Home Base Healing Invisible Wounds

Home Base is on a mission to heal the ‘invisible wounds’ of war.  It’s the first and largest private-sector program in the nation dedicated to treating veterans, service members and their loved ones suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injuries and other challenges associated with military service.

After a victorious World Series in 2007 Red Sox players and Chairman Tom Werner visited the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland to spend time with hospitalized veterans.

The Red Sox Foundation then initiated a partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital to design a world-class clinical and research center in Boston to care for post 9/11 vets.

Recognizing Vietnam veterans returned home with alarmingly high rates of joblessness, homelessness, domestic violence and suicide, Home Base collaborated with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Veteran’s Administration, and the Department of Defense to define a gold-standard of care for those in need of healing conditions seeded by war.

The outpatient clinic designed offers vets and their families mental health care and wellness programs such as Resilient Warrior and Resilient Family curriculums for stress and fitness management. Fostering a communal appreciation of military culture, the motto of Home Base is “Their Mission is Complete. Ours Has Just Begun.”

Home Base estimates of the 2.6 million Americans deployed since the 9/11 terror attacks, one in three soldiers has returned with invisible wounds of war.

Expanding services in 2016, Home Base launched the nations first two-week intensive care program (ICP) available to vets and their loved ones from across the country.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Jack Hammond, a native of Reading, Massachusetts is the Executive Director of the program that relies on evidence based best-practices that are both traditional and holistic.

ICP’s compliment of care includes a comprehensive evaluation, individual and group therapy programs as well as yoga and Tai Chi lessons.  Private Gatsby, a yellow lab/retriever mix born Sept. 11, 2015, joins a multi-disciplinary group of professionals offering support from MGH, Spaulding Rehab, the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine, and the Red Sox Strength and Conditioning team.

Home Base

Private Gatsby, pictured left, offers support. Boston Duck Tours, right, are a huge supporter of vets. (Photos courtesy Home Base)

Bill Davidson, CSM (Ret.), Home Base Director of Veteran Outreach, said in phone interview “Regardless of time served or discharge status no veteran is turned away from the program dedicated to serving members of all branches of service. Cost will not be a barrier to care; the services of Home Base are covered by major insurance carriers and donations. If a veteran or family member has a gap in coverage or no insurance at all, they are unconditionally welcome to participate.”

With a steel-blue gaze and a warm handshake Derek O’ Brien is exemplar of veterans who are healing invisible wounds. Articulate and relaxed, there are no obvious signs of how he suffered on his unlikely trek from war to peace.

Until the 40 year-old outlined the bootprint of his life-so-far, only the eclectic nature of his iPhone playlist hinted at the metronome of his life. A blend of Metallica’s heavy metal classics mellowed out with folk songs by Gordon Lightfoot trace a life tested by fire between a reign of bullets in Fallujah and peace of mind in Boston.

On a gallery tour of works by Native American artist, TC Cannon, O’Brien, Director of Creative Services at the Peabody Essex Museum, explained how the musical preferences and mixed-medium arts of the once impoverished Vietnam volunteer express inner-conflicts common to many Vets. The exhibition: At the Edge of America /TC Cannon; is part of the Home Base Adventure Series, an activity program designed to encourage Veterans and loved ones to engage with Home Base initiatives in relaxed family-friendly settings.

Home Base

TC Cannon. (Courtesy Home Base)

Like many vets, O’Brien sees parallels between his own life, and Cannon’s. Derek was raised in Lowell by a single mom. Rather than run with a pack, the self-described “quiet kid” liberated himself from the burdens of poverty by drawing. Good grades and talent earned the young artist full scholarships to study at UMass Lowell and the Art Institute of Boston.

He was also drawn to enlist in the Army National Guard. Acing the qualifying exam in 1999, his vocational choice was to work for the military police after boot camp. The attacks of 9/11 called O’Brien into active duty. Eager to protect the nation, his education was put on hold.

Training at Ft. Drum for the Middle East followed an uneventful year of patrolling Logan airport.  A regime of rest and hydration in the 120-degree heat of Kuwait, an urban oasis of all that oil money can buy, physically acclimated military personnel to the desert climate. Led by General Jack Hammond, ‘OB’ and the battalion soon moved on to a place he’d never heard of and now will never forget; Fallujah.

Many veterans viscerally understand what happened to OB and his like-experienced brothers. In their gut they know the gruesome yet gossamer stuff that can trigger a lifetime of nightmares.

After a tour of fifteen months Sergeant OB got his orders to head home. His mother was counseled not to expect her son to return as he left, but neither were prepared for the incoming rounds of psychological crossfire once he was home.

The whiff of stale desert air from an open footlocker, or old videotapes lined up like sentinels at a Blockbuster store unexpectedly triggered flares of random memories that both ignited and froze Derek mentally and physically.

Returning to school seemed pointless, barroom brawls were an everyday event and nearly trashing a relationship with a solid gold girlfriend were tangents to OB’s screamingly out-of-control post war life as a civilian.

Derek said, “In many ways adjusting to deployment was easier than returning to life as a civilian.”

Cannon’s work on display at the Peabody Essex Museum explores many of these ground-zero themes of conflict and attempts to return to civilian life after war.

Derek’s life took an about-face in 2011 when a buddy casually suggested the decorated vet join The Run to Home Base, an annual, signature fund-raising event for the Home Base Program.

The run into Fenway connected O’Brien with old friends and introduced him to new ones forging an ongoing bond as a volunteer with the program.

O’Brien describes his life as peaceful now. He’s happily married and a very proud dad. On April 21st, he with other Home Base volunteers at the PEM answered questions about the Adventure Series* and other services of the Red Sox Foundation’s Home Base.  Like the annual Run to Home Base, the programs are free to all registered veterans, service members and their families.

To register for upcoming Home Base Adventures:

Evan Zeddies 

June 2:

  • Community Boating-Boston 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

June 24:

  • Pawtucket Red Sox  game and BBQ 12:35 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

July 18:

  • 9th Annual Run to Home Base 8:00 a.m. 9k or 5k run through Boston – Fenway Park
  • Registration is open to the fundraiser that has raised more than $15 million for Home Base programs.
  • For details: [email protected] or 617 226 6012

MGH Intensive Care Program:

  • 617 724 5205

Red Sox Foundation:

TC Cannon exhibit is open to all through June 10th.

This link shows all the exhibited work of TC Cannon on display now until June 10 at the Peabody Essex Museum. Art work can be reproduced with permission and credit of the museum.

– Diane Kilgore/Home Base