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One-stop shop for veterans: Colorado Springs center with 'no wrong door' brings help

August 8, 2016 Updated: August 8, 2016 at 8:48 am
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Lost amid the clamor of the presidential election campaign trail was the recent grand opening of a help center in Colorado Springs that has already assisted 950 veterans in getting their lives on track.

As Donald Trump stumped in Colorado Springs, veterans advocates cut the ribbon on the Mount Carmel Center of Excellence on the city's west side. It bills itself as a one-stop shop for veterans in need.

"We're going to keep working to expand," said Bob McLaughlin, the retired Army colonel who runs the place.

Mount Carmel, which began helping veterans this year, is something new for Colorado Springs, a city that's home to nearly 80,000 veterans and 40,000 active-duty troops.

The center is a clearinghouse and landlord that brings together public and private organizations to help troops and veterans in need.

The center is at 530 Communications Circle, just west of South 8th Street.

For example, a veteran who shows up at Mount Carmel's door with a spouse and kids can get behavioral health counseling, family counseling, financial counseling, job referral help, veterans benefits assistance, help with state benefits and a mentor to help with life transitions. He or she - and loved ones - can get all that help in one place and many of the services can begin that same day.

"There's no wrong door," McLaughlin said. "Whoever comes to our center will get the help they need."

Getting all that help delivered means getting nonprofits to work in concert - not a small task in a city where many military-aimed charities compete for donor dollars.

McLaughlin said a key component of the center's success is an agreement among the nonprofits.

"Each partner agency has its own mission and goals and governance, and we must respect each other," he said. "We believe co-locating services is a benefit to our guests."

The agencies and charities have agreed to share information to ensure veterans are getting all the help they need.

"They are integrating services," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the philosophy of one-stop help is something he picked up at Fort Carson, where he helped construct a service center for soldiers when serving there as garrison commander.

"Everything I did as a garrison commander to help soldiers and families directly translated here," he said.

Soon another concept with Army roots will start taking shape at Mount Carmel.

This fall and winter, workers will remodel a nearby building that will house agencies that provide health care services for veterans.

The new facility will include mental health counseling, mind and body therapy and specialists who can provide care that now requires a long wait at the Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Colorado Springs.

"It is really about (addressing) mind, body and spirit," McLaughlin said.

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Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240

Twitter: @xroederx

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