LEWISTON — A local office that helps veterans with unseen wounds is growing.
The Lewiston Vet Center, which offers free counseling to any veteran who served in a combat area, will almost double its size when it moves to a new suite of rooms on Westminster Street next month.
It should relieve an increasingly squeezed operation that has been bursting in recent years with more staff and more clients. Counselors have been sharing space and working in staggered schedules to ensure that the center provides enough privacy for all of its nearly 300 clients.
"We're juggling offices," said Roy Driver, who runs the Department of Veterans Affairs center. The 2,500-square-foot office grew a few years ago, adding about 500 square feet of conference space to meet the demand for group meetings.
It wasn't enough to fix the cramped space.
On Wednesdays, for example, there are two times when group counseling sessions are under way simultaneously. Groups have already begun meeting in the new offices, about 100 yards from the current space.
Most offices and activities are scheduled to make the move on June 3.
"Everybody will have an office now," Driver said.
The Lewiston center has often been among the busiest in its VA region, which includes 42 centers across New England, New York and part of New Jersey. In part, it's due to a high concentration of veterans.
In the past seven years, the staff has grown from four to 10. At the same time, the client base has jumped with veterans of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even more clients have come from the ranks of Vietnam veterans. They make up the largest single population served at the Lewiston center.
Though lots of groups meet, including one for World War II vets, one for veterans of Korea, one for wives and girlfriends and one for people who endured sexual trauma during military service, there are another seven groups that are either exclusively or in part for Vietnam-era veterans.
For some, the news and the patriotic displays that accompany the ongoing fighting have awakened emotional injuries. For others, it's emblematic of a generation that is increasingly reaching retirement and looking at their lives in a new way, Driver said.
Some people may have used work as an escape. Others may simply have agreed to get long-needed help, he said.
Driver hopes the new facility will make the center more flexible. New groups aimed at couples and anger management are in the works.
And some benefits will be simple comfort. The family counselor, who typically meets with spouses and children, will now have a larger private office with couches for everyone to sit together.
The move is expected to be finished in one day. However, some furniture is already in place. And more is expected to arrive before moving day from Brunswick Naval Air Station, which is expected to formally close its doors on May 31.