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Boston and Beyond

September 16, 2012

Mass. program helps vets with combat stress

BOSTON (AP) — Part of Robert Doyle’s job as an Army sergeant in Iraq was to escort dignitaries across hostile roads.

But after surviving a 2007 blast that severed limbs of fellow soldiers, Doyle didn’t care to meet any VIPs after his return home.

“I just want to get well,” Doyle told his doctor at his first Home Base Program appointment in Boston in 2011.

That day, the veteran turned down the chance to meet Red Sox owner John Henry, who happened to be right outside his treatment room.

To Doyle, it was more important to talk with a fellow combat veteran who told him he could trust the clinicians offering help for his combat-related stress.

Home Base treats veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, conducts related research and provides counseling for veterans’ family members. In 2009, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox’s charitable foundation partnered with other agencies to launch the program.

The idea for the program took root after the team visited vets at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington following its 2007 World Series win. Since then, a program affiliated with the Atlanta Braves has modeled itself after Home Base.

Home Base officials said it is different from Department of Veterans Affairs programs because it also helps veterans with dishonorable discharges who are dealing with what experts call the “invisible wounds of war.”

Program officials said it was a challenge at first to find patients to treat. But that changed after combat veterans began working on the New England program’s front lines.

Veteran outreach coordinators are Home Base’s first point of contact for potential patients and relatives looking for help for vets in their families. When a call comes in, the outreach coordinators ask about sleep patterns, physical symptoms and deployment histories to get an idea of the problems vets are facing.

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