By Meghan Casey
As many as one in three returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer the invisible wounds of war— post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.
Fortunately, some local veterans are finding help at the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. Created in 2009, Home Base is a partnership between academic medicine and Major League Baseball. It is the first program of its kind to provide clinical care, community education and research in support of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and families who have been affected by combat or deployment-related stress.
“Military-connected families are extremely resilient, but the past decade of war and repeated deployments has taken a toll on even the strongest families,” said Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond, executive director of Home Base. “For many, coming home is the most stressful time, with nightmares and difficulty sleeping, no longer feeling safe in everyday places, trouble concentrating, severe headaches and family stress.”
Since its founding, Home Base has provided clinical treatment for more than 600 veterans and family members, and educated more than 7,500 clinicians across the U.S. to recognize post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, as well as the challenges faced by military families.
Home Base clinicians are based at Massachusetts General Hospital and are affiliated with Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. The physicians, psychologists and social workers understand the military culture and the unique needs of veterans and military families. The program’s veteran outreach team is a key component; composed of combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the team works alongside the clinicians to support throughout the treatment process.
“Vet-to-vet contact is the real heart of this program,” said veteran outreach coordinator Bob Davis, an Iraq War veteran who was working as a medic and mental health specialist at Fort Devens when Home Base was launching. “I know how difficult it is when you get back and I wouldn’t recommend a program I wouldn’t go to myself.”
Davis, who is now retired from the Army Reserves, served two tours of duty in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star, two Army Commendation Medals, the Combat Action Badge and the Combat Medical Badge for his service. In addition to his time in Iraq and at Fort Devens, he also worked as a member of the 883rd Medical Company Combat Stress Control Unit based in Boston. Having undergone counseling from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after he returned from Iraq, Davis developed the tools to better understand and control his own memories. He hopes that talking about them will help other veterans deal with their own experiences.
“Our first step is reaching out to veterans and finding out where they’ve been and what they’ve done,” said Davis. “Most have an appointment set up within two weeks where they’ll meet a clinician, a social worker and one of us. Some military injuries have little to do with combat and more to do with circumstances—like being away from home. We see whole families who have had separation issues.”
Spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, significant others and other loved ones are all eligible for services at Home Base. Treatment is tailored to the individual and will last for as long as the support is needed. If they wish, patients can also participate in cutting-edge research aimed at improving treatment and understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Home Base routinely works with the VA and the Department of Defense to make certain that veterans and families receive the care they need in a timely manner, and in the correct and most convenient setting. The program also works with long-standing veteran-serving organizations in Massachusetts including the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services, the Massachusetts National Guard and student veteran organizations at New England colleges
“Part of the process is making sure their secondary needs are taken care of, whether it’s assisting them with job searches or adjusting back to a non-military routine,” said Davis, who utilized his GI Bill benefits to complete his bachelor’s degree in fire science management. When not at Home Base, he works as a firefighter in Newton.
“Leaving the military after 16 years was difficult for me, but it’s been an easier transition being able to give back to this program and maintain contact with fellow veterans,” he said.
To learn more about supporting the Home Base Program, visitwww.homebaseprogram.org or contact Tracy West at 617.643.6789 firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many ways in which to get involved at Home Base, including tickets or sponsorship of its benefit concert (www.missiongratitude.com) at Boston Symphony Hall Sept. 23 featuring performances by comedians Sarah Silverman and Darrell Hammond, musical artists Willie Nelson, Jewel, The Band Perry, Big & Rich, Cassadee Pope, and performer Rita Wilson; or sponsoring or placing corporate teams into its 9K run and 2-mile walk in May that ends at Fenway Park (www.runtohomebase.org)