Coffee Strong is out of its namesake business.
The Lakewood veterans advocacy project is keeping its name but slimming down its mission to focus on connecting service members with behavioral health resources and speaking up to hasten the end of the war in Afghanistan.
It moved out of its coffee shop store front at the end 2012 and on Tuesday opened a new office around the corner at 15107 Union Ave. SW in Tillicum. It no longer sells coffee.
The new digs have more space for confidential meetings with veterans and room to work on claims for help.
“There is an overwhelming need for mental health counseling” in the local veteran population, said Iraq veteran and Coffee Strong co-founder Andrew Wright.
Coffee Strong marked its new focus with a brief ceremony accepting recognition from the Soldiers Project, a group of behavioral health specialists who volunteer their time to provide counseling to service members and their families.
Randi Jensen, the Soldiers Project’s Washington director, said Coffee Strong steered service members in need to her organization and it offered up office space for appointments.
The two organizations offer services to troops who for various reasons are not comfortable seeking help through the military. Sometimes service members feel a lack of support in their chains of command; sometimes they fear repercussions to their careers.
The Soldiers Project has about 150 counselors on hand and about 100 people seeking help at any given time. It also provides counseling to veterans who cannot receive services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as former soldiers who left the military with other-than-honorable discharges.
“We cater to the people who don’t get services from anywhere else,” Jensen said.
One of them was Richard Bernsten, 42, of Olympia. He’s a former Army sergeant first class who deployed twice to Iraq. He sought out Coffee Strong and the Soldiers Project when he found himself stalled in the Army’s disability evaluation process.
“The Soldiers Project found the behavioral health help I needed,” Bernsten said.
Coffee Strong in 2011 and 2012 had a high profile in the national media as its members spoke out about suicides and signs of combat stress among Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Folks aren’t able to heal,” Wright said.