Kathy Marshik

Morrison County Veteran Services Officer Kathy Marshik speaks to the Board of Commissioners during its meeting on Tuesday, May 18.

The Morrison County Veterans Services Office has seen, on average, about 854 people per month so far in 2021.

Those interactions range from emails to in-person visits to the office. Kathy Marshik, veterans services officer, said email has become an increasingly popular way for clients to reach out. As such, the three-person office interacts with about 43 people per day.

“That’s been kind of nice,” she said. “One thing out of the pandemic is definitely — we’ve kind of changed the way we work with people. We can actually serve more individuals now, because we can do a lot of appointments online, and for a lot of people who are working, that works very well.”

The busiest month so far in 2021, for reasons unknown to Marshik, was March. In all, the office saw 890 people that month, mostly for mental health issues. The reasons people reached out ranged from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction.

Overall, Marshik said she believes the isolation and loss of loved ones brought on by COVID-19 have played a major role in what she said has been a year during which suicide thoughts and attempts had “increased dramatically.”

This stretched across demographics within the veteran community. Men and women, people still serving and those who served in the past, combat veterans and those who never served in a combat zone were all represented. Most of them were described as “working class,” and Marshik noted that the information indicates there may be an increase among female veterans because it is a category small in numbers.

There has also been an increase in alcohol abuse, along with mixing booze with other medications or drugs.

“In one week, we had five suicide attempts,” she said. “That was a crazy thing to deal with, and it was not a fun week, but everybody’s OK. That’s the big thing.”

On the bright side, she said that has also led to an increase of veterans who are seeking help. Her office has worked with community partners and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help connect the people with resources.

These include the VA’s MOVE program, which helps with stress and weight management while encouraging an overall healthy lifestyle, and the CALM app, which teaches meditation, calmness and wellness.

“The VA’s really focusing on, how can we treat people’s pain — manage their pain, mental illness — in a safer way with less medications,” Marshik said. “The medications don’t always work well for everyone. Some people need them, but they’re trying to find alternative wellness programs. They’ve got a lot of awesome things that people can use right from their phone, and then there are things out there in the community, as well, that we’ve seen utilized.”

She added a lot of people have found activities such as yoga to be “really beneficial.”

Marshik said the Veterans Services Office has also partnered locally with health care providers such as chiropractors, and for services such as acupuncture. She said those have been especially beneficial for people who need pain management, particularly Iraq veterans.

“There was a lot of toxic exposure over there, so we’re seeing a lot of people with pain throughout their bodies; just weird illness like a lot of brain fogginess and things like that,” Marshik said. “We’re trying to develop ways — we’ve gotta tackle that and treat that and help matters.”

The office is working to make a positive impact on all aspects of a veteran’s life. That can include everything from recognizing a Veteran of the Month in its newsletter to engaging their families about how to deal with or recognize warning signs of specific issues.

They also work with veterans’ widows/widowers, putting them in contact with one another so they can provide a support system.

“It’s just trying to figure out ways to help people so they don’t get to that edge of the cliff where they just want to give up,” Marshik said.

The Morrison County Veterans Services Office can be reached at (320) 632-0290 or veterans@co.morrison.mn.us.

Morrison County Board of Commissioners Briefs:

In other business Tuesday, the Morrison County Board of Commissioners:

• Proclaimed the week of May 16 - 22 as Emergency Medical Services Week in Morrison County;

• Proclaimed May as Foster Care Month in Morrison County;

• Heard Camp Ripley’s annual economic impact report;

• Received a report from Council on Agency;

• Reviewed and voted to support three resolutions for One Watershed, One Plan planning efforts within the Morrison County boundaries;

• Heard Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen’s monthly report on the Sheriff’s Office and County Jail;

• Heard a report from Morrison County Social Services on adult and children’s foster care in the county;

• Heard a report on children’s mental health services;

• Heard a report on case management with the elderly population in Morrison County;

• Approved 2021 seasonal establishment renewal licenses for Ridge Rib and Steakhouse in Motley and the Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls;

• Accepted a request from the Pierz Commercial Club to host Freedom Fest and approved a one-day on-sale liquor license for the Commercial Club for the day of the event, which is scheduled for July 10;

• Approved the renewal of a 2 a.m. liquor license/permit for the Main Gate Bar and Grill near Camp Ripley;

• Appointed Delores (Dee) Shafer as the District 5 representative on the Morrison County Public Health and Advisory Committee;

• Entered into a service agreement with Schneider Corp. to add a tax estimator tool to Morrison County’s Beacon website. The total cost of $1,080 will be split between the Land Services Office and the Auditor/Treasurer’s Office;

• Approved a request from the Minnesota Deer Hunters’ Association to hold a raffle at the Falls Ballroom, May 24;

• Renewed the precious metal dealer licenses for Like-Nu Pawn; GoldSmith Jewelers and Melgram Jewelers, Inc.; and

• Approved the full implementation of the Paycom human resources information system.

The next meeting of the Board of Commissioners is a planning session at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 25, at the Morrison County Government Center.

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