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Longtime VA addiction counselor set to retire after 50 years

Carol Richard.jpg
Posted at 6:11 PM, May 15, 2023

GREAT FALLS — Long before the former federal court room on the second floor of the Great Falls Post Office became the Veterans Treatment Court, Carol Richard was helping veterans and others overcome addiction in a career that spanned half a century.

“Carol Richard is an LAC (licensed addictions counselor) who is an Army veteran herself and has been treating addictions and veterans for 50 years.,” said Judge Elizabeth Best who administers the Cascade County Veterans’ Treatment Court and works closely with Richard.

Richard will retire from her LAC position the Department of Veterans Affairs in June.

“Well, I didn't choose it. It chose me,” said Richard when she reflected on her time as a drug and alcohol counselor

The Helena native enlisted in the woman’s Army corps in 1971.

It was while she was working on the psychiatric ward at Denver’s Fitzsimons Army Medical Center when her path was laid out.

“They said, we're going to start a drug and alcohol ward, and we're going to volunteer you and some of your cohorts to go work there,” said Richard.

She was treating Vietnam Veterans during a tumultuous time.

“The men in that went to Vietnam, they did not get a very good reception,” said Richard. “Women didn't get a very good reception either.”

Carol says she’s always had a passion for helping people and is proud of what she’s achieved.

Between her military service and time with the VA, she had a civilian practice in which her treatment was into third generations.

Carol says every addict is different and when treating someone for addiction, it’s important to validate their feelings.

“It allows them to tell me why they're there and maybe to tell me why they don't want to be there,” said Richard.

For those who don’t know addiction, Carol uses a not so clean analogy everybody might understand.

“When was the last time you had diarrhea? Why don't you use willpower and just stop the flow?” said Richard. “It's a biochemical process that happens in the brain and it doesn't just stop.”

For those who are trying comprehend recovery, Carol relates it to a life lesson.

“It isn't an easy process. It's not that they don't want it. It's it's just that it's new, it's unfamiliar, and they have to learn the skills,” said Richard. “They have to feel the support they have to try. It's kind of like riding a bicycle the first time. Some of us have to ride with the training wheels for longer than other people. When we take the training wheels off, sometimes we fall down and we get back on the bike and we ride it again. Recovery is the same way.”

Carol’s involvement in Veterans’ Treatment Court came about when she was asked to fill in for a veterans justice outreach worker and go to training. She asked to be a part of the team and never looked back.

“There's so many different people that are on this team because they want to be there. It's it's kind of a utopic treatment,” said Richard.

Like Judge Best, other members of the team have nothing but praise for Carol.

“Even today when she came in for this (interview) and we put her to work with somebody who's new to the program,” said Cascade County Veterans’ Treatment Court Coordinator Denver Cobb. “We used her knowledge.”

“She's got dedication like no other. I mean, Carol has never really took a vacation,” said Cascade County Veterans' Treatment Court Case Manager Kathy Hankes. “She's always here whether she's logged on Zoom or calling us to see what's going on with all of her clients. When she's away, she's still here.”

At the age of 70, Carol will be retiring from her full-time position with the VA, but that passion of helping veterans will continue.

“It's hard decision to make because I really care about each and every one of the folks that I work with,” said Richard. “So, I asked Judge Best if I could volunteer for the Veterans’ Court. She said, yes, that would be great. So that helps to make retirement easier.”

Carol will be able to spend more time with family but will take on a mentorship role with Veterans’ Treatment Court.

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