On previous occasions,I have written about the importance of incorporating non-governmental, non-profit and grassroots civilian organizations into the role of addressing the mental health needs of our veterans. One organization in particular that I have written extensively about is Boulder Crest Retreat, a privately funded, non-profit, and veteran-founded and staffed wellness center in Bluemont, Virginia. Boulder Crest Retreat was founded from the innovation and generosity of Ken Falke, a former Navy veteran, businessman, and philanthropist.
One of the more recent philanthropic players to make a significant impact on veteran mental health care is billionaire Steven A. Cohen. Mr. Cohen is a highly successful investor and hedge fund manager who pledged more than $300 million dollars of his own money to address the needs of our Nation’s warriors.
Mr. Cohen has a vested interest in this cause as his son is a Marine who served in Afghanistan. One of the most notable results from Mr. Cohen’s epic philanthropy is the development of the Cohen Veterans Network. The Cohen Veterans Network is responsible for standing up free mental health clinics for veterans and their loved ones across the country. The Network is directed by former Army enlisted Soldier and Air Force officer, Dr. Anthony Hassan.
Dr. Hassan has both a distinguished career in the military as well as academia. To date, the network has multiple clinics up and running in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Philadelphia, and New York. Indeed, Cohen is having an impact on the services aspect of military mental health. But, as importantly, he is also funding the often overlooked science component of psychological health.
The Cohen Veterans Bioscience is a research group looking to advance the prevention, detection and treatment of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions. Overseen by successful clinical researcher and pharmaceutical executive Dr. Magali Haas, Cohen Veterans Bioscience plans to harness the promise of biotechnology for the broad goal of improving brain health.
The generosity of Cohen and the efforts of his teams come at an important time. Our country has sent nearly three million men and women into harm’s way since the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As a result, based on prevalence estimates, it is assumed that hundreds of thousands of veterans and service members struggle with significant psychological, neurological and physical issues.
Sadly, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent developing and refining treatments for PTSD, we have made relatively little progress. Veterans have a few “good” talk therapies available to them, but they are far from cures. Even after successful treatment, many veterans continue to meet criteria for the PTSD diagnosis. And medications have even less of a successful track record.
As I have said many times before, we must turn to private-sector funding, research and innovation if we are to address the veteran mental health crisis that faces our country. If not, we risk being stuck in “good enough” mode and fail to adequately address the psychiatric needs of our veterans. Our veterans and their loved ones deserve better.
Organizations like Boulder Crest Retreat, Cohen Veterans Network and Cohen Veterans Bioscience are a significant part of our future with regard to improving the quality of life of those who bravely served our country. And unless we come to terms with the numbers mentioned above and the limitations of our current treatments, the reality is that a generation of warfighters will be known as the ones who were plagued by psychological injury. This does not honor their sacrifices or their true nature.
*A previous version of this article was published in Military Times as part of Dr. Moore’s column Kevlar for the Mind.