Veterans One Stop will open its doors Monday as a central location in Waco where veterans and their families can access free community resources.
The primary goal of the facility is to bring service providers under one roof to make it more convenient for veterans to access resources, such as help understanding educational opportunities, entering mental health treatment or job hunting.
The facility at 2220 Austin Ave. includes a computer lab, a small-group meeting room for educational seminars, a conference meeting room, kitchen, at least 10 offices for service providers, and two lounge areas and a covered outdoor patio for veterans to visit with each other.
The building is owned by Heart of Texas Mental Health and Mental Retardation. It was formerly used for a program that served mental health patients with criminal justice issues.
“Our goal is to save the veteran a lot of running around in trying to figure out, ‘Where should I go? How can I get help?’ ” said Maggie McCarthy, one of the facility’s organizers.
“We don’t want to have a veteran leave here needing help, because there is a person here they can talk to.”
Some agencies will have a permanent presence at the building, while others may have set hours once or twice a month.
Lone Star Legal Aid, Texas Workforce Commission, Habitat for Humanity and local colleges are expected to be involved with the center.
The facility will also offer seminars on topics like coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, job readiness training or civil legal clinics.
“We want to get the building open and start welcoming veterans, then probably by the next week develop a calendar for February for any special educational programs and the dates different organizations will be in the facility,” said Tom Thomas, director of MHMR’s adult mental health services and the coordinator for Veterans One Stop.
“The idea is that we will be able to serve all of the veterans’ needs within a month’s time.”
Ray Muniz, MHMR’s director of veterans affairs, has an office at the center and will introduce visitors to counseling and mental health services the agency officers.
MHMR will also move its peer mentoring program to the center. The mentors, who are also veterans, will serve as “battle buddies” and help visitors navigate the services at the center or meet one-on-one to discuss any issues the veterans may be facing.
“It’s easier to talk to someone who’s been there with you or at least familiar with your culture, if you will, the brotherhood- or sisterhood-at-arms,” said Muniz, who served in the Army for 24 years. “Even though there’s different branches and they all have their own codes, the one thing we all share is that ‘No one is left behind.’ That’s what we want to see here.”
McLennan County Veterans’ Services Officer Steve Hernandez plans to hold office hours at the facility throughout the week to assist veterans with anything from learning about their U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits to filing claims.
Hernandez hopes to eventually make his permanent office in the One Stop, relocating from a county-owned building at Seventh Street and Columbus Avenue. The move would require approval from the commissioners court since he is a county employee.
“I think in the long run it would benefit the county at large, because of my experience in dealing with veterans issues and MHMR’s expertise in treatment of mental health issues,” Hernandez said. “It’s helpful to have that cooperation there and get a lot more heads (working) together.”