Inspired by the success and community support of the Coffee Bunker in Tulsa, Sen. Frank Simpson filed legislation this session to establish more veteran outreach centers around the state to help veterans who are struggling after returning from combat. On Thursday, the Senate Veterans Committee approved Senate Bill 713, which would require the development of seven peer-supported, drop-in centers for veterans.
“It’s obvious that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is incapable of taking care of the needs of our military men and women. Creating these centers is a way for Oklahoma to reach out to the many veterans who are struggling with PTSD, depression, addiction or other issues who aren’t currently getting any help,” said Simpson, R-Springer, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee. “These outreach programs will also provide veterans and their families assistance with job placement, education, counseling, veterans benefits and any other services they may need. We want Oklahoma veterans and their families to know that we care about them and they aren’t alone.”
The centers will be jointly administered by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Mental Health. Nonprofits, with expertise in assisting veterans, will be allowed to apply for funding to operate at the centers to provide their services.
Rep. Pat Ownbey is the House author.
“These centers will provide a safe haven for our veterans to be with their peers, share their experiences without shame or fear of ridicule and get the assistance they need free of charge,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore. “It’s tragic that these brave men and women put their lives at risk to serve their country only to come home and not have anywhere to turn for help. We’re losing too many of our heroes to suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and other issues that are completely preventable with the proper treatment. Unfortunately, the federal VA has let too many soldiers fall through the cracks, but we won’t let that happen to any more of our Oklahoma sons and daughters.”
There are currently two part-time veteran’s drop-in centers in Oklahoma including the Coffee Bunker, which is supported by the Community Service Council, and Coffee & Comrades in Oklahoma City, which is supported by NAMI OK. These centers provide a safe, peer-supported atmosphere for veterans. However, they do not receive any state funds and are housed in donated locations.
SB 713 will next be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee.