Former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts couldn't remember the last time he had felt good, when he decided to seek mental health care for the first time.
The Medal of Honor recipient had pushed through two tours in Afghanistan and years after leaving the military was pushing through his depression and anxiety on his own, feelings that triggered a fight or flight response.
"There is nothing to fight and I can't run from it. It's exhausting," he said.
He had been miserable around his family for many months until his wife intervened and encouraged him to seek care.
"It wasn't until then I realized physical health and mental health are no different. It's just health," he said Tuesday, at the opening of a new mental health clinic in Colorado Springs.
The new Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Red Rock in southeast Colorado Springs will serve post 9/11 veterans, military service members and their families who may need care for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, anger, grief and loss, and transition challenges, among other services.
Gov. Jared Polis was among those celebrating the opening of the clinic that he said will help fill a key need for health care because suicides among active service members have risen in recent years.
It is the 23rd clinic in the Cohens Veterans Network, launched and funded by billionaire hedge fund investor Steven Cohen, who gifted the endeavor $275 million. Cohen was inspired to start the network after his son enlisted in the Marine Corps and served four years.
Cohen's son, Robert, worried about his friends after his service and asked his dad to help offer a solution.
The result is a growing nonprofit network of clinics that are run like a for-profit business, network President and CEO Anthony Hassan said.
"What comes with that is quality and high performance," he said.
The new Colorado Springs clinic is a partnership with Red Rock Behavioral Health, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit, that will hire the staff and help manage the credentialing and insurance for the clinic, Clinic Director Amy Moore said.
The clinic is opening with four clinicians trained as licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers and licensed family therapists. The staff will also include an intake manager and a case manager, she said. All the staff members have experience with military life, in some cases as spouses of veterans or service members.
The clinic accepts Tricare and will work with those who can't afford copays. It will also serve veterans regardless of their discharge status, Pitts said.
It will offer targeted care typically between eight to 12 weekly sessions. The clinic's focus will be on cognitive behavioral therapy that "assists with breaking down persistent thoughts that might keep us stuck in unwanted actions or beliefs," Moore said.
In some cases the need for care is delayed after military service ends.
Pitts said he didn't see changes in himself until five years after leaving the Army and while seeking help was hard, it made a noticeable difference in his interactions with his family.
"I became more engaged and patient and it didn't take that long," he said.
The new clinic can be reached at 370-5141.