Meet Our Team

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Shari Finney, LMFT

Regional Clinic Director

Shari is thrilled to bring her more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit management and clinical experience to the clinic, with a long history of deep ties to the local community.

Shari has spent many years in nonprofit service in San Diego. For eight years she served on the Board of Directors of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, as well as the Social Action Collaborative. Additionally, she served on the Council to End Homelessness during its inception.  She also received commendations from the Mayor of San Diego from 2009 to 2014 for excellence in treatment programs; recognition for innovation from the United Way of San Diego for creating the Recuperative Care Unit for medically fragile homeless and in 2007 she received the San Diego Business Journal’s Woman of the Year award.

A licensed marriage and family therapist, Shari received her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of San Diego. Prior to her appointment to the Cohen Clinic, she was the Executive Director of Peninsula Shepherd Center and prior to that was the Vice President of Clinical Programs for San Diego Rescue Mission. She enjoys utilizing her skillset and experience to manage effective treatment programs that assist veterans in attaining recovery, self-sufficiency, and healing.

Having grown up with a father who served in the Air Force and in a military city, Shari knows it is an incredible honor to provide care to those who served our country.  She also understands the endless stress and sacrifice military families experience and looks forward to providing care for all military family members, including children and spouses.

Shari currently resides in San Diego with her family.  In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, swimming and playing with her dogs.

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Dr. Nikki Watkins, LMFT

Clinic Director

Prior to coming to the Cohen Clinic, Nikki was Program Administrator for Telecare, where she provided clinical oversight of three outpatient mental health programs serving the parole and probation populations. She was also Vice President of Clinical Programs for the San Diego Rescue Mission, where she oversaw seven clinical and residential programs serving the homeless population.

Nikki received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations at San Diego State University. She later received a master’s degree in both Religious Studies and Counseling Psychology and doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology at Southern California Seminary. Nikki is a BBS approved Clinical Supervisor with clinical training in CBT and grief/loss.

Both of Nikki’s parents are Airforce veterans who met in Okinawa, Japan where she was conceived. Her grandfather was an Army and Marine veteran, and four of her uncles are veterans of various branches of the military.

Nikki enjoys attending trainings and conferences on mental health to learn new concepts and updated research, which allows her to provide the best service possible to clients. At the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, one of Nikki’s goals is to help veterans and their families who have immediate needs. “They have sacrificed so much to ensure our safety and freedom, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to serve them,” she said.

Nikki grew up in Los Angeles and currently resides in San Diego with her family. In her leisure, she enjoys crocheting, reading, puzzles, traveling, and going to the beach.

Kirsten

Kirsten Alfaro White, M.A., NCC, APCC

Associate Director

Kirsten White is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor and serves as the Associate Director for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD-Oceanside.

Kirsten was born and raised in San Diego, California and received her Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from California State University San Marcos. She then went on to receive her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of San Diego. She completed her practicum experience for her graduate program in a residential treatment center for homeless veterans with substance use disorder and other co-morbid disorders. Having a passion for the veteran population, Kirsten continued her clinical experience at the residential treatment center as she accrued hours towards licensure.

Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Kirsten worked as the Clinical Manager for a national non-profit organization where she oversaw their national Support Center and worked to help disseminate educational courses and resources to those who work with, live with, and care for military members, veterans, and their families. Kirsten first started her clinical work as a behavior technician for children with autism in the field of applied behavior analysis, working mostly with military families. Kirsten initially joined the Cohen Clinic at VVSD team as the Intake Coordinator and part time Clinician. She has been trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Prolonged Exposure, and Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy.

As the daughter of a retired Navy veteran, Kirsten is excited and honored to continue her work to with veterans and their families. “At the end of the day, our active duty service members, veterans, and their families made a commitment to serve and sacrifice. It’s a privilege to play some part in serving them back. “

In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family on mini adventures around the city and trying to new food.

Mark

Mark Shideler, M.D.

Medical Director/Psychiatrist

Mark Shideler M.D. serves as a Prescribing Psychiatrist at the Cohen Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego. He joined the Cohen Clinic after 28 years in the Air Force and served as an operational physician in Aerospace Medicine (aka “Flight Doc”) and Group Surgeon for the 548th ISR Group. He also served as a psychiatrist teaching and mentoring at the 60th MDG at Travis AFB, CA.

Dr. Shideler earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at the U.S. Air Force Academy, went to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), served as an operational, medical physician and later went on to complete psychiatry training at Wright State University.

He enjoys treating and helping people with psychological trauma and posttraumatic stress and, most importantly, helping them get their lives back. Dr. Shideler is trained and clinically experienced in Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) for nightmares.

In his spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time with his daughter and wife. He was raised by a family that moved a lot and has called the following places home: Alaska, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado, Northern California, Alabama, Maryland and South Korea.

