The Lander City Council heard a presentation this week from the Lander Community Veterans Resource Center, an organization that formed this year to serve local veterans, first responders, firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, and their loved ones.
The resource center is particularly committed to the mental health needs of those populations, organization president Joey Waller told the council during a work session Tuesday, describing some of the services that “we are successfully getting installed here in Lander for our veterans and for our first responders,” like the new Veterans Talking to Veterans and moral injury groups.
“We’re (working) to address issues that are longstanding – for not only veterans, but for homeless people living on the street who never served a day in the military,” resource center executive director Michael Tanner said. “They’re homeless, they’re human beings, (and) we’re going to help them. …
“We’re going to make a difference in this town, and in this area.”
Lander is home to more than 870 registered military veterans, Tanner said – more than 10 percent of the town’s population and more than half of the countywide veteran population.
Other local veterans are “homeless, unregistered, and unrecognized,” Tanner said, describing encounters with “several dozen” such individuals at Lander City Park “in the middle of the night.”
“(They) are terrified to register because of their fear of government above the local level,” he said – but “they now know we’re here, (and) they’re starting to reach out.”
There are more “struggling veterans” in Lander “than you would believe,” Waller said, explaining that veterans in particular are often skilled at “hiding their injuries and hiding what’s going on in their lives.”
“You won’t know even if you ask them; they won’t tell you,” he said. “That’s why this organization is here – (so) we can help these veterans that have these issues. We’re giving them a safe place to come in and speak of these things.”
The resource center will host its first free Coffee House event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday Nov. 6, Waller said, inviting veterans, first responders and others to take advantage of the opportunity to process “stressors” and “triggers” that might come up during the day.
‘The care that they need’
Councilmember Missy White thanked Waller and Tanner for their work in the community, calling it “heartbreaking that folks who commit (to) service – and the hardships that they see through that service – don’t always get the care that they need.”
“I’m glad your organization is working to rectify that,” she said.
Wyoming has now designated the Lander resource center as a Veterans Administration community access point, Tanner said, and organizers are working to achieve the national version of that designation, which will allow the center to receive VA funding.
Until that happens, he said, “we are reliant on our community for help” – and that support has been forthcoming, with $35,000 in financial and in-kind donations flowing in since Aug. 1.
“Everything is just rolling so fast for us,” Waller said. “We have organizations that are coming to us going, ‘Hey, you guys are doing this? Awesome. Can we partner with you?’ … There’s just so many things in the works. (We) are really getting along much faster than anyone imagined.”
The resource center also received a $22,000 grant from the LOR Foundation to cover its first year of rent, among other expenses, Waller said, and the organization has received letters from elected officials in the state “showing their support (and) appreciation for us, for what we’re doing.”
Lander Mayor Monte Richardson offered his “personal support” to the project early on, Tanner noted, and that “encouragement … was a huge part of what was able to motivate (us).”
“Everybody’s just behind us and supporting us,” Waller said, encouraging the council to “stop in and see what we’re about.”
The center is looking for volunteers, too, he added.
For more information about the resource center, or to donate or volunteer, email [email protected] or call 330-6634.