New Lakewood Clinic Offers Behavioral Health Services to Veterans and Military Families

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Veterans and military families often don’t have access to the mental health services they need. The recent opening of a new clinic in Lakewood aims to help fill that gap.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Valley Cities in Lakewood celebrated its grand opening in March. The event featured several speakers, including Washington First Lady Trudi Inslee; U.S. Rep. Denny Heck; state Sen. Steve O’Ban; Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier; and Scotty Smiley, a veteran and author.

The clinic is part of the Cohen Veterans Network, a nonprofit philanthropic organization and network of clinics that support post-9/11 veterans with mental health services. Lakewood’s new clinic — the first of its kind in Washington — will serve veterans and their family members regardless of the veterans’ discharge status or their ability to pay.

Steven A. Cohen has always has been a philanthropist, but it was his son, who served in the Marine Corps, who set his focus on veterans, said Anthony M. Hassan, CEO and president of the Cohen Veterans Network. At his son’s suggestion, Cohen hired a consulting firm and, with its help, created the network that currently consists of 11 clinics, with two more opening later this year.

“We’re here to fill gaps, to provide care to family members that are sometimes forgotten about,” Hassan said. “We have a dearth of providers across the country,” he said, adding that many providers don’t accept coverage from the military healthcare system Tricare. “It limits the number of overall mental health providers that serve our military communities. So we see Cohen Veterans Network clinics as valuable resources that provide free or low-cost care … It’s not an easy thing to do, but so far we’ve been very successful at sourcing enough providers to care for the veterans and military family members in these, sometimes-small, cities or rural communities.”

The goal is to have the least amount of restrictions possible, said clinic director Nichole Ayres. Veterans are eligible if they have one day of service, and military families are defined loosely, she said. “There’s not a lot of resources for veterans’ family members that may not be spouses or may not be children, but they may be important individuals for the veteran,” she said. “So the ability to serve those people is huge.”

Smiley, a Washington native and West Point graduate, was blinded and temporarily paralyzed in an explosion while serving in Iraq in 2005.

He continued to serve, becoming the military’s first officer to serve on active duty while blind, he said. After an additional 10 years of military service, he left to become an investment banker. It was in that capacity that he met Cohen, who became a mentor to him.

“I quickly found out that what he did for me paled in comparison to what he did for many more veterans, caregivers and families around the United States,” Smiley said, noting that in addition to the Cohen Veterans Network, Cohen also founded Cohen Veterans Bioscience, a nonprofit research organization that aims to fast-track the development of diagnostic tests and personalized therapeutics for veterans and civilians with trauma-related and other brain disorders.

The opening of the Lakewood clinic is a further demonstration of Cohen’s generosity, Smiley said. The clinic will provide behavioral healthcare to more than 59,000 veterans in the Tacoma area and more than 70,000 family members, he said, and provide telephonic services to more than 110 post-9/11 veterans scattered throughout Washington state. It’s all possible thanks to the people who came together to make it happen, he said.

“I’ve climbed mountains, I’ve become an Ironman, I graduated from Duke University with my MBA — all blind,” Smiley said. “But I didn’t do any of it on my own. It was my family, my friends, and loved ones that stood by my side, and I knew if we did things on our own, very little is possible. But if we gather around as a team, as a group, as an individual, we make the impossible truly possible.”