A $15.7 million gift from philanthropist Steven A. Cohen brings free mental health services to military veterans and their families

by Lynn Lipinski

USC and the Cohen Veterans Network will open a free mental health clinic in Los Angeles to help veterans and their families make the transition to civilian life.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC — headquartered at 830 S. Flower St. — will offer free, confidential care to post-9/11 veterans and their families who are suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental health conditions. Made possible by a $15.7 million gift from Cohen through his nonprofit the Cohen Veterans Network, the new USC clinic is a collaboration between the USC School of Social Work and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Health professionals will offer services through the clinic at a variety of locations in Los Angeles County.

“This gift speaks to Steven Cohen’s profound and broad commitment to our nation’s veterans,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “His generous gift provides a bold push forward in how we, as a nation and as a university, support our veterans as they transition to civilian life. Mr. Cohen serves as a dynamic force, bringing hope to veterans and their families struggling with mental health issues.”

More than 2.6 million men and women have served in the U.S. military since 9/11. Roughly 20 percent experience some form of post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, yet an estimated 40 percent of returning veterans who suffer from mental health issues do not seek treatment, according to the Cohen Veterans Network. As a result, many veterans come home ill equipped to thrive in the communities they fought to protect.

Anthony Hassan, founding director of the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families at the USC School of Social Work, was tapped to lead the Cohen Veterans Network last year as its executive director.

“Los Angeles County is home to a vast number of veterans,” Hassan said. “USC’s commitment to improving the care and services offered to veterans made it a natural fit for this clinic. In particular, the university’s extensive research into transition challenges, employment and access to services faced by the Los Angeles County veteran population contributes to the holistic, evidence-based care we offer our clients.”

National investment

The Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC is part of a $275 million national investment from Cohen, chairman and CEO of Point72 Asset Management. As part of the larger Cohen Veterans Network, this clinic is the fourth of an expected 20-25 clinics the network will build in the next five years. The Cohen Veterans Network is key to Cohen’s long-term commitment to help veterans and their families. Cohen’s work with veterans began in part because his son served in the Marine Corps and is currently in the Reserves.

“The wounds of war are serious. It is not easy to serve your country in combat overseas and then come back into society seamlessly, especially if you are suffering,” Cohen said. “These men and women have paid an incredible price, and it’s important that this country pays back that debt.”

Rather than duplicate efforts of other veterans’ service providers in the area, the Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC will strive to fill gaps in coverage while partnering with other agencies and organizations to assist veterans. For example, the USC-based clinic, like all clinics within the Cohen Veterans Network, will serve veterans who might not be eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as those who served in the National Guard or Reserves, or those without an honorable discharge. Family members — defined broadly as spouses, partners, children, parents, caretakers, siblings and good friends — also will be eligible for services.

“There are a lot of veterans and their families who need care and can’t access it, for a variety of reasons,” said clinic Director Kathryn Arnett, who has worked for both the VA and the Department of Defense. “We will provide care that is focused on the needs of post 9/11 veterans in a way that is convenient and accessible to them.”

Planned partnerships with the VA and other community mental health organizations will help extend the clinic’s geographic reach as well as expand veterans’ access to additional services such as health care, housing or transportation.

“We want to help veterans navigate through the service providers in Los Angeles County. We aim to be the connective tissue between programs,” said Jim Zenner, the clinic’s associate director for community programs and an alumnus of the USC School of Social Work.

Educating veterans

Staff at the clinic will be able to tap into the research and expertise of the USC School of Social Work. In 2009, the school became the first major research institution to specialize in military social work and prepare students for the unique challenges facing veterans, active-duty service members and military families.

“Educating veterans and their dependents is something we do really well at USC, and we’ve been doing it for a long time,” said USC Provost Michael Quick. “In fact, our School of Social Work is a national leader in training mental health practitioners for this population, having graduated over 1,300 students from the military social work specialization. We sometimes forget that all members of the military family also sacrifice a great deal and now, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Cohen, we can take the next step of providing expert care for veterans and their families, all of whom have served our country in important ways.”

On the research side, USC created its Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families and established the first military behavioral health academic journal. USC researchers have also conducted multiple comprehensive studies of veterans, examining issues such as transition to civilian life and the experiences of female veterans, and working with national organizations to turn those research findings into evidence-based best practices in the field of veterans’ services.

“Access to mental health services for transitioning veterans and their families is a pressing need right now,” Quick said, “and we are honored to be able to help.”

The Cohen Veterans Network is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation whose mission is to improve the quality of life for post-9/11 veterans and their families by improving mental health outcomes. The goal of the Cohen Veterans Network is to build a network of free outpatient mental health clinics for veterans and their families in high-need communities, in which trained clinicians deliver holistic evidence-based care to treat mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress.

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