If you were at Fenway Park in Boston Thursday, to watch the Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles you would have witnessed a short simple ceremony that took place on the field before the opening pitch.
Three major awards were presented to a group that came into existence a few years ago due to a unique event involving the Boston Red Sox, the World Series trophy and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
It was 2005 and the Red Sox were in Washington D.C. to meet with President Bush after winning the 2004 World Series, their first in 86 years.
“We took the opportunity to go to Walter Reed (to share the trophy with the injured Servicemembers),” said Larry Lucchino, Red Sox President/CEO, “Our players were very touched.”
When the Sox were back in D.C. after winning the 2007 World Series, Walter Reed was one of the places the team brought the World Series trophy. It was after this second visit that an idea was born.
“Tom Warner, the chairman of the Red Sox, decided that there was an opportunity for us to do something specifically with returning veterans and we dove in with both feet,” said Lucchino.
What the Sox, through the Red Sox Foundation, did was to join forces with Massachusetts General Hospital and create the Home Base Program. Home Base assists veterans and their families in dealing with the “invisible wounds of war,” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.
It was for this work that brought Tom Boyle, Field Chairman, Massachusetts Committee for Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve to present the Seven Seals Award to John Henry, Principal Owner, Boston Red Sox, who accepted it on behalf of the Red Sox Foundation;
George Charos, Awards Co-Director, MA ESGR presented the Seven Seals Award to Larry Lucchino, who accepted it on behalf of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Home Base Program.
And Wayne Theroux, Awards Co-Director, MA ESGR, presented the Seven Seals Award to Dr. John Parrish, director, Home Base Program, who accepted it on behalf of Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Seven Seals Award is presented for “meritorious leadership and initiative in support of the men and women who serve America in the National Guard and Reserve”. The award, signed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense, is presented to a company or individual, with a very unique set of criteria.
“That company or individual may not have in their employ a Guardsmen or Reservist, but they do fantastic things for the military … the total military, Guard, Reserve and Active Duty,” said Boyle.
When asked why the Red Sox joined with MGH to create the Home Base program when they could have done many things to help Servicemembers; Lucchino summed it up in one word … loyalty.
“Loyalty is a two way street. Our military does so much for us … with Mass. General Hospital, we are really proud that this program can be the basis for a national effort to welcome back our vets and treat them with the assistance and respect that they deserve,” said Lucchino.
While the Home Base program aims to treat veterans suffering from what it considers the “signature wounds” of the current conflicts; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury; the program also works with the veterans families.
“A lot of the primary support that is coming to these veterans,” said Mary Bergner, Veterans Co-Coordinator, Home Base program, “is coming from the family network. A lot of our veterans who come in to treatment or to accept treatment are brought by their family members.”
Many times a veteran may not realize that he has changed; their families may recognize the change.
TBI is occurs when a person’s brain is physically injured. This can happen in many ways, from a Servicemember being physically struck in the head by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel to being near an explosive blast from an Improvised Explosive Device, rocket, or mortar. People suffering with TBI can experience a variety of issues; this can range from vision issues to memory loss.
When it comes PTSD, a term used to describe the symptoms some veterans of the Vietnam conflict suffered from, Servicemembers did not always receive the “the assistance and respect” Lucchino talked about.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD, known in previous wars as “Battle Fatigue” or “Shell Shock”, is “an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event”. People suffering from PTSD may have “Flash-Backs” (i.e. reliving the event), have little emotional reaction to events (feeling numb), or be constantly “on guard” as well as other symptoms.
Many Vietnam Veterans were not “welcomed home” by some segments of the American population.
For Dr. Parrish, who served in the U.S. Navy as a battlefield doctor in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, the services types Home Base provides are essential.
“Home Base’s mission is to identify the warriors who have the ‘invisible wounds of war’ and motivate them to seek help and then provide that help,” said Parrish. “Sometimes the warriors who have the most trouble are the least likely to seek help, because of the stigma issues.”
This is because many veterans fear that if they admit they are having problems and seek help, they will be ostracized by society.
Dr. Parrish knows this fear of being ostracized, firsthand.
“I spent all day for a year taking care of wounded Marines … and pronouncing Marines dead. Because of the steady flow of causalities … I could only be efficient … I couldn’t react to the horror around me,” said Parrish. “It was only after I got home that I started registering the carnage and the horror that I had seen. It was years after the war that I started having symptoms of PTSD.”
Parrish tried to deny his PTSD; eventually he sought and received the help he needed.
“I know how it is to hurt and have trouble relating to people,” said Parrish, “and not be able to bring yourself to do anything about it.”
One of the ways Home Base reaches out to veterans is by having other veterans who have been in a combat zone, reach out to them.
“We have decorated war heroes, who have had PTSD, they’ve been treated and now they work for us full time,” said Parrish, “Warriors will talk to other warriors.”
The care Home Base offers is not limited to veterans from the current conflicts; all veterans are seen, no matter their discharge status.
“If someone is discharged from the military dishonorably, then they lose their benefits, they’re not able to seek care at the VA,” said Bergner, “We also take care of the veterans and their families.”
Insurance coverage is also not a requirement for care; Home Base will make sure every veteran has access to care, even after the current conflicts have ended.
When asked how long the Home Base program will continue, Lucchino replied, “as long as there’s a need.”
If you would like more information about the Home Base program, the internet address is: http://www.homebaseprogram.org/.