As the veteran population grows in Conroe and Montgomery, nonprofits are stepping up to provide resources for veterans struggling to reintegrate into society.

According to five-year American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2016-21 the veteran population across Conroe and Montgomery ZIP codes increased 11.28%, while the national veteran population decreased 10.77% in that time.

Locally, Dr. Jason Biscamp, the program director for the Conroe Outpatient VA Clinic, said after moving buildings in 2015, the outpatient clinic was seeing around 7,000-8,000 patients a year. That number grew in 2022 to helping 13,900 veterans, Biscamp said. Despite the increase in patients, he said he believes many veterans do not come to the VA for help.

“We can’t wait for the veteran to come to us, so we go to them,” said Maureen Dyman, communications director for the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston. “So we are partnering with people in the community; we’ve really worked hard to be out there where the veterans are.”

As such, the Mighty Oaks Foundation is the newest nonprofit looking to open its national headquarters in Montgomery in spring 2024. The foundation is a faith-based nonprofit that helps veterans, active-military and first responders struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nonprofits are focused on mental health, PTSD support and reintegration for local veterans.

Jeff Shilanski, a veteran and the founder of FOB Rasor—a Conroe nonprofit that provides peer support for veterans and first responders—said the private sector is important in helping veterans because they need a like-minded support system.

“The reason people are coming here [to nonprofits] versus the VA is because this is warriors helping warriors,” Shilanski said. “It’s hard to go to a doctor who doesn’t understand the trials and tribulations, ... but there’s something to a warrior whose only education is what he’s learned helping the next warrior.”

Veteran needs in Montgomery County

Biscamp has served as the clinic director for the outpatient VA clinic in Conroe since 2015, when it opened. He said the clinic provides primary care with limited specialty care services such as dental, optometry and women’s health services, excluding women who are pregnant.

Amid the growing population of veterans, Dyman said future plans include creating a large Conroe VA health care center. Dyman said a proposal for the center has been submitted to the VA Central Office but anticipates the initiative will take several years for a potential site to be identified and built out.

Dyman said the new facility would expand on care currently provided at the existing clinic and would provide primary care, mental health, specialty care, ambulatory surgery and ancillary services to veterans.

For now, the outpatient clinic’s biggest focus is providing mental health services, such as private therapy and counseling, to veterans, Biscamp said.

Dyman said the VA looks to collaborate with organizations to help combat suicide and homelessness among veterans.

According to a 2022 national veteran suicide annual report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there were an average of 16.8 veteran suicides per day in 2020. Approximately 6.7 suicides per day in 2020 were among those with recent Veterans Health Administration encounters—receiving health care in the year or prior year. This compares to 10.1 suicides per day among veterans with no recent VHA encounters.

Army veteran Brandon Francis, a Conroe resident, is the judge advocate for VFW Post 4709 in Conroe. Francis said veterans may seek help from a nonprofit because it can be easier to work with than a government office.

“Veterans as a class are not traditionally a group that raises their hand and makes it known amongst that crowd that they need help,” Francis said. “So these nonprofits and [nongovernmental organizations] are able to meet the veterans where they are at.”

Private sector help

As the VA is limited in reaching veterans, nonprofits are operating locally to provide free, additional support and services to veterans.

When Shilanski left the military, he said he fell into alcoholism. Moments away from a suicide attempt, Shilanski said he decided to receive help and attended rehab and a halfway house. Shilanski credited his recovery to a Korean War veteran named Bobby who mentored him for six months.

“I need to help vets,” Shilanski said. “I need to help vets the way Bobby helped me.”

Conroe nonprofit FOB Rasor—named for Shilanski’s best friend Joe Rasor who committed suicide—provides a 12-step program to veterans who suffer from PTSD. Shilanski said despite not being from Conroe, he chose to start FOB Rasor in 2020 due to the large veteran population. He said the nonprofit helps 75-80 veterans weekly.

“What a better place to open FOB Rasor than right in the center of Conroe where people can come to and get help, because there’s a lot of us [veterans],” Shilanski said.

Mighty Oaks relocates to Montgomery

In Montgomery, the Mighty Oaks Foundation held a groundbreaking ceremony in September for its national headquarters that will be located off McCaleb Road.

The headquarters will be more than 12,000 square feet on 4.2 acres of land and consist of a two-story building, according to previous Community Impact reporting.

The new facility was scheduled to open in April 2023; however, Chief Financial Officer Michael Hanson said permitting issues and water and sewer infrastructure extensions as well as design changes have delayed the grand opening to February 2024.

Hanson said Mighty Oaks was founded by Marine Corps veteran Chad Robichaux in 2011. The program consists of instructional sessions and team building activities to help veterans with reintegration following their military service. The weeklong program takes place at one of five ranches across the U.S., Hanson said.

Tom Fordyce, Vietnam veteran and chief projects officer for Mighty Oaks, said the mission of the organization is to help veterans isolate their thoughts and restructure them through camaraderie.

“I forget what I told my wife last week, but I can’t forget what I did in Vietnam,” Fordyce said.

Hanson said the foundation began in 2011 in The Woodlands and previously operated out of California but decided to centralize operations by moving to Texas.

“Why are we not in Texas?” Hanson said. “It’s centralized so we can easily go east or west for our ranches across the country. ... It just made sense to bring it all home.”

Several organizations are in place to help veterans and their families in need across Conroe and Montgomery. This list is not comprehensive.

Fob RasorMighty Oaks FoundationVFW Post 4709The Veterans Crisis Line offers 24/7 support, live connection and serves veterans, their families and friends.