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Low-cost military mental health clinic opens in Tampa

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners will fill mental health service gaps for veterans and their family members.
Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitts, right, speaks while Clinic Director Karen Blanchette, left, Michael Sullivan, a Cohen Veterans Network Board Member, center, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, look on during a ceremony Monday marking the opening of the Florida Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times] ["OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES" | Times]
Published Aug. 26
Updated Aug. 27

TAMPA — Post-9/11 veterans and their family members now have a new, more affordable option for mental health services.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Aspire Health Partners, which officially opened Monday at a ceremony attended by Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and Mayor Jane Castor, offers treatment plans to veterans for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Services also are available to their spouses and children, either on campus or in their homes through telehealth options.

Transportation to and from the clinic is free. For patients who are uninsured or whose insurance is unable to cover treatment, the clinic will use grant funding to cover expenses.

“This is not about profit. This is about mission,” said Anthony Hassan, CEO of the Cohen Veterans Network.

Through a $275 million commitment from billionaire Steven Cohen, the Cohen Veterans Network plans to open 25 low-cost clinics across the U.S. by 2020. The Tampa clinic, run in partnership with Aspire Health Partners and built with approximately $8 million in seed money, marks the network’s 13th facility and the first in Florida. Plans are already underway for a Jacksonville clinic.

Cohen, whose hedge fund faced criminal charges in 2013 for insider trading, began major funding for veteran services around 2010 when his son Robert deployed to Afghanistan with the Marines.

The goal of the Cohen Veterans Network clinics is to fill mental health service gaps that the Department of Veteran Affairs and other agencies are unable to fill, including treatment plans for the entire military family.

“Florida continues to lag behind other states when it comes to mental health care services,” Congresswoman Castor said.

RELATED: Benefits, suicide and everything in between: Crist, Bilirakis host meeting on veterans issues

DeSantis noted that while state initiatives and local VA hospitals have made advances in treating warriors’ physical wounds and connecting them to benefits, the Cohen Veterans Network can more easily adapt to veterans’ mental health needs.

“If something isn’t working, they can change really quickly and try to find something else,” DeSantis said. “They don’t have to go to Congress to get the law changed or go through a rule maker or any of that.”

Hassan, the network chief executive, noted that the company has no interest in replacing the VA, where Tampa veterans already seek mental health care. The new Tampa clinic is meant to serve as an alternative, he said, with same day crisis appointments available.

RELATED: The VA wants to take better care of its female patients, with help from USF center

To emphasize the necessity of mental health treatment access, Ryan Pitts, a Medal of Honor recipient, noted that even when compared to his training and combat experiences, the hardest thing he ever had to do was contact a mental health provider.

Pitts suffered bouts of anxiety and depression while transitioning to civilian life. It strained his relationship with his wife and children. Mental health providers were able to help him manage it all.

“My only regret is that I waited as long as I did to do it,” he said.

Mayor Castor experienced the need for therapy options firsthand as Tampa police chief. During her tenure she helped launched a week-long mental health retreat for officers. The responses she got from participants were overwhelmingly positive, with some spouses even claiming the therapy bought back their loved ones, Castor said.

More than 12,000 veterans and their family members have already been served by Cohen Veterans Network clinics, with about 500 patients expected at the Tampa clinic within the first year.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story described incorrectly how services at the new clinic compare with those offered by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

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