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Resource center serves Lander’s veterans, others

The Lander Community Veterans Resource Center, located at 190 Custer Street in Lander. h/t Vince Tropea, County 10

By Marit Gookin
Lander Journal
Via- Wyoming News Exchange

LANDER — On the corner of Second Street and Custer Street in Lander, in an unassuming building, one group of Lander residents is working to make a difference and give back to the community: the Lander Community Veterans Resource Center, an all-volunteer effort to support veterans and communities in central Wyoming. 

“It’s just heartbreaking that folks who commit in a life of service and the hardships that they see through that service don’t always get the care that they need, and I’m glad that [this] organization is working to rectify that,” commented council member Missy White. 

According to the information gathered by the Lander Community Veterans Resource Center, in 2021-22 there were 570 veterans living in Lander, about 7.5% of the town’s total population; the percentage is even higher when compared to Lander’s adult population. Nationwide, veterans make up about 6.4% of the adult population, meaning that Lander – and Fremont County – have a comparatively high rate of service. About 7% of those veterans are living in poverty, and almost 20% of them are disabled. 

“There’s always going to be struggling families, always going to be struggling veterans. And it’s not just the veterans that we are there for; it’s for the families also, for the caretakers,” Lander Community Veterans Resource Center President Joey Waller (retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant) explained to the Lander City Council at its October 24 work session. 

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (usually referred to as the VA) has resources to help veterans with housing, in-home care, and healthcare, but getting access to these resources can be a struggle. It can at times involve complicated paperwork and/or long driving times; in terms of health care access alone, there are only 15 VA health centers across the state and only two full medical centers. Fremont County has a single community-based outpatient clinic, located in Riverton, which only has two full-time primary health care providers.

“Having someone here, centrally located in the state, we’re able to get [veterans] resources without having to take these trips,” Waller remarked.

Veterans have higher than average rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, disability, homelessness, and suicide. 

While some of the challenges faced by veterans are unique to those who have seen military service – in a later interview, the resource center’s executive director Michael Tanner recalled the constant stress he lived under when he was serving on a missile site that would have been responsible for launching bombs in the event of nuclear war – others could be encountered by anyone. 

“We’ve also identified some other things in the community,” Waller commented. “We are not going to close our doors to anyone seeking help.” 

The Lander Community Veterans Resource Center has been designated as a community access point by the Wyoming VA, the only nonprofit in the state to be recognized as such. “Which gives us the right, and the authority, to fulfill all requirements except direct medical care for veterans in the entire state of Wyoming, if necessary,” Tanner told the council.

Just over a year after its founding, the paperwork has been submitted to the VA for it to be recognized as a community access point on the national level. If it is recognized as such, the resource center will qualify to receive funding from the VA; as of right now, it operates on grants and donations. 

The resource center provides veterans with a community space, and also offers coaching and activities such as “Veterans Talking to Veterans,” “Moral Injury,” career coaching, and other peer support groups. It also has a coffeehouse event every weekday, and with a full kitchen and plans to eventually acquire a grill, will hopefully be able to host potlucks, barbecues, and other community events in the future.

The resource center has additionally partnered with a variety of groups and organizations around the county and the state, including the Lander Care and Share Food Bank, the First Stop Help Center, Almost Home Wyoming, Volunteers of America, the Casper Veterans Center,  and the Fremont County Prevention Program. It often focuses on making personal connections within these organizations, so when it refers someone to an organization they are put in touch with a trusted individual rather than just being referred to an organization at large. 

For example, when working with veterans’ family members, the resource center is often working with Kimberly Preletz, VA caregiver support coordinator – someone who can help get family members who are the primary caregiver for a veteran financial assistance or even have someone come take over their caregiving duties for a day to give them a day off. 

“I think that you’ve got a wonderful organization going there,” Council member John Larsen told Waller. “I was just curious – how many veterans here in Lander are you putting up with the Almost Home, and helping out with the Food Bank, and so forth like that? I think I live in a bubble there sometimes, and I just don’t see a lot of this stuff that goes on.” 

“Are there struggling veterans, are there struggling veteran families here in Lander? Yes, there are. There’s more so than you would believe. Veterans, Mr. Larsen, are extremely apt at hiding their injuries and hiding what is going on in their lives. You won’t know; even if you ask them, they won’t tell you. That’s why this organization is here. So that way, we can help these veterans who have these issues, and we’re giving them a safe place to come in and speak of these things,” Waller responded.

Tanner thanked Mayor Monte Richardson for offering his personal support for the resource center almost from its beginning, and Waller and Tanner both noted that there has been strong support for the center from the Lander community at large. 

The resource center has received significant grant funding from the LOR foundation ($22,000, one of the largest LOR grants ever awarded in Lander) as well as an outpouring of donations. The center has received about $35,000 worth of donations since August 1, according to Tanner. 

Some of those donations have been direct financial contributions, while others have donated furniture, kitchenware, and labor. Gambles donated a refrigerator and a stove. 

Waller asked Lander City Council for it to also support their efforts in the form of recognition of the resource center and the work that it’s doing. 

Tanner and Waller also emphasized that their resources, such as suicide prevention resources and housing assistance, are not exclusive to veterans but are available to anyone in the community.

“We’re keeping the doors open … we have our phone numbers up on the doors, we have our address, so if anybody has an emergency they can contact us,” Waller said, urging those listening to pay attention to state legislation around funding the state’s 988 suicide prevention call centers. 

“They just put it on the docket that they are going to no longer support that, and that is going to do harm,” he told the council. “Far too many veterans commit suicide, we all know the statistics. And it’s not just veterans. There’s kids here in this town that are hurting, that are suffering, that are not doing well mentally. And we are there for them. 

We’re trying to get the resources to be able to put this together and re-fabricate it so that way we can help out junior high kids, high school kids, and keep working on them,” he continued. “So we’re trying to morph this into something huge, where we can actually get the mental health here, and get it taken care of here in Lander – besides all of the other things that we do.”

The Lander Community Veterans Resource Center accepts financial donations and is also looking for more volunteers to potentially participate in outreach groups visiting veterans who are homebound or in nursing homes. 

It additionally is looking for someone to serve as a veteran’s advocate, as well as another board member in the form of a compliance officer. 

For more information on the resource center or to donate or volunteer, contact Administrative Coordinator Lori Tanner at or 307-330-6634.


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