Free mental health clinics aim to offer alternative to VA care

A new series of mental health clinics for veterans have opened in an effort to fill a perceived gap in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system. Over the past three years, the VA has been criticized for long appointment wait times for veterans seeking care and other shortfalls. The new network of clinics seeks to tackle the delays and lack of access that veterans may be experiencing.

The brainchild of billionaire investor Steven A. Cohen, the nonprofit Cohen Veterans Network clinics hope to provide free mental health services to veterans and their family members. Besides treating a wide range of mental health disorders, they also help veterans make a smoother transition to civilian life. Staff members offer support in transportation, housing, education, employment and other areas.

Cohen said the clinics are focusing on areas of high need. The network is currently operating clinics in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City, San Antonio and Addison, Texas. With Cohen’s investment of $275 million nationally, there are plans to open 20 more clinics over the next five years.

Cohen said the clinics were inspired by his son Robert, a Marine. He said although his son did not need mental health care upon returning from Afghanistan, many of his friends did. A key factor that sets the clinics apart is that they care for veterans regardless of how they were discharged.

Many veterans may seek care outside the VA because they do not qualify for government-funded services and benefits. Because the clinics do not have strict eligibility rules, they hope to cater to veterans who are currently struggling to get the help they need.

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