Steven Cohen with his son
Sometimes the desire to support a good cause turns into a passion—and then a calling. Such has been the case for Steven Cohen with regard to veterans' services. Through the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, Steve has long supported the Cohen Military Family Clinic at New York University's Langone Medical Center (NYU LMC). He has also funded potentially groundbreaking research on post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at NYU LMC, Stanford University, and Emory University. But with a son who has served as a US Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an increasing awareness of how difficult it is for many veterans to access care from an overburdened Veteran's Administration (VA) system—particularly access to quality mental health care—he became compelled to do even more.
What sets Steven apart from others committed to helping veterans is this: he is one of a very small number of people with the wherewithal—and the conviction— to give big. Very big.
Alexandra and Steven Cohen
In 2016, Steven pledged $275 million to improve the quality of life for post-9/11 veterans and their families by focusing on improving mental health outcomes, especially those associated with post-traumatic stress. His goal: to ensure that all veterans and their family members—particularly those who have difficulty tapping VA resources for mental health services—have an affordable (or free) alternative in the form of an easily accessible local clinic. He also wants to ensure that veterans and their families are getting the very best in mental health care, reflecting the latest methods that science has to offer.
Steven reached out to Bridgespan in 2014 to help him make his vision a reality, and over the next 12 months, he worked closely with a Bridgespan team to develop his Big Bet—the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN). Reflecting on that time, Steven said: "Bridgespan helped me clarify critical goals for veterans and their family members and chart a course towards achieving those goals."
At a more granular level, the work involved analyzing the need (identifying locations where wait times for VA services were acute, and/or where mental health services weren't readily available); hammering out a plan for opening a network of clinics; doing due diligence on potential partners; developing and codifying a way to measure progress, learn, and improve in real time; and finding and hiring a leader for the venture overall.
The Network's timeframe for action is aggressive. In 2015, CVN hired Executive Director Anthony Hasson and Head of Clinic Operations Alice Kim, and it built its board. This year (2016) CVN has already opened clinics in Dallas and San Antonio, and plans to open two more. Additionally, this year, CVN is rounding out its central team.
Bridgespan helped me clarify critical goals for veterans and their family members and chart a course towards achieving those goals.
Steven Cohen, Co-founder, Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation
By 2020, CVN aims to establish at least 20 free or low-cost outpatient mental health clinics in high-need communities. Concurrently, CVN will strengthen the field of veterans' mental health care by: (1) continuing research into veterans' mental health issues, monitoring clinic outcomes to identify what works best, adjusting course as needed, and disseminating what CVN learns to help all veterans' service providers better their efforts; (2) convening conferences where key stakeholders in veterans' care can share knowledge directly, and collaborate on their work; (3) strengthening the talent pipeline of clinicians who care for veterans through fellowship/scholarship programs and rigorous trainings; and (4) engaging in media campaigns designed to de-stigmatize mental health care among veterans and their families and to promote the availability of clinic services in the communities served by the network.
US Army Veteran Gena Desimone is a member of the Cohen's Veteran Network. Here she is pictured with her family.
Between 11 and 20 percent of post-9/11 veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. They, their family members, and other veterans often also suffer from other serious conditions such as depression and anxiety. Mental health conditions have a negative impact on other challenges faced by some veterans and their families, including unemployment, homelessness, and substance abuse. As Steven has said: "Half of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say they know a fellow veteran who attempted or committed suicide. Half!" Steven noted in remarks prepared for delivery at a fundraiser for the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation (quoted in Bloomberg News). "After 9/11, our veterans rushed to protect us. Now it is our turn to protect them."
Half of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans say they know a fellow veteran who attempted or committed suicide. Half! After 9/11, our veterans rushed to protect us. Now it is our turn to protect them.
Steven Cohen, co-founder of the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation
Photos and videos courtesy of the Cohen Veterans Network