By Ismael Lopez
I know what it’s like to feel like the only communication tool I have is anger. When I was a Marine stationed in Gotemba, Japan, augmenting a security unit, I was severely injured during a training exercise. I was young and angry at my own helplessness, and my solution was to self-medicate with alcohol. I lashed out at my fellow Marines, got in fights, and lost my off-base privileges. It got bad enough that I had to enroll in a treatment program for alcohol use or face being kicked out of the military.
That experience shaped my understanding of mental health, and I credit it with shaping the rest of my military career. I spent years in uniform sharing my story with different units and breaking down the stigma against mental health in the military. I focused on community and team mentality because no one ever gets stronger, healthier, or happier alone.
That idea is really central to the work I do now at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors, El Paso. I left the military after four years but knew I wanted to continue serving my military community.
As the outreach director, I still get to help my fellow veterans by connecting them to Endeavors’ services that will help them thrive in the civilian world: clinical care, transitional resources, support groups, and skills classes.
Our approach to mental health is based on the idea that mental health care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Talk therapy won’t be the most beneficial path for everyone. So we offer yoga, art therapy, and play therapy for children. We’ve recently revamped our pet therapy program in partnership with the United Way – the four-week course uses the 5 Love Languages to teach veterans five different ways to communicate with their dog.
It’s amazing how learning to communicate with a pet can build someone’s confidence, and improve their ability to navigate social relationships.
As a veteran – and a professional working with veterans – I think a lot about the challenges my fellow vets are facing in today’s world.
The list is long. Homelessness. Mental health issues. Substance use disorders. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
And consider this: Major depression rates are five times higher among service members than among civilians, and veterans have a 57% higher chance of experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The American Addiction Centers cite mental health, anger, and anxiety as the top causes of veteran suicide. Sometimes that anger comes from loss, or the anxiety stems from combat-related stress.
At Endeavors, we’re trying to open the conversation about these challenges. And change the statistics.
In the military, we are all trained in the same emotional language and mentality. We build some of the closest relationships of our lives in uniform. But once we leave that high-stakes environment, the language changes. The way human beings interact in the civilian world is vastly different than the social structure of the military. And veterans are the ones who – already figuring out a new job, a new lifestyle, a new home – have to figure out a new way to communicate, too.
So many of us have been trained to communicate in direct, harsh, assertive terms that we as brothers and sisters in arms are used to and understand. It’s our language. But outside of the military, that one-dimensional communication style doesn’t work. It can be harmful to our relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
In addition to low- to no-cost mental health care with licensed clinicians, the Cohen Clinic at Endeavors offers life skills classes to transitioning service members, post-9/11 veterans, and their family members to help build up the soft skills that they may not learn in the military. We offer parenting classes, marriage management, financial planning, and de-escalation classes. Many Veterans live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that creates additional challenges.
Many veterans are in school, working, and raising families. I tell them to take pride in all these skills they have already. They just need to figure out how to communicate those skills with others. Veterans are amazing problem solvers and leaders, and if they can communicate with others across the military-civilian divide, they’re unstoppable.
At Endeavors, our promise to the community is that we will continue to develop and offer programs that meet the ever-evolving needs of our defense community, including Veterans, active duty members, first responders, and their families. In 2025, Endeavors will open a Veteran Wellness Center for comprehensive wellness under one roof in El Paso.
If you’d like to get involved in our mission, visit endeavors.org/cohen-clinic-el-paso to make a donation that will help us offer more art classes, dog training programs, and yoga events for the community. Help us serve those who served – and make a difference here in El Paso.