienced post-traumatic stress disorder or wants to exchange experiences in a nonstigmatizing environment.
One-on-one family and marriage counseling for veterans, medical referrals, assistance with filing various claim forms and help with employment are also at visitors’ disposal.
“People don’t want to go to what they think is a hospital environment. This is not a hospital,” Molina reiterated.
Ray Sanchez, adjutant for the American Legion Gilroy Post 217, said he’s working with Molina on setting up visits from the mobile unit on a monthly basis, ideally.
This kind of flexibility and mobility, McNabb said, is their most effective ally.
“It allows us to perform education and outreach to unlimited populations,” he explained, rambling off a list that included military bases, colleges, community events, Wal-Mart parking lots, World Series baseball games and the 2009 mass shooting in Fort Hood, Texas.
“We can go anywhere and everywhere.”
Joe Kline, public information officer for the city of Gilroy, said he was unaware of the mobile vet center but said counseling for veterans – especially the younger ones who have come back from Iraq or Afghanistan – is crucial.
A veteran of the 101st Airborne Division nicknamed the “King’s Men,” Kline spent 13 months in Vietnam as a door gunner, hanging off the side of helicopters .
“They’re in a really tough situation,” he said of the younger vets. “But the advantage they have is that people, society and the VA nowadays realize the importance of counseling much more than they did 20 or 30 years ago.”
McNabb, 34, a retired mental health sergeant who was stationed in Germany for four years and Iraq for about two years, is now in the Air Force Reserves.
He said combat veterans share a universal understanding, which is why anyone working on a mobile vet center is required to be one.
“It opens the doors,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what walk of life, what race or what gender. If you’re a veteran a person will recognize that, and open up to you. It’s a culture unto its own. It’s a family unto its own.”
Molina, for example, who was part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq, declined to discuss any of his past experiences, saying it was something he shares only with other combat veterans.
“I draw from my own experiences to relate with people I’m talking with,” he said. “A veteran can tell you if you’ve been there or not; they’ll see right through you.”
McNabb said cities such as Gilroy, Hollister, Morgan Hill – the local “hometowns” – are always a priority.
“We make sure we’re catering to those veterans, on top of going elsewhere,” he said.
He mentioned the unit will likely be present at the Garlic Festival.
“We take care of our own backyard before we take care of someone else’s.”
Molina said he wants people to know the center is here, and available to help.
“Nobody ever gets turned away,” he said. “We’ll stay until everybody is gone.”
Mobile Vet Centers
– A free of charge outreach service providing counseling to all war zone veterans and military sexual harassment/assault victims of any era.
– Other aid includes one-on-one family and marriage counseling for veterans, medical referrals, assistance with filing various claim forms and help with employment.
– Mobile Vet Centers operate by invitation or will appear at certain public events.
– Call Gilroyan Danny Molina, mobile vet center technician at (831) 464-4575 or e-mail [email protected]