Chris Martin, the president of the Denton County Veterans Coalition, said Denton County is the best place to be a veteran because of the community and government support.
About a dozen volunteers from various organizations met Saturday morning to paint the walls of what soon will be a mental health facility for local veterans. The space is two doors down from the Denton County Veterans Center at 400 S. Carroll Blvd., Suite 2000.
After it opens in late April, eight to nine mental health professionals with Veterans Affairs certification will be able to treat local veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress and other behavioral health issues.
“This is a great way to reach out to the [veteran] community and make sure they’re taken care of,” Martin said.
Martin, a retired Army colonel, led a battalion of 400 soldiers in Iraq in 2004. A few of the veterans from his battalion have since died by suicide, which he said could have been prevented by services like this.
There are more than 45,000 military veterans in the county, according to the United Way of Denton County. The new 4,400-square-foot behavioral health center will open late April, and 10,000 visits are expected per year, a United Way news release says. Services will be free to veterans who are eligible through the Department of Veteran Affairs.
Bob Widmer of United Way’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic next door secured the space for the new facility. A private client of his, who Widmer said wishes to remain unnamed, is donating $75,000 per year for three years to help cover rent and utilities.
Some of the volunteers said mental health services in Denton are limited and that many veterans have had to make the drive from Denton to Dallas for treatment. Martin said that drive alone could serve as a trigger for veterans with PTSD.
While the behavioral health facility has been in the works for years, it didn’t take off until U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, stepped in and spoke with VA. VA didn’t have the funding for a new facility, but it would provide the staffing if local advocates could find a space, Martin said.
Many organizations and companies have been involved at every step of this project by volunteering their time, Martin said.
Habitat for Humanity builders volunteered to construct new walls with materials donated from a local Lowe’s Home Improvement store.
Also on Saturday, Paul Bastaich, Denton County veteran services officer, also presented Martin with a $1,000 check from the local American Legion chapter to help cover emergency funding for a veteran in need of treatment.
Several of the volunteers this weekend were veterans. Diane Schuth, who served in the Air Force, said she wanted to help because she recognized the importance of the facility.
Schuth is also a member of the local Women Veterans of America chapter. Through the organization, she said she’s found a family.
“You feel like you finally came home,” Schuth said. “You feel accepted. It’s mind-boggling.”
Gerald Boerger, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, said he’s met some great people through the project.
“There’s good fellowship and camaraderie,” Boerger said. “[I’ve been] meeting good people in the community who are giving a lot of time and energy for this cause.”