In my 24 years as a Navy wife, I never lost sleep worrying that my husband had been injured in combat. Due to the nature of his job, he was mostly shielded from danger, and thus, his service to his country did not come with a huge price tag.
We were lucky.
Many of the 2.7 million post-9/11 veterans are not so fortunate. Over 540,000 have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and another 260,000 have Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). However, these “invisible wounds of war” are often hidden from the veterans themselves, so it is believed that the figures on PTSD are actually much higher.
The afflicted cannot cope with the resulting emotions, anxiety, and depression. Relationships are ruined. Substances are abused. Warriors self-destruct. With a veteran suicide rate of 20 per day, the stark reality of the sacrifices paid by our service members is truly alarming.
I am embarrassed by our military family’s oblivion, when many are struggling. So, when my neighbor — who works for a Boston-based clinical treatment facility for veterans with PTSD and TBI — offered to show me his workplace, I jumped at the chance to get involved.
Home Base is a veteran and family care program founded in 2009 by the Boston Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital. It is one of four such facilities at academic medical centers — the others are Rush in Chicago, Emory in Atlanta, and UCLA in Los Angeles.
They offer both outpatient treatment, as well as inpatient Intensive Clinical Programs (ICPs) funded by Wounded Warrior Project. Home Base’s ICP involves two weeks of residential treatment at no cost to veterans. Ten injured warriors at a time enter ICP as a “cohort.” Since the pilot program in 2015, twenty-seven cohorts have gone through ICP with promising results.
The cohorts attend individual and group therapies, exposure or cognitive processing therapies, wellness activities, and coping skills training. They get one year’s worth of therapy in 14 days.
I visited on day 15 — Graduation Day.
I was taken to a small, quiet space that had been neatly lined with folding chairs. A table held yellow flowers, challenge coins, and graduation certificates.
From the back, I watched the cohort file into the front row. Clinicians, staff, and a few of the veterans’ family members took the seats behind.
In ICP, veterans can invite one family member to attend the program for two days during the second week to receive coping skills training and attend group therapy. It’s an integral part of recovery, according to Home Base’s CEO, Brigadier General Jack Hammond (Ret.). “The family members have been injured by virtue of their own stress of having a loved one so far away, or by the service member coming home and disrupting the family ecosystem. In either case, you can’t just treat the veteran, you have to heal the entire ecosystem,” he said.
After heartfelt speeches from clinicians and staff, members of the cohort stood to speak to the group one final time.
A gruff warrior with a salt and pepper beard could only squeak out, “Thank you,” before being seized by emotion.
A woman veteran who they referred to as their “den mother,” showed her appreciation for the simplicity of the process. “Here, you wake up, you set your soul free, then you go to sleep. You get up the next day, and do it all over again.”
A quiet veteran stood with his PTSD assistance dog and admitted that his treatment might be too late to save his marriage. “But that’s okay. It’s reality, and now I have other people I can reach out to. I have friends. I’ll be okay.”
The jokester of the group left everyone with this frank confession: “When I came here, I thought this was it. I had a gun to my head. But I’m leaving here with hope for my future. You literally saved my life.”
General Hammond encourages other warriors to consider treatment. “I like to tell veterans, you are not alone, every one of us has gone through these challenges, me included. The key is to get care, start the process. We can give you hope for a better life.”