More than 100 community leaders attended the opening of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in Torrance, Calif.

More than 100 community leaders attended the opening of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in Torrance, Calif. (Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic/Twitter)

TORRANCE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A clinic that provides mental health services to Los Angeles-area veterans, active duty service members and their families, has officially opened its doors in Torrance.

The 7,000 square-foot facility boasts 13 clinical offices, a community room, two family rooms and a large waiting area. It’s currently run by a 10-member staff that includes five clinicians, a psychiatrist and a case manager. The clinic offers both in-person and telehealth services, the latter of which is accessible by veterans statewide.

Torrance Mayor George Chen and representatives from the local chamber of commerce were among those who attended the Thursday, March 9, grand opening.

The Torrance facility is the 23rd to open nationwide as part of a chain of mental health clinics for veterans and their families that’s backed by a $275 million grant provided by Steve Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist who also owns the New York Mets.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, 20800 Madrona Ave., Suite C-100, marks the third such facility in California. The first clinic opened in San Diego in 2019, followed by another in Oceanside last year.

Dr. Anthony Hassan, president and CEO of Cohen Veterans Network, noted that veterans often have trouble getting timely treatment.

“Somebody asked me, ‘What keeps me up at night?’ ” Hassan said. “What keeps me up is that when we have people who finally ask for help and then they call and they’re told, ‘I can’t see you for six months, I can’t see you for four months.’

“Granted, we’re not perfect,” he added, “but we can see you a lot sooner than that.”

There are roughly 18 million veterans and 2.1 million active-duty and reserve service members nationwide, according to the U.S. census. And since 9/11, there have been 2.8 million active-duty American military personnel deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, leading to increasing numbers of combat veterans among the population.

The most publicized mental health challenges facing veterans service members are post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. At some point in their life, seven out of every 100 Veterans (or 7%) will have PTSD, according to an estimate by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

More than 52,000 post-9/11 veterans, 6,000 active-duty service members and 10,000 military family members in Los Angeles County are eligible for the services offered by trained clinicians at the Torrance facility, the CVN estimates.

The clinic will provide mental health services in the form of individual therapy, family therapy, couples sessions and group sessions. It takes all major forms of health insurance. If a patient doesn’t have insurance, the case manager will step in to provide connection to financial services, said clinic Director Jolene Balancio.

The key difference between the Cohen clinics and others that serve veterans, Hassan said, is that they also treat family members of veterans or active duty members. This includes parents, siblings, spouses or partners, children, caretakers and other who might also deal with mental health challenges.

The catalyst for the network was Cohen’s son, Robert, who joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2009 and served in Afghanistan from August 2010 to February 2011, Hassan said. When the younger Cohen returned to the U.S., he urged his father to start the network — because he saw the need for mental health care in the military population.

Since its inception in 2016, the CVN clinics have seen 50,000 clients, out of which 53% were vetrans or active duty, and 47% were family members.

Sgt. Ryan Pitts, a Medal of Honor recipient and an ambassador for CVN, said during the grand opening that “it’s a hard lifestyle” for people who’ve ever worn the uniform, as well as for those who are connected to people who have worn the uniform.

In 2003, the then-17-year-old Pitts joined the Army under the delayed entry program. During his time in service, Pitts was deployed twice to Afghanistan, in 2005 for 12 months and in 2007 for 15 months. In 2014, he received the Medal of Honor for his heroic act during the Battle of Wanat in 2008.

Pitts recalled getting to the medical clinic after he was wounded and looking across the room for his battle buddies, noticing who wasn’t there.

“I can tell you, the invisible wounds have taken a far greater toll on me than the physical ones,” he said. “You know, there’s a lot of things, even without the stress of your own mental health challenges, (such as) worrying about other people and service members in uniform, you know, just being in that community.”

The transition from military service to college wasn’t difficult, Pitts said, but he started to experience challenges when he joined the corporate world.

“As time went on, I could see that there were impacts at home,” he said. “I was distant, I was distracted. I was never present. Even with my wife and kids, I wasn’t happy to come home. I didn’t enjoy being a Dad. And I saw that (having an effect) in my family.”

It wasn’t until nine months after Pitts told his family about his mental health challenges — about five or six years after leaving the military — that he decided to seek treatment, he said.

Mental health care, especially among the veteran population, can often be stigmatized, Balancio said.

“We can be apprehensive to receive treatment and get care,” she said “so by being available and open for services, we’re hoping that it can make getting care a lot easier and help break barriers down and make care more accessible.”

©2023 MediaNews Group, Inc.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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