(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Governor Jared Polis joined Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitt to talk about the mental health needs of veterans in Colorado at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Red Rock.

“In Colorado, we are so proud of both our strong active duty military presence as well as our veterans’ community of over 400,000 Coloradans, many of whom experience Colorado during active duty and chose to make their forever home in our great state,” Polis said.

He went into the needs of veterans and families to have the support offered by Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) and how the veteran and active duty communities have their own ecosystem within the greater Colorado ecosystem.

The governor said, “This clinic is a welcome part and a needed part of that ecosystem that supports our veterans and we are thrilled to welcome the Cohen Veterans Network to Colorado Springs, the first Colorado presence of this service provider.”

Polis went on to remark about the need for greater access to mental health care and Colorado’s commitment to supporting past and present military members and their families.

“We need to break down barriers to access for all Coloradans, but in particular making sure our veterans don’t need to jump through hoops to get the help they need is a critical part of making sure that Colorado honors those who served our nation,” Polis said.

Ryan Pitt served six years in the Army from 2003 to 2009 with two tours of duty to Afghanistan. The last deployment was when he distinguished himself in combat and was also injured. He was awarded the Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” according to the Army profile of his award.

Medal of Honor recipient Ryan Pitt CVN clinic opening
Courtesy: FOX21 News Chief Photojournalist Mike Duran

“To say that I came out of it the same person would be a lie. You do the job, the stress, all of it; it changes you. It changes our family… They brought those mental health providers out there after we lost our platoon sergeant, Matt Kahler, and I think out of everybody there, one or two people, maybe, went and talked to them. That was kind of the standard across the board, it was almost like ‘I don’t need that’ at the individual level,” Pitt said.

He spoke about his own journey from enlisting to some of his deployment experience. He talked about the difficulties he faced in confronting the stigma of seeking help after finally realizing he needed to reach out.

Pitt said, “It wasn’t until five years after I was out of the military that I started experiencing changes in myself, being short, all the time. My wife really noticed the changes. We get into that mission-focused mindset of just ‘I’m moving on to the next thing, there’s too many more important things than just my own personal health that I need to take care of’.”

Pitt talked about what a difference it made in his life to get the help he needed. He spoke of talking to other veterans who felt shame for needing help and made it clear that there is no shame in feeling better and doing what is needed to be healthy.

“It’s just like our time in the service, we don’t do anything alone. That’s the first thing you learn when you join, you don’t go anywhere by yourself. You do everything as a part of a team. You need to take care of yourself and some stuff you just can’t do by yourself,” said Pitt.

For those who want to seek help check out the CVN website. The new clinic is located at 1915 Aerotech Drive, Suite 112 in Colorado Springs.