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2017 Cohen Veterans Care Summit

2017 Cohen Veterans Care Summit

A Global Forum to Advance Trauma-Related Brain Disorder Science and Care

2017 Cohen Veterans Care Summit
September 27-28, 2017
Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, D.C.

The second annual Cohen Veterans Care Summit will focus on advancements in bioscience, clinical treatment, and precision medicine, and will highlight opportunities for advancing the PTSD and TBI research roadmap through public-private partnerships. World-renowned brain health experts will share the state-of-the-art in biomarkers, diagnostics, translational models, genetics, biosensors and mobile health for PTSD and TBI. Top-level clinicians will share expertise and best practices around caring for veterans and military families.

By joining forces with partners from all sectors, we can Spark a Care Revolution for veterans, service members and all individuals affected by PTSD & TBI.

The mission of this year’s Summit is to convene an interactive forum to address priorities for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Suicidality and other Trauma-related Brain Disorders, and define a roadmap for progress. This Summit will bring together leadership from the private and public sector to advance the Veterans Brain Health research agenda and clinical care delivery model.

Our forum will consist of a Public Event, Igniting the Spark, with attendees including veterans and their families followed by an invitation-only Stakeholder Event, Spark a Care Revolution, that will convene more than 350 thought leaders from academia, industry, government and the non-profit sector. In an effort to stimulate discussion and promote collaboration, Day 2 of the Stakeholder Event will offer 3 different tracks for stakeholders to attend: policy, bioscience & clinical care.

Cohen Veterans Care SummitIgniting the Spark (Public Event)

The public event will explore the full spectrum of challenges that veterans and families face in the wake of physical and emotional brain trauma. Global leaders in brain research and care will provide the State of Affairs” in Brain Health – what we’ve accomplished, where we need to go and how we are going to get there.

This event is open to the public with a special welcome to veterans and their families. If you are interested in attending, please use the following link to register:



Cohen Veterans Care SummitSpark a Care Revolution (Stakeholder Event)

The closed event is for leadership from the public and private sector to gather and advance the veterans brain health research agenda and clinical care delivery model. World-renowned brain health experts will focus on advancements in bioscience, clinical treatment and precision medicine.

If you are interested in attending these events or would like more information,
please reach out to

Igniting the Spark - 2017 Cohen Veterans Care Summit

Igniting the Spark

This event is open to the public with a special welcome to veterans and their families.

Igniting the Spark
2017 Cohen Veterans Care Summit
September 27, 2017 – 7:30am – 12pm
Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, D.C.

What is Igniting the Spark?

Igniting the Spark is a public event that will set the stage for the 2nd Annual Cohen Veterans Care Summit by exploring the full spectrum of challenges that veterans and others face in the wake of physical and emotional brain trauma.

This half-day inaugural event features some of the world’s leading advocates in brain research and care. We will provide the State of Affairs” in Brain Health what we’ve accomplished, where we need to go and how we are going to get there.

Special invitees include patient advocacy groups, passionate donors, and PTSD and TBI survivor groups. This event is open to anyone with an interest in learning more, a desire to help their community members, and all those impacted by trauma.

How can I attend?

Join us in our quest to end the suffering of the millions of veterans and civilians who endure the devastating effects of trauma on the brain. Due to limited space, participants are required to register. This event is free and open to the public.

Registration is free, but space is limited Register to Attend Igniting the Spark

For those unable to attend in person, this event will be streamed live.

A Psychiatrist’s Search for Neurobiological Answers to the Questions Underlying PTSD

Dr. John Krystal

Dr. John H. Krystal

As someone who has spent decades studying the effects of stress on the brain, Dr. John H. Krystal recalled his own stressful moment when he was a first-year medical student at Yale University School of Medicine. He was working with monkeys in the laboratory of Professor D. Eugene Redmond, studying the biology of fear, stress, and opiate dependence. This work focused on the noradrenaline systems implicated in fight or flight” responses. It seemed to me that symptoms of PTSD resembled the consequences of the activation of brain noradrenaline systems,” noted Dr. Krystal.

His father, Dr. Henry Krystal, a prominent psychiatrist who worked with Holocaust survivors, was serving as the discussant for one of the first symposia on the biology of PTSD at the American Psychiatric Association. When his discussion shifted to a presentation on the role of noradrenaline in the treatment of PTSD’s√Ñ√Æwithout advance warning’s√Ñ√Æhe called his son to the podium to discuss possible links between noradrenaline systems in the brain, fear, and PTSD. My noradrenaline system was extremely active at that point,” Dr. Krystal noted. This was my first scientific presentation and I was speaking off-the-cuff to a huge audience.” It must have gone reasonably well because he was invited to join the organizers of the session to write one of the first review papers on the biology of PTSD.