Cesar

Cesar Padilla, BBA-IMC

Data Manager

As Data Manager at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Cesar oversees the clinic’s various data and IT systems. He is responsible for organizing, storing, and analyzing data as effectively as possible, while always upholding agreed-upon security standards.

Previously, Cesar worked as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer at Veterans Village of San Diego. A Purple Heart Recipient and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran of the U.S. Army, he held the following military occupations during his 11 years of service: M1 Armor Crewman, U.S. Army Recruiter, and Public Relations Specialist.

As a veteran, Cesar is excited to be part of the Cohen Clinic at VVSD’s vision of helping veterans and their families address mental adversities. However, more importantly, he believes the services provided at the Cohen Clinic are an essential step in bringing down the stigma around mental health, especially debunking the stigma that claims asking for help is a form of weakness.

Born and raised in San Diego, Cesar earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Integrated Marketing and Communications from San Diego State University. In his leisure time, Cesar loves to spend time with his daughter, play Airsoft, Paintball or just be outside enjoying the San Diego weather.

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Giselle Vallejo, LPCC

Clinician

Giselle is a bilingual clinician at the Cohen Clinic. Born and raised in Chula Vista, she received her Bachelor’s degree in religious studies at San Diego State University and received her Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at the University of San Diego. During her graduate studies, Giselle completed her practicum at the residential program at Veterans Village of San Diego, providing services to homeless veterans with co-morbid diagnoses. Prior to becoming a part of the Cohen Clinic team, Giselle worked with non-profit organizations providing Flexible Integrated Treatment (FIT) to underserved communities, specifically to children between the ages of 2-21 and their families. Giselle has been trained in utilizing Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Treatment, and Prolonged Exposure. Giselle likes to take on a strengths-based, trauma-informed, and culturally-inclusive approach when working with individuals. She has a strong passion for working with people who have generational and complex trauma and believes every person should have their own space to feel heard. Giselle’s passion in working with the military population stems from having veteran family members and being a military spouse. Her husband is in the U.S. Air Force and they currently reside in Northern California. In her spare time, Giselle enjoys playing the violin, exploring new places, trying new foods, cooking, and spending time with friends and family. 

Claudia Oreegal

Claudia Oreegal, MSW, ASW

Clinician

As a Clinician, Claudia provides veterans, service members and their families with high-quality, evidence-based mental health services and support navigating through some of life’s challenges.

Claudia is a U.S. Marine Corp Veteran and military family member. She has more than four years of experience working with individuals challenged with substance abuse addiction.

Prior to the Cohen Clinic, she worked at a Drug Medi-Cal program in North County San Diego, working as a therapist in a men’s residential treatment facility which served mostly previously incarcerated and homeless clients. Prior to that, she worked as a Social Worker/Case Manager with men and women who were homeless or at-risk of homelessness in North County San Diego, with the Whole Person Wellness program at Exodus Recovery, Inc. Before that, she worked at another Drug Medi-Cal men’s residential treatment facility working as a Case Manager and Group Facilitator, in North County San Diego, which also assisted veterans. And preceding this, Claudia worked with Veteran Services at Cal State San Marcos. While there, she assisted veterans, service members and their families with processing VA Educational Benefits, along with case management and social support in the transition from military life to student/civilian life.

Claudia says she enjoys working for the Cohen Clinic because she believes in the mission and philosophy, aligned with values and service.  

In her leisure, whether its barbequing or taking a hike, Claudia loves spending quality time with her family, dog, cats and chickens. She also enjoys reading autobiographies and listening to podcasts. 

Alyssa Retuya

Alyssa Retuya, MPH

Business Office Manager

As the Business Office Manager at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Alyssa oversees financial operations and general office administration. She is responsible for billing/insurance verifications, providing administrative support and assisting front desk duties as needed.

As she was completing her Bachelor of Science degree at University of California, Riverside in Sociology/Administrative Studies, Alyssa decided she wanted to pursue a career in Healthcare Administration. After graduating, she pursued her Master’s degree in Public Health with a specialization in Healthcare Administration at National University. Alyssa previously worked as a Complaint Management Specialist for Tandem Diabetes Care, a Community Medical Liaison for AccentCare Home Health, and most recently, was the Clinical Compliance Specialist at Veterans Village of San Diego for the Drug Medi-Cal Program.

Alyssa is a very proud daughter of a U.S. Navy Veteran and also has several uncles who served in the Navy. “No words can ever describe the amount of gratitude I feel for the life my dad and the U.S. Navy has provided to me,” she said. “I find it extremely rewarding to be part of an entity that serves those who have served, as well as those who continue to serve us. The older I get, the more I understand the value of mental health and how important it is to prioritize it. Our team is such an amazing support system, and I am grateful to be working with them.”

In her leisure time, Alyssa enjoys taking care of her houseplants, cooking and baking, traveling, attending concerts and music festivals, as well as hanging out with her dog and spending time with family and friends.

