Home Base Program Helping Veterans

With an influx of veterans returning home, the Home Base program is using new techniques to treat PTSD.

The annual Run to Home Base fundraiser starts and ends at Fenway Park. Photo provided by the Home Base Program

The annual Run to Home Base fundraiser starts and ends at Fenway Park. Photo provided by the Home Base Program

The Home Base Program was created in 2009 through a partnership between the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families affected by combat or deployment-related stress and injuries. More specifically, the program treats the “invisible wounds of war” like PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

But unlike other programs, Home Base doesn’t stop with veterans. It provides clinical care and support services throughout New England for the entire family. “What is different about our program is that we are a family based clinic. For every warrior there are really 10 warriors because everyone around that individual is always affected. The point of entry may not be the individual, sometimes someone else seeks support,” says Dr. Rebecca Weintraub Brendel, clinical director of the Home Base Program. “We have a broad definition of family: Military spouse or children, anyone who is important in the life of a veteran or service members, including close friends.”

The program started after the Red Sox’s 2007 World Series win. Brendel says that when the team went to the White House to meet with then President Bush, they had a 45-minute slot scheduled to go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and spend time with the injured veterans. But the team was so moved by the soldier’s stories at the hospital, they stayed there for four hours, rather than the scheduled 45-minutes. The Red Sox ownership decided they wanted to help and then the program was born.

Brendel says that because there aren’t any big military bases in our area, many of the veterans coming home to Massachusetts are from the National Guard and Reserves. “They come back and they tend to be older with families,” Brendel says. “These are civilian soldiers that rather than going back to a large base, they are coming home. There isn’t a large network of support for them.” So Home Base uses Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans on their team. “The first point of contact when anyone calls is with a veteran,” she says. “The military culture is to be strong and it is hard seek help, so its important to have someone they can trust and relate to one the other end of the line.”

Sometimes, it takes a lot just to get a veteran to seek out care, so Home Base wants to make sure that the process is simple and smooth. “The first thing we do is to make it as easy as possible for the veterans to enter care,” Brendel says. “Two of the important things we do is first, we will see individuals in our clinic regardless of discharge status, and second there is no out of pocket cost. If they have insurance, we have to bill it, but there is support for those who need it.”

Because Home Base works with veterans all over the state and throughout New England, they have a collaboration with State Troopers who volunteer to take those seeking treatment into Boston if they don’t have transportation. Home Base is also partnering with the Amtrak Downeaster to provide discounted fares to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and families traveling to Boston for medical treatment at Home Base.

Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) therapy are two common treatments provided at Home Base. “Both are talk therapies that take a different approach to combat experiences. Through the therapies, the patient would talk about their traumatic experiences and come to understand them in a different way,” Brendel says. “[CPT] focuses on the thoughts and beliefs that someone has, like feeling guilty that you could have done something differently, or better, or saved someone, and if you did, the outcome would have been different.”

Prolonged exposure is a different form of therapy which involve re-experiencing a traumatic event, Brendel says. “Then altering your reaction to it so that you don’t have the same kind of reaction. You’d go through a series of the original event to remember it which helps the therapist process it differently so you no longer have the same anxiety response.”

While CPT and PE are the gold standard in treating PTSD, there is also, of course, medication which can be provided after evaluation. Home base is also looking tot he future by participating and partnering in research about how evidence based therapies work with mediation. “It’s a multicenter trial funded by the Department of Defense,” Brendel says.

The Home Base clinic is located at 101 Merrimac Street, Suite 250 in Boston.