OGDEN -- The new veterans nursing home in Ogden isn't even finished yet, but Utah Veterans Affairs Director Terry Schow is already looking for the next big thing.
He wants new veterans centers next, one in the Top of Utah and one in Washington County. He also wants yet another nursing home, but the veterans centers are something he sees as more doable and more needed.
Veterans centers aren't medical clinics, they're more of a drop-in referral and counseling place, somewhere a vet walking down the street can stop in without feeling as if he or she is taking a major step into a medical situation.
"They first started in the 1970s," Schow said. "Usually on college campuses and in strip malls. They were there to help Vietnam veterans who were suffering from PTSD. They found some of these vets did not want to go to a government facility."
By putting them in nongovernmental buildings, "they found that many vets were more inclined to go there to get help."
The idea continues today. The Salt Lake Veterans Center is at 1354 E. 3300 South, not on the same campus as the other Veterans Administration facilities in that city, which are near the University of Utah.
Schow said that's his vision for one in the Top of Utah as well. He'd like to see it located in a local mall or storefront.
"It is a drop-in location," he said, "staffed by combat veterans themselves, social-work types," so the veterans coming in can more easily identify with them.
"The reason we need them, in Northern Utah you've got 45,000 veterans up here, and you've got Hill Air Force Base nearby."
One is needed in Ogden "for the same reason we needed a nursing home: It's a good central location."
Just as with nursing homes, Schow is ready to point out that many other states have more veterans centers serving veteran populations very similar to Utah's.
Utah's two centers must serve 157,000 veterans. New Mexico has four centers to serve 179,000 veterans. West Virginia has eight vet centers serving 177,000 veterans, and Maine has five serving 144,000 veterans.
"So I've been speaking to our Veterans Administration folks, our congressional delegation, asking them to help us get more veterans centers."
Schow said a veterans center would not be nearly the financial hurdle that the state's new $20 million nursing home was.
"We would have to find space -- it would probably cost $200,000 to $300,000, I'm just guessing -- and hire a couple of employees," he said. "But what's the price if you save the life of one veteran?"