Cohen Veterans Network to open next five clinics

Wilton resident Anthony M. Hassan, doctor of education, licensed social worker, and chief executive officer and president of the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN), based in Stamford, has a theory about why so many war veterans in recent decades seem to come home with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Twenty percent of veterans will have symptoms or diagnoses of PTSD, but when you think about it, there has been repeated deployment in the past 15 years,” said Hassan, who lives in Wilton with his wife, Emiko, and daughter Isabella. It’s not like previous  wars, where soldiers did one or two tours of duty. “We have guys with four or five tours, some with 20 tours. It’s a small military and they are repeatedly sent to war. You can’t expect not to be affected after all that repeated exposure.”

Helping those veterans, as well as their family members, is what the organization sets out to do by running a network of free mental health clinics. To that end, Hassan is leading the group to establish nine new locations next year, five in the first six months.

Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics will open in areas of great need in 2017 in El Paso, Texas; Fayetteville, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; and Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo.

In addition to having large post-9/11 veterans populations, these cities were selected because there is significant unmet demand for mental health services, the company said in its announcement, which came on Veterans Day.

“Veterans Day is an important time to consider the millions of Americans who have served our country,” Hassan said in a statement. “These men and women are coming back from multiple deployments and facing a wide variety of challenges as they transition to civilian life at home and in the workplace.

“On Veterans Day especially, we take note of the sacrifices our veterans have made for this nation. CVN wants all veterans and their families to know that we are expanding our footprint and are here for them, regardless of the types of mental health challenges they are facing. You can get better us with.”

As the inaugural CEO of the Cohen Veterans Network, Hassan is overseeing the establishment of 25 mental health clinics nationwide. The clinics are designed to improve the mental health outcomes for post-9/11 veterans and their families, with a particular emphasis on post-traumatic stress, through high-quality, free, and accessible mental health care. In addition, he leads efforts to advance the field through funded research initiatives and training programs to improve care within the network and beyond.

Hassan is a veteran of the U.S. Army (enlisted) and the Air Force, where he was an officer, with 30 years of experience in military behavioral health, serving as a military social work officer, leader, clinician, and academic. He served during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 on the first-ever Air Force combat stress control and prevention team embedded with the Army. He also led the largest military substance abuse and family advocacy programs in the Pacific. These programs were recognized as benchmark programs and training sites for all other Pacific bases.

He most recently served as the inaugural director and clinical professor of the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families (CIR) at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. During his tenure at CIR, from 2009 to 2015, Hassan was instrumental in the exponential growth of the school’s military social work program and community-based research on veterans and military families. He has strong relationships with the most senior levels of leadership in the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Washington, D.C.

The network formally launched in April 2016 behind a $275-million commitment from billionaire hedge fund investor Steve Cohen to open 25 clinics across the country by 2020. Hassan moved to Wilton from Los Angeles and works in Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management offices in Stamford.

CVN clinics have seen more than 950 clients this year, most coming in the last six months. The last two pilot clinics formally opened in October, with two more that opened in the early summer.

CVN clinics treat veterans with all discharge statuses, within one week of first contact, at no cost. The clinics are seeing clients who haven’t been able to get help in the past, including clients who have had bad experiences with mental health care, clients who have never tried therapy, veterans in crisis, couples, active-duty dependents, student veterans, and caregivers.

The organization fills a gap that the Veterans Administration hospitals cannot fill, Hassan said.

“Family, marital, reality readjustment is not easy. Service comes with consequences and sacrifices that sometimes have an impact on mental health. They also come for depression, anxiety, marital problems, transition problems,” he said. “We also see the children and families of veterans.”

The clinics report that more than 35% of the total client population consists of non-veteran family members and children. The closest clinic to Connecticut is in New York City. There is another in Philadelphia, Pa.

“We’re definitely filling a gap the VA cannot, because by law they can’t treat family members. Also, about 8% of our patients are ineligible for VA treatment because of their discharge status,” Hassan said. “A lot of them are not willing to go to the VA or interested in the VA.”