The Mechling-Shakley Veterans Center, located at 1413 State Route 268, Cowansville, PA. 16218; (724)545-9016, is a U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs sponsored contract facility for "Homeless Veterans" with emotional or substance abuse problems. The program operates under the auspices of the V.A. Medical Center, Highland Drive, Pittsburgh, PA. The Veterans Center is located in a rural area of Armstrong County, fifty miles from Pittsburgh and approximately eight miles west of Kittanning on State Route 268.
The primary mission of the Veterans Center is to provide a community based residential treatment facility for homeless veterans needing rehabilitation and support so he or she can become a successful part of the community.
It is the philosophy of the Veterans Center that despite social and personal setbacks, there is hope for personal improvement through the efforts of the veteran and the support of the Center Staff, programs, and the other residents.
There are two basic programs at the Veterans Center:
1. The V.A. sponsors a limited number of veterans for a limited period of time. This is for the Veteran who has specific goals and only needs a short time to get his or her life on track. This is usually for a period of two years.
2. For those veterans needing ongoing or long term assistance there is a self-pay program with more limited goals and expectations. Sometimes veterans from the first program can move to the second.
Residents are provided with the following services:
2. Job training
3. Life skills enhancement
4. Educational opportunities
5. Assistance finding housing within the community
6. Transportation to medical appointments
7. Substance abuse counseling
8. Job readiness preparation
When a new resident arrives he or she is provided with a "Hand Book". This book states the policies and procedures of he Center. The book also contains the rule of the facility and what is expected of each resident, including daily chores and schedules. All veterans in the V.A. contract program will develop a set of time specific personal goals that that are geared to his or her circumstance. Failure to make an effort to meet these goalsmay result in dismissal from the program.
This is a drug and alcohol free facility and anyone using or bringing either substance onto the grounds will be subject to immediate dismissal from the program and the facility.
The residents are provided transportation to and from the Veterans Center so he or she can attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, Medical Appointments, Compensated Work Therapy (CWT) Program at the V.A. and any number of therapeutic programs. Transportation is also provided to the local malls and stores several times a week.
In many cases, residents medications are monitered by a staff nurse in consultation with the V.A. Medical Center's medical and nursing staff. Residents are assisted to maintain compliance with his or her drug regimen and keep medical and counseling appointments. Failure to follow the prescribed medication regimen can result in disciplinary action.
Residents are also expected to sign in and out upon arrival and leaving the facility. There is a curfew and failure to follow these conditions may result in restriction to the campus. Furloughs are also granted after a reasonable time at the Center based on plans for the furlough, destination, and work on the recovery process. Furloughs are viewed as a theraputic process and should have some value to improve the life of the resident for the long term.
Residents with substance abuse problems are required to attend scheduled AA and NA meetings at the Center and in the community. Also, relapse prevention counseling at the V.A. Medical Center is expected. If (PTSD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is identified by the V.A. Medical Center staff as a veterans problem, that veteran will be expected to attend the PTSD Program at the V.A. Medical Center, Highland Drive Facility. Further, there are Therapists available from the Veterans Resource Center who can provide group or individual counseling.
Recreation can play an important part in any recovery and rehabilitation program. At the Veterans' Center, there is at least one activity planned every month, such as, attendance at Pittsburgh Pirate Baseball Games, Stock Car Racing at a local track and High School Football Games. Some are overnight trips to Gettysburg, PA., Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, Niagara Falls, Canada and Washington D.C. Also, at least once a year several days are spent camping at a nearby State Park with trips to Ohiopyle for white-water rafting, bicycling or just walking around the lakes and forests. The Veterans Center also provides on site recreation. There is a gymnasium with basketball hoops, weight lifting equipment, pool tables, a ping pong table, card tables, horse shoes, volleyball, baseball and softball.
The Veterans Center facilities include a dining hall with modern kitchen, dining room, recreation room, with cable T.V., day room and offices. A second building hols the gymnasium, 54 private bedrooms, modern bathing and laundry rooms, and a community/counseling room. The dining hall and dormitory are connected by a covered walkway. There are five cottages and a house on the nine-acre campus. An area behind the dining hall provides safe parking for residents cars.
During the summer months, veterans can make extra money washing and waxing cars from the community. The Veterans also have use of the local Community Park only a short distance away. Computers are available to all the residents to get on the internet for job leads, information on healthcare benefits and for recreational use.
To make the most of a resident's stay requires a strong desire on the part of the veteran to change his or her life style. Residents are assisted in making and achieving goals. Periodically the Center and the V.A. staff review the progress of the veteran. However, the staff and program can do only so much. Without the veteran's total commitment , there is little chance of personal success.
The Veterans Center welcomes visits from veterans groups. Suggestions to improve the programs and facilities are encouraged. Community volunteers to help with spiritual growth, providing job opportunities, birthday or Christmas parties and other functions and many other opportunities are always welcome.