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Clinic to offer veterans alternative to VA mental health care

This September the University of Southern California will open a new mental health care clinic aimed at filling gaps in services for military veterans and their families.

The clinic, part of a $275 million grant from billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, is expected to open in September as one of 25 such sites planned nationwide.

The network's director, Anthony Hassan, said the aim is to treat people who fall through the cracks of the Veterans Administration's care.

Cohen’s interest in veterans’ health care started in 2011 when his son Robert Cohen, a young Marine, came back from a tour in Afghanistan. Robert told his father that lots of his friends in uniform needed mental health care but they either weren't eligible, or feared stigmatization for seeking help within the military system.

“You don’t ever want to be seen as the weak link,” Hassan said. “So many times veterans feel that going to mental health would be a sign of weakness.”

Having a private, free option, Cohen thought, would get more veterans into care.

The V.A., for instance, typically requires a veteran to have served for at least two years and have received an Honorable Discharge to qualify for care. At Cohen clinics, the definition is broader.

“We define a veteran as anyone who served one day in service,” Hassan said. “Regardless of discharge status.”

Another big difference from VA care is that the clinic will treat a veteran’s family or support network. Determining who that person is is the choice of each veteran. Instead of a spouse, it could be a parent, a sibling, or just a close friend.

Hassan said the group will try to hire clinicians who have themselves served.

“So you’re going to a place that understands you, and appreciates your sacrifice,” Hassan said. “Someone you can trust and engage with.”

Hassan said being a private facility might also allow the clinics to provide alternative care and participate in more trials without having to wade through bureaucracy.

The clinic at USC is expected to see 500 new patients in its first year of operation.

Veterans and Military Issues Reporter