VA sends mobile Vet Centers to provide counseling on Capitol Hill
By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 2, 2021
WASHINGTON – Two mobile Vet Centers will set up near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to provide free mental health services to Capitol Police, lawmakers, congressional staff and National Guard members who need counseling after the Jan. 6 attack in Washington.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is sending the Vet Centers at the request of Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Yogananda D. Pittman, acting chief of the Capitol Police. Since the attack, when a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol, two Capitol police officers have died by suicide.
Mental health providers will work out of the mobile Vet Centers to provide confidential counseling, said Richard Stone, acting undersecretary of the Veterans Health Administration. The VA maintains about 80 Vet Centers, which are often sent to disaster-affected areas, including places that have been ravaged by hurricanes, wildfires and mass shootings.
“Staff are prepared to discuss and identify solutions to addressing stress, fatigue, grief, trauma and other thoughts or feelings individuals may be experiencing,” Stone said.
During the attack last month, thousands of people protesting the presidential election results gathered at the National Mall. Some of the crowd walked to the Capitol, where they breached police perimeters and stormed the building. They occupied, vandalized and looted the offices of some lawmakers. More than 180 people have been charged and arrested.
Five people died as a result of the attack, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher by one rioter. Sicknick, a 51-year-old Air Force veteran, will lie in state at the Capitol this week.
Two officers, Jeffery Smith and Howard Liebengood, died by suicide following the attack. They defended the Capitol on Jan. 6. Pittman said Tuesday that she was grateful for the Vet Centers.
“The continued support of the entire congressional community, and the nation, is of great comfort to our department,” Pittman said.
Some lawmakers have spoken openly about the fear they felt on Jan. 6 and the trauma they’re still experiencing. On Monday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., posted an Instagram Live about the attack. She said she hid in the bathroom when rioters entered her office, and she felt like she was going to die.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week that she attended post-traumatic counseling sessions after the riot and is urging other lawmakers to do the same.
The mobile Vet Centers on Capitol Hill will be in Lot 16 near the Senate and Lot 5 near the House. Staff will provide free, confidential counseling to anyone in crisis.
Walk-in appointments are available from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Anyone who would like to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment can call (202) 726-5212.
It was unclear Tuesday how long the Vet Centers would be on site.