Thus was launched a groundbreaking career.

Dr. Krystal followed in his father’s footsteps and became a psychiatrist interested in the neurobiological underpinnings of mental disease. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1980, received his MD from Yale in 1984, and completed psychiatry residency at Yale in 1988. Since then, Dr. Krystal, now the Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, and Professor of Neuroscience at Yale, has published extensively on the neurobiology and treatment of PTSD, depression, alcoholism, and schizophrenia.

He was a leader of the discovery of the rapid antidepressant effects of the NMDA receptor-blocking drug ketamine in humans’s√Ñ√Æa breakthrough that has led to research into a new class of antidepressants.

Director of the Clinical Neuroscience Division of the VA National Center for PTSD and Executive Committee Member for the VA/DOD Consortium to Alleviate PTSD, Dr. Krystal spoke at the 2016 Cohen Veterans Care Summit in September about the pharmacotherapy gap in treatments for the disorder.

I think there’s a national challenge or crisis related to the development of medications for PTSD,” he told the attendees of the Summit, which was organized by Cohen Veterans Bioscience and Cohen Veterans Network.

Only two medications, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors Zoloft® (sertraline) and Paxil® (paroxetine), have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of PTSD. Neither is effective for many patients who suffer with symptoms of PTSD, according to Dr. Krystal.

We’re in a real conundrum,” he said. At the VA, we have over 600,000 veterans who need treatment for PTSD and all we have to treat them are these two medications. Historically, the pharmaceutical industry has not had programs focused on developing treatments for PTSD. We need more industry investment in drug development, but we also need investment in basic and translational research to help reduce the risks for pharmaceutical companies who are interested in PTSD drug development.

The limited scope of PTSD pharmacotherapy research has resulted in a serious threat to the optimal treatment of veterans with chronic PTSD. Many veterans are being treated with three-to-four drugs for which there is little research on their risks or benefits,” Dr. Krystal added. We need to really understand what the medications that are currently prescribed are doing and make sure there are new medications being tested.”

He called for definitive clinical trials looking at commonly prescribed medications as well as for early phase clinical trials of novel treatments.

At the same time, Dr. Krystal described exciting research in animal and translational neuroscience studies that are helping to identify circuit or molecular mechanisms that could possibly be targets for behavioral therapies or medications.

He cited a study led by his Yale colleague, Professor Ronald Duman, that is the first study of post-mortem brain tissue from PTSD sufferers. Looking at tissue from a part of the brain implicated in mood disorders, called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, Dr. Krystal noted that they found a reduction in the levels of the mRNA coding for a neural signaling protein, SGK1.

The first question you ask is: What does that mean?” Dr. Krystal said.

Further studies in animals found that when animals were stressed, their SGK1 levels also showed a reduction. And when animals were genetically altered not to express this signaling molecule, lo and behold, these animals look like they have PTSD, even though they have never been exposed to stress,” he said.

That raises the next question: What if you could raise the level of SGK1 by overexpressing it in animals?” Dr. Krystal said. Again, lo and behold, if you over-express SGK1, the animals become more resilient to the effects of stress.”

He said tests are underway in animals to see what medications might raise SGK1 levels.

This is the kind of opportunity we have as a field right now, to capture the explosion in basic and translational research,” he said.

Dr. Krystal was ultimately optimistic about the future of research.

It is the worst of times and the best of times because we are still grappling to come up with a treatment breakthrough,” he said. Our depth of understanding is growing, yet it is somewhat superficial. However, we now have a growing array of paradigms for PTSD research.”

care-summit-day-2-13Joining Forces on the Road to Discovery: Advancing the PTSD and TBI Research Agenda

Daily Highlights September 23, 2016

Joining Forces on the Road to Discovery: Advancing the PTSD and TBI Research Agenda

Daily Highlights September 22, 2016


VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin

Public-Private Commitment to Our Veterans Mental Health: Cohen Veterans Care Summit Brings Forces Together to Find Solutions

Caring for veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) takes an enormous investment’s√Ñ√Æof time, money, and resources’s√Ñ√Æby academia, industry, government, the military, and the non-profit community.

