OCEANSIDE — Later this year, a new Oceanside clinic will provide mental health services for veterans, active-duty service members and military families living in North County.
The Cohen Veteran Network, or CVN, together with Veterans Village of San Diego will open telehealth services through the new Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in March, followed by the opening of its physical location at 3609 Ocean Ranch Boulevard later this year.
The clinic will be both San Diego County’s and the entire state’s second Cohen clinic as well, with the first already operating in Mission Valley and the third set to open later this year in Los Angeles.
About 33,000 post-9/11 veterans, 40,000 active duty service members and more than 31,000 military family members will be eligible for services through the new Cohen clinic in Oceanside. National Guard and reserves members also have access to the clinic
“Something you don’t find with other veteran and military health providers is the ability to treat entire families,” said Akilah Templeton, chief executive officer of VVSD. “We’re building stronger families through mental health providers that are based out of the same clinic.”
Cohen clinics were first launched in 2016 as part of a philanthropic mission funded by Steven A. Cohen, a hedge fund manager and owner of the New York Mets. The clinics have been built throughout the United States near places with higher populations of veterans and service members. There are currently 19 operating with Oceanside set to be the 20th, and all 25 clinics are expected to be operating by the end of this year.
The clinics provide a range of mental health services including specialized therapy for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other challenges presented through a transition to civilian life, including marriage and relationship counseling as well as behavioral health for children.
“When a person serves, not only does it affect the individual who is enlisted but often a spouse or children as well,” Templeton said. “Having critical support in place during the readjustment period when a family comes back together can go a long way.”
Cohen clinics also offer comprehensive case management support and referrals to deal with other stresses like unemployment, finances, housing, and legal issues. Many of these issues have been amplified over the last two years due to the pandemic.
First opened in 2019, the Mission Valley clinic recently served its 1000th patient and has high approval ratings, according to Templeton.
“About 95% of patients refer us to family or friends,” Templeton said. “Our largest referral source is through word of mouth, our second largest is the VA.”
With the Oceanside location set to open, many of its North County clients will have a shorter drive to receive services than before. Templeton noted there is a great need for mental health services like this up here as well as down south.
“We hear from elected officials all the time about reaching veterans and service members in North County, so we’re happy to be part of that effort,” Templeton said.
One of the barriers the clinic strives to remove is the traditionally long wait times to actually receive mental health services.
“Unfortunately in our country, mental healthcare is hard to access within a reasonable period of time, and it’s costly,” said CVN CEO Dr. Anthony Hassan. “We’ve reduced all barriers possible to provide accessible, high-quality care.”
While most people often wait anywhere from two to three months for that first appointment, Templeton said the Cohen clinics have knocked it down to about two weeks.
“There is an initial triage of course if someone is in crisis,” Templeton explained. We get them in quickly so we can offer the help they need.”
Another big concern for both CVN and VVSD is suicide rates among veterans and service members. Templeton said that while suicide rates for veterans have gone down, rates for active-duty members were four times higher in 2019 than in previous years.
“We lose more service members to suicide than we do to actual combat situations,” Templeton said.
Through its mental health assessments, the clinic can identify suicide ideation and work to treat it.
Set to officially open later this year, the clinic will be modeled after other Cohen clinics with a touch of Oceanside flare to give it a more local, close-to-home feel.