BALDWIN — Veterans in need of assistance have a new program available to them through West Michigan Community Mental Health (WMCMH).

The Veterans Navigator service, which started in April, was created to assist veterans and military families of all eras and discharge types.They work to connect veterans and their families to federal, state and local resources to assist with issues regarding mental health, substance abuse, housing and other issues that impact veterans.

"WMCMH received a 2-year, $4 million grant to expand mental health services to meet community needs in the best way possible, to expand existing services and to add new services," WMCMH service entry team leader Josh Snyder said. "The veterans navigator service is one of the new services."

Veteran peer navigator Tyler Haner, a U.S. Army veteran, is available at the Baldwin office on Tuesday and Wednesday each week to provide services such as peer mentoring, emotional support, connection to medical, mental health and substance abuse programs or to assist with housing needs, employment, transportation needs, food resources and obtaining military documents.

"I am here to assist veterans with whatever needs they may have," Haner said. "I don't work for the Veterans Affairs (VA), I work for CMH, so that gives me the opportunity to assist those that are not enrolled with the VA. I can put them into services through CMH and from there they can access the programs they need, or I can connect them with other agencies that can assist them in getting the services they require."

Haner said if a veteran needs services through the VA, he can walk them through the process of getting enrolled, getting the proper forms required and connect them with individuals who can get their needs met. If they need assistance obtaining their DD214 or other military paperwork, he can help them obtain those documents, and if they need access to veterans health care, he can help them get the necessary paperwork completed in order to get access to that care.

"Basically, I assist them in navigating through the Michigan Department of Veterans Affairs to access the services they need," Haner said.

"Navigator is the perfect term for it, because whatever the need is, we are able to help the veteran navigate through it, whether it be within the CMH or the VA, which can be a complicated service," Snyder said.

Haner connects and facilitates. He advocates for veterans with different programs and agencies that might be able to help them, such as Habitat for Humanity for housing support and True North, an agency that assists with job placement, educational opportunities, housing assistance and grants to cover gaps in foundational needs such as help with utilities. He connects them with employers seeking veteran applicants, public transportation, if needed, and many other programs that are available.

"Whatever services a veteran needs, if it is not CMH provided, MDVA has a call center that we as veteran navigators have access to," Haner said. "They have every asset available in the state so that is the agency we utilize for anything outside of CMH."

Among the program's success stories is a Navy veteran widow who came to them for assistance with her home that was going into foreclosure. Haner was able to connect her with the VA home loan agency and open communication between the VA and the company that held the lease on the home so a plan could be worked out to enable her to retain her home.

"We got it worked out, and she has not had to use our services any further," Haner said.

In addition, a veteran who was unemployed, homeless and separated from his family came in for assistance. Haner was able to connect him with an agency to get him enrolled in a housing program and gave him some leads on possible employment. The next day, he reported he had a job with the local AmVets, and was focused on getting his family back together.

"The fact that Tyler is a military veteran allows him to connect with other veterans, and gives him credibility because he has had similar experiences," Snyder said. "Another benefit of having Tyler on board is we've utilized his military experience to do some cultural competency training across the agency to help broaden our understanding of the needs, culture, and mindset of veterans in a way that is beneficial to all who provide services to them."

Alan Neushwander, communications and public relations manager for WMCMH, said the navigator service is available to all veterans regardless of income level, and although it is being offered through CMH, a person does not necessarily have to be suffering from a behavioral health issue to use the services.

"With the grant we received, all CMH services are open to the entire community and is no longer income based or just for those on medicaid," Neushwander said. "It is open to those with mild to moderate mental health issues, not just persistent, long-term issues, and we are integrating physical health programs which will give us the option to provide primary care as well, along with the new veterans navigator service."

"It's difficult for anybody to come through our front door and ask for help," he added, "and Tyler will go to the veteran if they are not comfortable coming into CMH."

The clinic, located at 1090 N. Michigan Ave, is open to walk-ins at anytime, and people can call for assistance or to make an appointment.

For more information about services available at CMH, visit wmcmhs.org, or call (231)-745-4659 or 1 (800) 992-2061, available 24 hours.