Akina Goodson

Akina Goodson

Case Manager and Outreach Coordinator

As Case Manager and Outreach Coordinator, Akina is a client advocate who researches, coordinates, and provides much-needed resources to support and improve client outcomes, so that they can achieve wellness and autonomy. She is also able to share the great services that our Cohen Clinic provides to the wider community. Through outreach initiatives and events, Akina helps de-stigmatize seeking mental health services.

She holds a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in human resources and a Bachelor of Science in Social Psychology degree, both from Park University. Akina has worked with military service members and their families for more than 20 years.

Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD in Oceanside, she worked as a case manager for an organization whose mission was to help solve homelessness through providing housing, programing, reunification with children parenting and work development skills. While there, she also facilitated and taught parenting and work force development classes. Akina has also worked and volunteered as a Family Readiness Assistant aboard Camp Pendleton and numerous other bases throughout the United States and overseas, helping to connect military service members to needed resources, advocating on behalf of military families, serving as a liaison between the military community and the command team, helping to coordinate and execute community outreach events to increase military family awareness and connection, as well as helping to plan and host family events.

The daughter of a Marine and a Marine spouse of 20 years, Akina quickly learned to become resilient as she and her family PCS’d every three years to a new duty station. She has had the opportunity to travel and live across the nation and overseas meeting and working with diverse groups of people and learning firsthand the needs of our military and veteran community. Her passion for the betterment of society started at an early age as she began advocating on behalf of the military community, working toward bridging the gap of resources and services.

In her free time, Akina volunteers as the Director of Programs for a nonprofit called Network for Exceptional Military Families, which helps to bridge the gap for military service members, their families, veterans and caregivers with exceptional needs. She believes knowledge is key and spends time building on her professional and personal development through attending trainings, seminars, and webinars. Akina has been honored as a volunteer of the year, awarded a certificate of recognition in honor of her leadership and dedicated service by the California Legislature Assembly and North County Philanthropy Council, and awarded Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Camp Pendleton in 2018. Currently residing in Southern California, Akina is a Green Bay Packers fan and enjoys watching and attending football games (high school and NFL), wrestling matches Greco-Roman, Freestyle, and Folkstyle (Collegiate), track meets, fishing, traveling and history museums.

 

“The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at VVSD’s mission ‘we seek to improve the quality of life’ and their vision ‘to ensure that every veteran, active-duty service member, and family member is able to obtain access to high-quality care that enables them to lead fulfilling and productive lives’ is what resonates with me,” Akina said.

Rachelle Cadelina

Rachelle Cadelina

Intake Coordinator

As Intake Coordinator, Rachelle makes the first contact with veterans, active-duty service members and military families looking for mental health care at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD in Oceanside. She is responsible for conducting intake assessments and care coordination, while getting to know individuals, couples, and families in order to match them with the best clinician. 

Rachelle graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Soon after, she began her career working with children of military families. In order to expand her knowledge and experience, she became a case manager at Veterans Village of San Diego for homeless veterans, where her job was to assist veterans in obtaining housing, employment, healthcare, and benefits. During this time, she earned a master’s degree in social work with an emphasis on military and military families. She then became a case manager at March Air Reserve Base, where she worked with veterans dealing with homelessness and substance use disorders.

Her father is a U.S. Navy veteran, and her brother currently serves in the U.S. Air Force. “Growing up in a military household has helped me become who I am today and has fueled my passion in giving back to the military population. Working at the Cohen Clinic has been one of my goals since it opened. I believe in the mission and vision. The Cohen Clinic does not leave anyone behind,” Rachelle said. “Those who serve and have served deserve the best quality care, and I believe the Cohen Clinic has amazing clinicians who are passionate in what they do. Our military fights for our freedom, so we must take care of them and their families.”

In her leisure, Rachelle enjoys spending time with her pups and family. She also enjoys being outdoors, whether it is at the beach, mountains, or at the park. Additionally, she likes to travel and try new foods.

Keshia Keller

Keshia Keller

Office Coordinator

As Office Coordinator, Keshia facilitates front desk responsibilities, including answering incoming calls, scheduling therapy appointments for clients, and supporting the various other roles within the Cohen Clinic at VVSD in Oceanside. Prior to the Cohen Clinic, she was working alongside her husband at a manufacturing company in Orange County, while completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Counseling.  Born in Heidelberg, Germany as a daughter of an Army soldier, she is able to resonate with the unique lifestyle of the military families the Cohen Clinic has the pleasure to serve. She said, “I have had many jobs throughout my career, but my role at the Cohen Clinic is by far one of the most rewarding opportunities that I have had to date. I have the pleasure of meeting and speaking to so many wonderful people. Helping post-9/11 veterans, active-duty service members and their families is a gift, and I am grateful and excited about the future of our Cohen Clinic and those we serve.”