Military members and veterans who served since 9/11 have seen more deployments than any era before them, and a new clinic has opened in Oceanside to help them and their families deal with any stress and mental issues associated with their service.
The Oceanside addition to the Cohen Veterans Network of mental health clinics had a soft opening in April and will have an official grand opening at 10 a.m. Wednesday at 3609 Ocean Ranch Blvd. It is the 22nd clinic in a national network that started six years ago in New York City.
“We are excited because it’s right near Camp Pendleton, and there’s nearly 40,000 active duty service members in that area and more than 33,000 post-9/11 veterans and family members,” said Shari Finney, regional clinic director of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinics at Veterans Village of San Diego.
The 3,623-square-foot clinic includes a 606-square-foot community room, six offices of clinical space and one family room.
The nonprofit opened a Mission Valley clinic in 2019 as part of a network that provides low or no-cost services to eligible veterans and their families.
The network was launched in 2016 with a $250 million gift from Steven A. Cohen, a hedge fund manager and owner of the New York Mets whose son was a Marine deployed to Afghanstan. Cohen plans to open 25 clinics across the country, with Los Angeles to open its first one soon.
Finney said the Mission Valley clinic has had more than 5,500 mental health sessions and served more than 700 veterans and their family members since its 2019 opening. The clinic also has seen more than 100 active-duty service members, she said.
The network is focused on post-9/11 service members and their families because their needs and experiences are different from people who served in past eras, Finney said.
“They’ve seen everything from Afghanistan to Iraq, and drone strikes that didn’t exist before those wars,” she said.
Deployments can separate a service member from his or her family for months, which can cause stress for everyone.
“When one person serves, they all serve,” Finney said. “Every time they go into deployment, the whole family is put under a different kind of stress.”
Adding to the stress of deployment, this era has seen more female service members than in the past, and sometimes both parents in a family are deployed, leaving a child in the care of an extended family member.
While a less-than-dishonorable discharge can prevent veterans from obtaining some Veterans Affairs benefits, the clinics does not have the same restrictions.
“If you have been discharged other than honorably, like for a mental health condition that makes you act in a certain way, we still want to give you help,” Finney said. “If you’ve served, we’re here for you. We can still be there to help them get back to better.”
Finney said up to 10 percent of the clinics’ clients nationwide have other-than-honorable discharges. The clinics also allow service members and veterans to define their families, meaning there are not restrictions that say a couple must be married.
“We’ve treated everyone from 5 years old to 60 years old,” she said. “We even had a veteran and his dad and his step dad come in so they could learn how to get along. The ranges are just all over the place.”
The clinics offer in-person sessions and video sessions, and California branches together can potentially serve 655,000 clients remotely. The Oceanside clinic will begin providing group therapy sessions in the near future, Finney said.
Appointments to the new Oceanside clinic can be made online at https://www.cohenveteransnetwork.org/backtobetter/ or by calling (760) 418-4611.
Following the grand-opening ceremony Wednesday, the clinic will host a by-invitation panel discussion led by Associate Clinic Director Kirsten White and featuring Chelsea Larros, chief of counseling for the Marine and Family Programs at Camp Pendleton, Curtis Winfree of Interfaith Community Services’ veterans program, Camp Pendleton USO Center Manager Crystal Gates and Blue Star Families of San Diego/Camp Pendleton Director Maggie Meza.