By Benjamin Miranda

When El Paso was named a 2023 Great American Defense Community by the Association of Defense Communities (ADC), I thought, Well, I could have told them that! As an El Pasoan born-and-raised who returned to the Sun City after a 24-year military career, I’ve always known El Paso is a great city for families to build a future. I also know the work to support our defense community isn’t done.

When I retired from the Air Force, my family knew we wanted to call El Paso “home.” As we built our post-military life here, we fell deeper in love with our community, neighbors, and the notable way this city works to support Veterans, active duty families, and first responders. Whether I’m wearing fatigues or a suit, I’ve always been driven by service, and I wanted to join El Paso’s movement to serve those who have served.

After landing my dream job with a Texas-based organization called Endeavors, I helped establish The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors, El Paso through a partnership with the Cohen Veterans Network. Our mission: Prevent suicide through high-quality mental health care for the entire military family, not just the service member. 

In 2021, the El Paso County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that 30% of our neighbors who died from suicide were military-connected. The issue is not lack of services; it’s lack of access.

Studies have shown that among Veterans living with PTSD or depression, lack of access to care – due to cost, geographic location, discharge status, or family situation – have historically been a major contributor to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. 

Our goal was to break down the barriers that prevent Veterans and their families from accessing high-quality mental health care. And we did. 

Endeavors clinicians provide in-person and virtual mental health care to Veterans, regardless of role while in uniform, discharge status, or combat experience, plus active duty service members, and military families. We work hard to remove every barrier to care. 

If a client needs transportation to our clinic, we’ll pay for their Uber. If they need child care during their appointment, we have free care on-site. Our promise to the community has always been this: Whatever barrier you are experiencing, we will do everything in our power to eliminate it. 

The more people we served, the more we saw that mental health care and recovery is not one-size-fits-all. While talk therapy may help one Veteran, alternative therapies like dance, art, or music therapy might benefit another. Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s inherently tied to every aspect of our lives from financial stability and employment satisfaction to physical activity and social interaction. 

Comprehensive suicide prevention needs to extend beyond the walls of a counselor’s office and into the everyday lives of our service members and their families. Since 2017, our Cohen Clinic has maintained a calendar of free events for our military community, including yoga classes for relaxation, ruck hikes for fitness and comradery, dog training classes for Veterans, social events for the LGBTQ+ community, marriage management courses and financial planning workshops for families, and family nights to foster connectedness and combat isolation.

Then we looked at the whole scope of wellness for El Paso’s military community. We conducted surveys on the challenges facing our military families, identified pain points, and implemented programs to address them: Workplace Readiness Programs, Job Supportive Services for people with disabilities looking for competitive employment, and Supportive Services for Veterans and their families. 

When people feel supported, equipped, and valued, suicide no longer looks like the only option. As a community, we can join forces to ensure that our Veterans and their loved ones aren’t stranded after military service. We can ensure that Veterans – whose tremendous abilities, experiences, and visions strengthen our society – are ready to enter the workforce, attend college, or serve their community in whichever capacity feeds their soul. 

As our community evolves, so must the ways we support it. In 2020 and 2021, Endeavors served over 18,000 El Pasoans across all our lines of service. Each year we strive to serve even more people who just need a hand…who just need someone to say, You are valued. You are not alone. I believe in you, and I’m going to help you find the resources you need to build the life you deserve.

Now, we’re furthering the mission to create a zero-suicide community by building a Veteran Wellness Center: a one-stop wellness hub for Veterans, military families, first responders, and the broader El Paso community to access affordable (and even no-cost) services. When you walk inside, you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips: a fitness center with disability-inclusive equipment, licensed counselors, financial advisors and lawyers specializing in military services, chaplain services, and community events. 

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram @endeavorsorg for updates on our 2024 grand opening!