WASILLA —The Wasilla Vet Center recently celebrated its 40th anniversary drawing a sizable crowd. Special speakers such as Gov. Mike Dunleavy discussing the importance of this local resource tailored to local active duty U.S. military and veterans who served in combat.

“I honestly believe it is critical to have the ability to meet veterans where they’re at and help them through the continuum of care,” Wasilla Vet Center Director Cheryl Lundy said.

The Vet Center program was established by congress in 1979 in light if the high volumes of Vietnam-era veterans still experiencing readjustment problems. It serves as an extension of the VA. It’s specifically designed to provide counseling and support to active duty military from combat, and combat veterans as well as their families.

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Many people who served in times of combat experience conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and require assistance integrating back into society. Lundy said they try to hire combat veterans to help empathize with clients, relating to their issues.

In addition to traditional counseling, The Wasilla Vet Center offers a variety of non-traditional treatment group activities.

“Congress wanted us to be a place not just like a formal mental health counseling center, but where veterans feel comfortable to just come in, drink coffee and hang out with their buddies. They call it a ‘non-traditional mission’ to just meet the veterans where they’re at,” Lundy said.

A lot of these non-traditional groups involve outdoor activities like fly-tying which are big hit, according to Lundy.

“Some of the guys especially that are connected to the fly-tying group- they say frequently about how it’s just changed their life. They were anxious, they didn’t want to get out and socialize. Now that they come out and connect with their buddies,” Lundy said.

Lundy has been the director for the past two and a half years. She’s also an Air Force veteran. She said that during her service, she was a social worker with the VA “doing the same thing, just wearing a uniform.” She said that working at the center supporting local veterans means a lot to her.

“It is amazing. It is the most rewarding. I think the VA itself is fantastic but this portion of the VA is the most rewarding I’ve ever been a part of,” Lundy said.

About 15 active U.S. military and 30 veterans attended the event. Dunleavy shared his gratitude for their service, citing the state’s high rate of military per capita and how important it is to support them.

“It was truly an honor to have him here,” Lundy said.

Eligibility is based on: any past or present military who served in any combat theater or area of hostility, experienced military sexual trauma, provided direct emergent medical care or mortuary services to the casualties of war, served as an unmanned aerial vehicle crew that provided direct support to operations in a combat zone or area of hostility, as well as those who served in conflicts like WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm/Desert Shield and so on.

“On the other side of the spectrum, we have Vietnam and Korean era guys that are dealing with end of life care issues and the impact it has on families. It’s so incredibly powerful that they allow us to be on this journey with them,” Lundy said.

For more information about the Wasilla Vet Center, call: 907-376-4318.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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