Hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen said Wednesday that his Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) plans to expand to 25 mental health clinics by 2020 for veterans and their family members in an effort to create the "mental and brain health care system of the future."
"We've got a two-path approach -- take care of today's problems now and look for better answers in the future," he said in brief remarks at the opening of the 3rd annual Cohen Veterans Care Summit at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center near the White House.
Cohen said CVN currently has 10 clinics nationwide and plans to have four more set up by the end of this year.
In addition, he said, "we're on target" to have a total of 25 by 2020, operating on the theme "Back to Better."
His clinics have treated 8,000 veterans and family members thus far, and "they tell us we're making their lives better," he said.
"Sadly, we're now facing an epidemic of veterans suicides. We have to stop it in its tracks," he added. "I want to do something about this."
That's the reason, Cohen said, that he created the Cohen Veterans Network and funded Cohen Veterans Bioscience to conduct research on biological signs and other diagnostics that could lead to innovative treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
The Cohen network of clinics would have had 11 operating this year, but the one in Los Angeles at the University of California abruptly shut down last year.
According to a lengthy article by ProPublica, the non-profit investigative journalism organization, in collaboration with Fortune magazine, there were allegations that the Los Angeles clinic was turning away homeless veterans.
"We did have to move away from" the Los Angeles clinic, Anthony Guido, vice president for communications at CVN, told Military.com at the summit. "Both sides agreed it was not working the way it was intended."
Cohen, who reportedly has an estimated net worth of $14 billion, founded CVN in 2015, two years after his firm, SAC Capital Advisors, agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines and civil penalties to resolve a criminal indictment for insider trading.
It was the largest fine in history for insider trading, according to Preet Bharara, who was then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Cohen was also banned from running a hedge fund for two years. He now heads a new firm, Point72 Asset Management.
However, Cohen, who pledged $275 million of his own funds to found CVN, has recruited an impressive board of directors, including retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.; Mary Winnefeld, co-founder of the S.A.F.E. Project aimed at curbing opioid addiction with her husband, retired Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Linda Rosenberg, president and chief executive officer of the National Council for Behavioral Health.
In the summit presentations Monday, Anthony Hassan, president and CEO of CVN, said about 22 percent of the veterans at Cohen clinics were referred through the Department of Veterans Affairs' Choice program, which allows for private-care options.
"We're filling gaps" in the VA's mental health programs for veterans, he said.
"It's not about competition" with the VA, he said, but rather about getting the best treatment available for the veteran.
Last February, the VA announced it was going into partnership with CVN to work on curbing the suicide rate among veterans.
"VA and CVN have a shared goal to improve veterans' health and access to mental health services to reduce veteran suicides," then-VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin said in a VA release.
"With 14 out of the 20 veterans who take their own lives per day not engaging VA care, partnerships such as this help those veterans, as well as their families, receive care where they live," added Shulkin, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March.
Hassan said at the time that the partnership was preventing suicides by getting veterans needed care faster.
"We are excited about partnering with VA and advancing the field through innovative clinician training initiatives and public messaging," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.