Inspiration for Cohen Veteran Network calls Tampa fortunate to have a clinic in its future

Charles Marmar, a pioneer in veteran mental healthcare who heads up a Cohen Veterans Network clinic at New York University, said Tampa veterans and their families will benefit from a network clinic opening soon. [Cohen Veteran Network]
Charles Marmar, a pioneer in veteran mental healthcare who heads up a Cohen Veterans Network clinic at New York University, said Tampa veterans and their families will benefit from a network clinic opening soon. [Cohen Veteran Network]
Published Dec. 28, 2018

Speaking from experience, Charles R. Marmar said a Cohen Veterans Network clinic here in Tampa would be a good thing.

That's because as one of the pioneers in military mental health treatment, Marmar, a psychiatrist, opened one of the nation's first clinics to treat post traumatic stress disorder. And his experience helped lay the foundation for the network of mental health treatment centers being funded in part by billionaire hedge fund tycoon Steven Cohen, including the one set to open in Tampa around March or April.

Marmar, 73, was professor and vice chair of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco and associate chief of staff for mental health at the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. In 1989, he created one of the nation's first PTSD clinics for veterans there.

"It was an excellent model," Marmar said in a recent telephone interview.

Starting in 2009, Marmar became chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center and the NYU School of Medicine. In 2012, he established the center's Military Family Clinic designed to provide mental health services veterans and their families.

It was through that clinic that he met Cohen, thanks to a charitable organization called the Robin Hood Foundation.

In fall 2010, Cohen's son, Robert, deployed with the Marines to Afghanistan and the billionaire ramped up his efforts to help fund treatment for veterans. Marmar said Cohen became very interested in his work.

"The success of our clinic at NYU was in large measure an inspiration for Mr. Cohen to build his network, " Marmar said.

By 2013, the Cohen family foundation took over underwriting the Military Family Clinic at NYU Langone. Three years later, Cohen launched the Cohen Veterans Network, with NYU Langone its first location.

Backed by his $275 million commitment, the idea is to fill gaps in the Department of Veterans Affairs mental and behavioral health care programs — among other missions, providing services to veterans with less than honorable discharges who can only obtain VA care under certain circumstances. NYU Langone became the first network clinic. Tampa would be the 12th such clinic in the non-profit organization.

Expected to open early this year in east Hillsborough and treat about 500 patients in its first year, the clinic will be funded with about $8 million in seed money. Clinic leaders are expected to raise half the operating costs by the six-year mark.

Though concerns have been raised about whether this is an effort to privatize care for veterans, Marmar insisted that the plan is to augment, not replace, VA care.

"Some people in the private sector have declared war on the VA," Marmar said. "I am not one of those people. The majority of our referrals come from VA."

But the government's second-largest bureaucracy has limitations, he said.

"The VA has historically limited resources for families of veterans," Marmar said. "It is very difficult to treat spouses and children."

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As the post-9/11 wars dragged on, it became increasingly apparent how important family and friends are in helping service members and veterans deal with the stress of deployment to a combat zone. U.S. Special Operations Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, ultimately created the Preservation of the Force and Families program, to address these issues.

But the commando community only makes up a tiny percentage of the overall military and once the vast majority of troops leave the service, their support network of family and friends are often on their own when it comes to care, exacerbating potential behavioral issues.

As a VA mental health professional "responsible for tens of thousands of veterans throughout northern California," Marmar said he has "deep affection for VA healthcare."

But there are gaps, he said, that have been filled by the Cohen Veterans Network.

The network has come under criticism from Marvin Southard, chief executive of the clinic set up at the University of Southern California in 2016, who said it avoids treating the most challenging patients .

Still, Marmar said Tampa "is very fortunate to be joining the network."

Since 2016, the NYU Langone Cohen Veterans Network clinic has treated about 2,000 patients, 20 percent of whom are family and friends, said Marmar

"I have nothing but very positive things to say," Marmar said, "about Mr. Cohen and the Cohen Veterans Network."

• • •

The Pentagon announced no new deaths in ongoing operations last week.

There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 61 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel; 56 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one troop death in support of Operation Joint Guardian, one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; one death in Operation Octave Shield and six deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.

Contact Howard Altman at or(813) 225-3112 . Follow @haltman