As VA hospitals struggle to meet rising demands, the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General have found a way to shore up care for local vets.
Werner’s idea was this: Let Massachusetts General Hospital help treat returning vets. Mass General seemed especially equipped to help PTSD patients: Since 1994 U.S. News & World Report had ranked its psychiatry department number one in the country.
Werner and a small team of MGH physicians, psychologists, and rehab specialists came up with a three-year pilot program funded through $6 million from the Red Sox Foundation and MGH. With that sort of backing, the program could attempt to treat any veteran who walked through the door. Nothing of such scope had been tried before, anywhere, and Werner and the others weren’t sure the VA would go along with it.
The VA, especially under President Bush, had been hostile to the idea of outside care. Hyannis’s Jeff Brodeur, a national director of the Korean War Veterans Association, had seen that firsthand. He had to use his clout to get his son, Vincent Mannion-Brodeur, an active-duty soldier in Iraq, treated at Boston’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for traumatic brain injury. Brodeur believed Spaulding offered a quality of care exceeding that of the VA’s Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center in Tampa, where the government had assigned his son for treatment. A year after Mannion-Brodeur became the first active-duty soldier in Massachusetts to be treated by a private facility, the Department of Defense granted Spaulding a $3 million contract for TBI research.
The VA’s contempt for the private sector had been thawing, but Werner knew political support would be more valuable than financial support. One of his first stops, in 2008, was the office of Senator Ted Kennedy, who liked the idea of Mass General partnering with the VA. Werner then met with General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, who was also intrigued. Last, he saw General Eric Shinseki, the Vietnam vet who heads the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and assured him that MGH didn’t seek to compete with the VA for patients, that the hospital wanted only to augment the VA’s care.
The Mass General program debuted last September at Fenway Park. Called the Home Base Program, it treats Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, as well as their families – people who also must learn to cope with the vets’ conditions, physical or mental, and who, as a result, may develop medical problems of their own. (The VA doesn’t provide care for veterans’ families.) If veterans can’t pay for the care, Home Base provides it free of charge. Some vets already like it so much, they’ve joined the cause.
ANDREW DELROSSI WAS A MARINE stationed in Al Anbar province in western Iraq. A broad-backed, gregarious 20-year-old from Everett, DelRossi was there to help guard the Al Asad base where dignitaries often met, patrol the surrounding desert towns, and train the Iraqi army. IED explosions were common. Firefights broke out. Once, two thieves on motorcycles stole metal from a rifle range. That metal is often used as IED shrapnel. DelRossi and other Marines chased the thieves in a Humvee, DelRossi in the turret with a machine