On September 22nd and 23rd, 2016, approximately 200 of these leaders will gather at the first Cohen Veterans Care Summit to discuss the state of science and care delivery in PTSD and TBI and to map a path to a first generation of diagnostics, therapeutics, and cures.

The Summit is co-hosted by Cohen Veterans Bioscience (CVB) and Cohen Veterans Network (CVN). Dr. Magali Haas, CEO & President of Cohen Veterans Bioscience, and Dr. Anthony Hassan, CEO & President of Cohen Veterans Network, discuss why a conference such as this is much needed.


Dr. Magali Haas, CEO & President of Cohen Veterans Bioscience

What are you most excited about for the 2016 Cohen Veterans Care Summit?

Dr. Haas: I don’t think I can choose just one thing! It’s going to be an unbelievable opportunity for leaders from academia, government agencies, foundations, and industry to meet and exchange ideas so that we can centralize efforts and information and bring PTSD and TBI to the forefront of treatment research’s√Ñ√Æwhere it belongs.

Why is the Cohen Care Summit so valuable for advancing the field?

Dr. Haas: In order to advance the field, we need to get world-class experts who are working on different pieces of PTSD and TBI in the same room. And we need funders and policy-makers to see that PTSD and TBI diagnostics and therapies are attainable goals in the near-term. The Summit has the potential to accomplish both of these things. It will be very important to show the incredible progress that has already been made and talk about where we are headed.

What aspect of your work do you enjoy the most?

Anthony Hassan, Cohen Veterans Network

Dr. Anthony Hassan, CEO & President of Cohen Veterans Network

Dr. Haas: I enjoy making connections between people who might never have gotten together and inspiring them to collaborate in new ways to reach our common goals. PTSD and TBI are multifaceted disorders and so our approach to finding treatments has to be multifaceted. To explore every promising approach with the dedicated attention and focus it deserves, we need a lot of people to get on board with our programs. I like to create productive partnerships focused on tangible outcomes, which equates to real progress and win-win situations for patients and researchers alike.

Dr. Hassan: I love that I’m making a difference every day. I’m truly engaged in something that is transformational and that will have long lasting impact for many years to come.

Dr. Haas, how did you originally get involved with doing bioscience research for PTSD and TBI?

Dr. Haas: After 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I was inspired to accelerate the discovery of next-generation diagnostics, treatments, and cures for brain disorders. I founded Orion Bionetworks on that principle. Through that effort, I understood the need to forge public-private partnerships and the importance of a translational approach based on robustness and replicability to make progress.

I met with philanthropist Steven Cohen about one year ago and he shared his passion to make a difference in veterans’ mental health, particularly in PTSD and TBI. Having family who have served and a personal history of serious concussions myself, the potential to make an impact by joining forces became an imperative for me, so we re-focused Orion to become Cohen Veterans Bioscience.

What inspires you both to do the work you do?

Dr. Haas: Thinking about the millions of people affected by PTSD and TBI and knowing that they need help NOW. There are currently no definitive diagnostics, limited treatments, and no cures.

Dr. Hassan: This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, to meet a critical need for veterans and military families and help the very family that I served for 25 years as an Air Force mental health officer. A family that I call my own.

How do your two organizations collaborate?

Dr. Haas: I see great potential for these two organizations to complement, inform, and nurture each other. For example, it will be crucial for CVB to understand what concerns patients the most, what are the unmet needs, and what potentially works in the clinic. We also need to understand how to stratify patients so that we can interpret biomarker data and develop model systems. On the other hand, CVB can bring innovative science and validated treatments to CVN. We are quite similar in our approaches in that we both think about these issues methodically and carefully and demand standardization and quality.

Dr. Hassan: Cohen Veterans Bioscience research discoveries will be translated into practice within the Cohen Veterans Network. Our partnership is ideal for bringing bench science to the clinics to better serve veterans without the bureaucracy that often impedes the application of research in the field.

What sets Cohen Veterans Bioscience apart from other similar organizations?

Dr. Haas: There really is no similar organization for PTSD and TBI. We are honored to assume this responsibility, especially since the need for it is so great. We have certainly taken a lot of inspiration and learned a lot from organizations that do fantastic work in other therapeutic areas.

Describe Cohen Veterans Network.

Dr. Hassan: Cohen Veterans Network is a client-centered network of clinics, which provides high-quality, integrated and accessible mental health care. CVN’s mission is to fill a critical gap in care by improving mental health outcomes for veterans of the Armed Forces and their families.

