The sounds of gunfire and helicopters flying overhead are not the noises one would expect to hear at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
But for combat veterans attending the festival, those sounds are all too familiar. Surrounded by chaos and loss, the scene can be devastating for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
That’s where the Vet Center program comes in.
Part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the program was established by Congress in 1979 to support Vietnam-era veterans suffering through readjustment problems. The program has since expanded to provide counseling and other services for not only veterans, but their family members as well.
There are 300 Vet Center locations across the nation, including 31 in California.
A Mobile Vet Center, based out of the program’s Bakersfield center, parked in front of the Veterans Memorial Building at 74 West Sixth St. in Gilroy on July 30, where it is expected to remain throughout the week.
Jenny Frank and Benny Rodriguez of the Bakersfield Vet Center are staffing the mobile center in Gilroy.
Frank said the mobile center responds to natural disasters and other traumatic incidents such as shootings. The Bakersfield unit was previously stationed in Ridgecrest, responding to the major earthquakes there earlier in July.
“We got the call yesterday that we might be needed out here to provide some support,” she said. “We packed up our bags and came out here to Gilroy to provide what we can.”
The shooting at the Garlic Festival could trigger PTSD symptoms in combat veterans, Frank added.
“This definitely stirs up emotions and causes them to have symptoms that they may have been coping with up until this point,” she said. “It’s our goal and our hope that veterans come out here and seek services. We just want them to seek what they need.”
In addition to counseling, the Vet Center provides medical services referrals, assistance with applying for VA benefits and more. For information, visit vetcenter.va.gov or call 1-877-WAR-VETS.