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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Gainesville Veterans center opens

Local veterans, politicians and citizens celebrated the Gainesville Vet Center's grand opening Monday afternoon as one of 23 new centers to open throughout the country.

The center in Gainesville will provide mental health services for all eligible veterans, including one-on-one counseling, group counseling, marriage and family counseling, and post-traumatic stress disorder counseling.

Congress set up the Vet Center Program in 1979, offering Vietnam veterans free, confidential counseling to help them readjust to civilian life.

Since 1996, all veterans who have served or were present in hostile combat areas are able to use the Vet Centers and the services they provide.

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Before the opening of the center in Gainesville, veterans interested in the services had to be sent to centers in Tallahassee or Jacksonville, said Jim Lynch, director of the Alachua County Veterans Service Office.

"As a die-hard Gator, I hated sending anyone to Tallahassee," Lynch said.

The center provides something that the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center doesn't - time.

"We target the long-term," said Nicole Delacerda, a counselor at the Gainesville Vet Center.

Aside from traditional and group counseling, Delacerda said the center will also offer anger management and support on identifying and dealing with stress.

Wayne Plummer, a licensed clinical social worker and team leader for the Gainesville Vet Center, said the center is a nice option for veterans interested in local services who may not want to go to a hospital.

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"We do mental health," Plummer said. "We focus on privacy."

He also said the center is about providing services to help those who are overwhelmed and are trying to readjust to life after combat, rather than focusing on people with disorders.

"It's not about being crazy," he said.

Gainesville, a city in which many veterans reside, is a great place for a center that provides activities and services, said Victoria Van Buren, an Air Force veteran.

"This county is great for veteran support," Van Buren said.

Alachua County also offers services such as vocational rehabilitation, disability compensation and pension benefits for residents who are veterans.

The event featured the Navy Southeast Ceremonial Band and LeRoy Collins Jr, the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and a Navy veteran, gave the keynote speech.

Collins said 10 percent of Florida's 18 million residents are veterans.

Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan said the center is a wonderful addition to the city.

Hanrahan added that it is important for combat veterans to speak with each other about their military histories.

"It's just one of those life experiences," she said. "You've either been there or you haven't."

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