Ribbon-cutting for new VA Mental Health Center

June 22, 2012 8:23:31 PM PDT
Returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are going to get everything they need. That's the message from the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Friday the VA cut the ribbon on a new Mental Health Center in Palo Alto. We talked with an Iraq veteran who was a guest of honor at the event.

Former Army specialist Christopher hurt stood right next to the VA's under secretary for health as he cut the ribbon on the new $54 million, 80-bed Mental Health Center. Hurt took his turn at the podium along with Congresswomen Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.

"Most veterans won't actually accept help even if they know that they need it and at least here the veterans won't feel like their imprisoned on something," he said.

His blunt assessment amid all the other thank you speeches seemed a little off-kilter, but Hurt knows what he's talking about. Just last week he was a patient in the old VA Mental Health Center.

"I was not going outside, I was just staying at my home," he said. "I wouldn't talk to anybody. "

When he came home from 2 1/2 years of combat, Hurt says he began to withdraw. His family convinced him to get help. But in the old VA center, it felt like a lockup.

"There was only three times when we could go out during the day for about half an hour," Hurt said.

Today the Army mechanic walked me around the brand new facility and pointing out the outdoor spaces, the windows and the furniture -- upholstered chairs instead of plastic cubes and windows instead of blank walls.

"Just being able to look out whenever you need to, not feeling like you're trapped in here," he said.

The 90,000-square foot center was designed to give vets that peace of mind.

"The work that will be done here and the need in our country cannot be overstated," said Eshoo.

Especially with veterans that have deployed multiple times. I asked Hurt, out of his unit, how many he thinks will need the VA Mental Health Center.

"Honestly, most of them," he said. "Most of them will have something that they'll need help with eventually."

Hurt says he's thought about being a diesel mechanic in civilian life. He's also started to think about a career in mental health. He says most of the folks at the center that have helped him are veterans.


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