More than 400,000 veterans reside in Colorado, yet many former soldiers across the state are lacking access to needed mental health services.

On Monday, a new clinic opened in Denver with the goal of bridging the gap between our post-9/11 veteran community and mental health care. The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic focuses on “saving lives and saving futures” by providing affordable mental health treatment for veterans and their families, regardless of their military discharge status and ability to pay.

The clinic will support everything from post-traumatic stress disorders and depression to marital problems and children’s behavioral issues, all within the 10,000-square-foot space in Greenwood Village.

“We focus on providing high-quality, evidence-based, culturally competent medical health care,” Clinic Director Gillian Kaag told 5280. “When I talk about high-quality treatment, I’m talking about doing treatment that actually works.” Kaag says the staff is well versed in the unique challenges that military families face, and will work to effectively treat and support those who seek help at the clinic.

Clinic entrance. Photo courtesy of the Cohen Clinic

Most importantly, a patient will never be turned away based on their ability to pay. Those without insurance will be able to access the clinic free of charge, while those with insurance will be seen for the cost of copay. “Finances will never be a barrier for treatment at our clinic,” Kaag says.

The clinic—created in partnership with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus—is funded by the Cohen Veterans Network, a nonprofit created by billionaire Steven A. Cohen to improve veterans’ quality of life through access to high-quality, integrated mental health care. In 2016, Cohen pledged $275 million to build a network of mental health clinics for veterans around the country, on the urging of his son, a Marine, who served in Afghanistan from 2010­–11. Denver’s clinic is the tenth of its kind with Cohen pledging to open a total of 25 by the year 2020.

Clinic staff expects that a large percentage of patients will be family members of veterans or those discharged from the military without benefits.

According to Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, commanders can punish soldiers for a wide range of infractions without a court-martial, ranging from reprimand or dismissal. At the clinic’s opening ceremony on Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman—himself a veteran of the Marine Corps—stated that this non-judicial punishment is being over-utilized as a discharge mechanism.

U.S. Representative Mike Coffman speaks at grand opening event. Photo by Victoria Carodine

“The result was not just that these soldiers served in combat, sometimes in multiple tours, but they found themselves on the other side of the gate with no benefits and no connection with the military. Obviously, there was a price to be paid for that and that price was in mental health,” Coffman said during his speech.

Coffman also praised the Cohen Clinic’s interdisciplinary approach to solving mental health problems, instead of solely relying on pharmaceuticals to treat patients. “In my view, it doesn’t solve the problem. It masks the problem,” Coffman said. “We’ve lost veterans under that drug-centric treatment, where they’ve be given one drug to help them sleep at night, another drug to help them get up in the morning, and a drug to help them with the emotional pain during the day. There are consequences to that.”

According to Kaag, a psychiatrist, licensed clinical social worker, licensed professional counselor, licensed psychologist, and case manager will all work together at the Cohen Clinic to best serve each patient, ensuring that no veteran—or his or her family—falls through the cracks.

Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine
Victoria Carodine is a Denver-based writer and a former editor on 5280's digital team.