Support for Our Veterans: An Interview with the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic
In honor of Veterans Day on November 11th, ProstateCancer.net sat down with Peter Freudenberger, LCSW who is the Outreach Manager at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania. The Cohen Clinic offers no cost, high-quality, integrated mental health care for veterans and military family members in the greater Philadelphia area. Their mission is to improve the quality of life for military families and veterans. Pete, an Army Veteran and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, discusses the work the clinic does to support veterans and their families.
Stigmas and barriers to veterans' care
The biggest obstacles to care for Veterans are stigma and access. In a community trained and instructed to be strong, Veterans can often marginalize behavioral health needs, when in reality, invisible wounds are just as important as physical wounds. Overcoming stigma and reaching out for help is the first, critical step. For those who do seek treatment, quality mental health services are often difficult to access or inadequate to meet the unique needs of veterans and military families. High cost, insufficient insurance coverage, limited options and long wait times can all be serious obstacles to accessing mental health care. Not to mention, there are significant nuances to understanding the military population and with less than 1% serving in the armed forces today, few providers are specialized to serve veterans and military families.
Fortunately, organizations like The Cohen Veterans Network recognize these challenges and have been created for the sole purpose of addressing these barriers. Clinics like ours at Penn Medicine, and others across the country, provide personalized, confidential, and evidence-based mental health treatment specifically for veterans and military families – regardless of insurance or ability to pay. Innovative telehealth options make it possible for veterans and families to receive care from virtually anywhere, and initial appointments can be scheduled within one week – eliminating waits.
A family affair
One of the most glaring shortcomings of many of the existing services for Veterans is that they are designed to support the Veteran alone, and overlook the importance of involving loved ones. If you consider someone struggling with post-traumatic stress, treatment provides the Veteran with tools and insight to address and manage symptoms. If the rest of the family does not have any context for the changes they see in the individual benefiting from treatment, it hinders the ability of the rest of the family unit to support and encourage the improvements.
The Cohen Veterans Network was developed specifically to address this dilemma. We see the value in supporting the entire family unit and are seeing incredible outcomes.
Mental health as a priority
You wouldn't wait to get broken arm checked out by a professional. If you did, the bones would begin to heal improperly, causing functional loss and further aggravation. We, as a society, need to begin to see mental health through the same lens as physical health. Maintaining your mental health improves our professional performance, our relationships with others, our ability to course correct when things go awry. Having a co-occuring physical disability certainly has the potential for effecting mental health. Low back conditions are very common in the veteran population. Living with chronic pain can affect concentration and focus, which in turn can impact one's mood, which can compromise our ability to accomplish the things we want in life. This is a very common trajectory for veterans and can impact quality of life in a big way.
You are not alone
There a plethora of organizations that have your back and are just waiting for you to reach out. If you are struggling to find what you need, don't give up. There are supports out there for you. As with anything else, determination and perseverance will serve you well as you attempt to find the right resource. If you need help, call the Cohen Clinic. Visit your local Veterans Service Office. Each of these resources will work to get you where you need to be. There are a ton of resources out there, and sometimes you just need to right navigator to get you there. Do not hesitate to ask for help if you are frustrated or lost.
Digging through resources to find support
There are a number of ways a Veteran can begin the process of seeking support. Talking with other veterans is a good start. If this isn't feasible, Veterans can reach out to their local county Veteran Service Office HERE. These offices primarily assist Veterans and their families with accessing VA benefits, but also act as community hubs; connecting Veterans to quality resources in the community. The VA has developed a concept called the Community Veteran Engagement Board, or CVEB -- which you can learn more about HERE. The Delaware Valley Veterans Consortium (DVVC) is designated as our local CVEB, and provides referrals and guidance to Veterans and family members seeking a wide range of supports and services.
Look out for your fellow vets
It's important to notice the signs that something is wrong before a crisis arises. We, as veterans, oftentimes attempt to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Reaching out to someone for support comes naturally when we are serving together, as we all relied on one another to complete the mission. Service members and their families need to encourage this same line of thinking once returning to civilian life. Replicating the "battle buddy" concept in civilian life can be challenging, but we all need to be vigilant in watching out for ourselves as much as we do our brothers and sisters in arms.
To learn more about the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, click HERE.
More resources across the Delaware Valley region:
The Cohen Clinic is a member of the Delaware Valley Veterans Consortium (DVVC), a collaboration of agencies and organizations determined to ensure that veterans and their families have access to the resources they need. Below are some resouces for those living in the Delaware Valley:
- If a veteran is struggling with access to basic resources such as food, clothing, or housing, they can get in contact with the Veterans Multi-Service Center.
- If a veteran is struggling to navigate their career, he/she can benefit from the supports provided by organizations such as Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network and FourBlock.
- Military Assistance Project can provide legal guidance.
- St. Joseph's University's Veteran Entrepreneurship Program can help Veterans realize their dreams of starting their own business.
- The Cohen Clinic provides Veterans and their family members with world-class mental health support, in the form of talk therapy, case management, and medication management.
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