Friday, September 25, 2009

Reaching Home Base

Red Sox Foundation and MGH team up to help veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq Wars

A VETERAN'S SALUTE: U.S. Navy Chief Bryan P. Zimmerman, a veteran of the Iraq War, during the pregame ceremony Sept. 17 at Fenway Park. Zimmerman threw out the first pitch and is featured in the Home Base Program public service announcements.

The bases were loaded during the Sept. 17 pregame ceremonies at Fenway Park. At first base was Tim Wakefield, on second Jason Bay and at third Mike Lowell.

But the Red Sox players were not alone. Alongside each stood a U.S. Armed Forces veteran who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq and who had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to their combat experiences. Along with the players and veterans and their family members were MGH caregivers, and at the pitcher’s mound stood leadership from the Red Sox Foundation and the MGH, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs General Eric Shinseki, and Bob Woodruff, an ABC news correspondent who was injured while covering the Iraq war. This unique arrangement around the baseball diamond was assembled to represent and announce a new landmark partnership -- the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program.

Established in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Home Base Program is led by John Parrish, MD, executive director of CIMIT and a former Marine Corps medical officer who served in the Vietnam War. The program comprises four key elements focused on helping veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and their families who are affected by PTSD or TBI. These four areas include: a clinic led by Mark Pollack, MD, of MGH Psychiatry, for the diagnosis and clinical care of veterans with PTSD and TBI; a family support program led by Paula Rauch, MD, of MGH Psychiatry, to help children and spouses better cope with a parent or loved one who is experiencing PTSD or TBI or other combat-related issues; a research program led by Roger Pitman, MD, of MGH Psychiatry, and Ross Zafonte, DO, of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, to deepen the understanding of and develop better treatments for PTSD and TBI; and an education program led by Bob Birnbaum, MD, PhD, of MGH Psychiatry, to offer information and training to broaden the network of community providers equipped to care for veterans and their families affected by these health issues.

For thousands of soldiers who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle with PTSD and TBI has a pervasive and debilitating effect. These disorders often go undiagnosed and untreated because of the unfortunate stigma
associated with the emotional and psychological scars of the combat experience. The Home Base Program seeks to reach out to veterans who have -- or may have -- PTSD and TBI to encourage them to get the vital care and services they need to begin the healing process.

The idea for the Home Base Program grew out of visits made by Red Sox players to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington following the team’s World Series victories in 2004 and 2007. During these visits, players, coaches and team officials met with servicemen and women afflicted with combat-related injuries, both physical and psychological. The connections between ballplayers and soldiers were powerful and poignant.

The Red Sox Foundation enlisted the assistance and advice of MGH physicians to help develop, plan and implement a program that would address some of the unmet mental health and family support needs of veterans. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy became a champion of the program and convened key officials from the foundation, the MGH, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to discuss ways to coordinate and serve the needs of more veterans and their families. Sen. Kennedy played a key role in helping to shape and build Home Base for the past two years and was involved in the discussions right up until his death in late August.

"From the start, Senator Kennedy saw the potential of these organizations working together to make a significant impact on the lives of so many veterans and their families in New England," says MGH President Peter L. Slavin, MD. "The tremendous outreach of the Red Sox Foundation may prompt a reluctant veteran to take that all-important first step toward treatment. And when that happens, we will be ready to offer the clinical and scientific expertise of Mass General and valuable support services to family members. These veterans, who risked their lives for our country, deserve so much more than just our profound gratitude. They deserve the very best care we can deliver and the most hope we can offer."

For more information about the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program, visit theHome Base Program website

Back to Top