Veterans Affairs sends mobile mental health clinics to Capitol Hill after attack

VA deploy Mobile Vet Centers to Capitol grounds.
VA deploy Mobile Vet Centers to Capitol grounds. Photo credit Department of Veterans Affairs

In the wake of the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the Department of Veterans Affairs deployed two of its mobile mental health units to make sure survivors and first responders have access to support.

The centers set up on the grounds of the Capitol this week to provide free counseling and mental health resources to Capitol police, members of the National Guard and Congressional staff. While Capitol Hill is home to hundreds of lawmakers, thousands of support staff also work in and around the Capitol complex.

“Our Vet Center teams often deploy to emergency or crisis situations to help fulfill VA’s Fourth Mission of caring for our communities, providing necessary counseling and connection to other community resources they may need at the time,” said Dr. Richard Stone, acting undersecretary for health at the department. “Staff are prepared to discuss and identify solutions to addressing stress, fatigue, grief, trauma and other thoughts or feelings individuals may be experiencing. We are a part of the communities we serve and want to be a part of the solution.”

Some of those inside the Capitol on the day of the siege were also veterans, including police officers, congressional staff and some lawmakers. Brian Sicknick was one of those, a Capitol Police officer and Iraq War veteran who died from injuries he sustained while defending against the mob that forced its way inside. Sicknick laid in honor in the Capitol rotunda this week before his internment in Arlington National Cemetery. Two other officers, Jeffery Smith and Howard Liebengood, died by suicide following the assault on the Capitol.

"VA has responded to crises across the country through its Fourth Mission from the shooting at Pulse Night Club, to the rampage in Las Vegas, and the current pandemic -- the Mobile Vet Centers deployed on our Capitol grounds will once again show how veterans and VA continue to step up and serve their community, not just their fellow veterans," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, said in a statement. With the continued deployment of thousands of National Guard troops in our Capitol region, I am elated that VA has agreed to provide these invaluable and potentially lifesaving resources."

The mobile centers were expected to be set up in Lot 16 on the Senate side and Lot 6 on the House side to provide counseling, outreach and referral services to anyone in crisis beginning this week. The services are confidential and come at no cost to the individual. Walk-in appointments begin at 7 a.m. and run until 11 p.m., or you can call the Washington, D.C. Vet Center at 202-726-5212. Virtual services are also available at the same number.

It was not immediately clear how long the mobile centers would stay at the Capitol.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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