A full-service Veterans Affairs center set up shop Monday morning in front of Orscheln Farm and Home in Boonville.
Based out of an unassuming repurposed recreational vehicle, the mobile veterans center offered all the services typically seen in a veterans affairs clinic.
“This vehicle was created for outreach in rural areas of Missouri,” said Mark Johnson, outreach director for the VA. “Some people in rural areas can’t reach the hospital, so we bring the hospital to them.”
This U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs mobile center is owned and operated by the Columbia Vet Center, but serves 38 surrounding counties. Missouri has full-service veterans centers in Columbia, Springfield, Kansas City and Saint Louis, where veterans and their families can receive readjustment counseling, help with their job search and assistance accessing resources and benefits available to them. Johnson and his team provide referrals to local veterans services and suicide prevention resources and help plan burials and memorial services. Bereavement counseling, marriage counseling, and counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma are also provided on-site.
Nearly 98 percent of Missouri is classified as rural, according to census data. This mobile outreach center helps bridge the gap for the 30 percent of Missourians who live in these rural areas, hours away from the nearest veterans center.
Johnson, who served in the Marine Corps for 20 years, estimated that he oversees 100 mobile outreach events each year. He chose this location in front of Orscheln Farm and Home due to the store’s willingness to work with them.
“We’re here to help,” Johnson said. “We can provide readjustment counseling to veterans, and their wives and families, all from this vehicle.”
The mobile outreach center connects about 2,000 to 3,000 veterans with services each year.
“The best part of this job is just helping people,” said Miranda Heaney, health benefits adviser. “From start to finish, I can help people qualify for their benefits in less than 20 minutes. I’ve had World War II veterans come in and receive benefits they didn’t know they could have.”
More than 70 of these mobile veterans centers operate across the country. The Columbia-based center has been operating since 2010. In 2017, veteran centers connected more than 1,960,000 veterans with readjustment counseling, military sexual trauma counseling and bereavement counseling.
“It’s just great to know that we can have events like this and genuinely help answer questions and help people out,” Heaney said.