What sets Cohen Veterans Network apart from other organizations that provide mental health care for veterans?

Dr. Hassan: We reduce all barriers to care while at the same time ensuring high-quality culturally competent care. Our setting is comprised of veterans and family members in one holistic unit. It is a place that understands its clients and makes them feel welcome; a source that you can trust.

What has Cohen Veterans Network been able to do as a private foundation that wouldn’t be possible if it did not have a guaranteed source of funding?

Dr. Hassan: With Steven Cohen’s generous gift, we’re able to be nimble and innovative while advancing the field beyond clinical care, through research, education and training, and anti-stigma media campaigns. We’re fortunate to be able to bring the best talent to the table.

What do you see for the Cohen Veterans Network in the future?

Dr. Hassan: I see a growing private network of clinics that is trusted and respected by the veterans’ community, that, not only provides high-quality care, but is shaping how mental health care delivery looks in the future.

Learn more about the Cohen Veterans Care Summit by following the proceedings on twitter #Cohencaresummit

Garrett Combs

Garrett Combs

PTSD: The View From the Frontlines

Garrett Combs wants to elevate the national conversation on the PTSD-veteran experience and society’s response to it beyond the stereotypical’s√Ñ√Æthe image of the irretrievably broken veteran and society’s well-meaning but standard response’s√Ñ√ÆWe support our troops” or Thank you for your service.”

It’s more nuanced than that,” says Garrett, who enlisted in the Army when he was in high school and served in the Infantry from 2004 to 2009 with deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a cognitive dissonance around the discussion of PTSD, which is preventing us from developing effective solutions. For example, the reference in popular culture to veterans who are struggling with their ‘s√Ñ√≤demons.’ But when veterans and society as a whole use the word ‘s√Ñ√≤demons’ to describe the symptoms of a manageable condition such as PTSD, it prevents us from not only effectively treating the condition, but having any meaningful discussion about the effects of war on the brain and psyche.”

Once he returned to civilian life, Garrett experienced PTSD’s√Ñ√Ænot immediately, but slowly. In a span of four years, approximately 10 men from his unit died by suicide, drug overdoses, bar fights, and police shootings. One committed homicide. Garrett’s former roommate killed another roommate and is now serving a 50-year prison sentence.

It came to a head for him four years ago when his wife became pregnant with their son. He had gone from being a young, single combat veteran to living with a wife and baby. As Garrett explains, I had to de-activate the aggressive warrior-like mentality in order to be a good father and husband.”

At this point, it was clear that he needed help. Beyond the physiological effects of war, there was another injury he faced’s√Ñ√Ætremendous feelings of guilt for having so much, ‘s√Ñ√≤the American dream,’ after witnessing the devastating impact of war on his fellow veterans and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Garrett says that this is when he started to unravel.

Garrett believes that, for the millennial soldier, social media has completely changed things. For the first time, we have kids who grow up playing military-branded video games or following soldiers’ social media accounts through combat and then are able to go ‘s√Ñ√≤fight’ in those same wars. We begin recruiting kids before they are legal adults and if you send young people to do violent things in distant lands it’s going to have lasting effects. The question is how we as a society build a culture where re-integrating our warriors is as important as preparing them for war.”

He credits the *Save a Warrior program with preparing him to manage the emotional effects of his experience. The program brings together a group of veterans for 5.5 days of experiential therapy, including counseling, meditation, equine therapy, and the study of archetypes with an emphasis on ritual in the re-integration process. The program creates a space specifically designed to guide veterans through processing their experiences and focuses heavily on pre-existing trauma. In addition, Garrett has been helped by regularly seeing a mental health specialist.

Veterans are a quantifiable slice of a much larger pie,” says Garrett. We are a measurable demographic where many of the issues facing veterans are also major issues facing civilians. When we recognize this we realize that we not only owe it to our veterans, but we owe it to ourselves to dispel the stigmas around mental health disorders and develop more effective and accessible treatments for everyone.”

*Cohen Veterans Bioscience and Cohen Veterans Network do not tacitly endorse the Save a Warrior program.

* * * * *

Garrett Combs is a documentary filmmaker and photographer whose work can be seen at He was featured in the CNN documentary, The War Comes Home, Soledad O’Brien Reports and will be a speaker at the Cohen Veterans Care Summit taking place September 22-23, 2016 in Washington, DC. Learn more about the Summit on twitter #CohenCareSummit.