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Invisible Wounds: Helping Veterans Regain Their Lives

Mental Health
Author name: Lee Health


Helping veterans graphic

May is Military Appreciation Month, a special month for both those in and out of the military.

As a nation, we’ll also pause this Memorial Day to acknowledge the sacrifice and service of our military heroes. We’ll see U.S. flags unfurl in our towns and watch parades march along our streets.

But what we won’t see are the invisible wounds of war that many of our veterans have suffered, says Jason Cooper.

Cooper is assistant development director of Home Base Southwest Florida, the local nonprofit arm of Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital program dedicated to supporting veterans, service members and military families.

“The biggest challenge that veterans face are the invisible wounds like traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress,” Cooper says. “Home Base focuses on helping at-risk veterans and military families regain their lives through our programs for mental health, and health and wellness.”

What is Home Base?

Home Base of Southwest Florida is the local arm of Home Base, which was founded in Massachusetts in 2009.

“Home Base services are specifically designed to overcome common barriers to care veterans face when returning home,” Cooper explains. “We provide care to all veterans and their families, regardless of their ability to pay or discharge status.”

“Our multi-disciplinary team of experts work together to help service members, veterans and their families heal from the invisible wounds of war, which besides traumatic brain injury (TBI) post-traumatic stress (PTS), includes depression, anxiety, co-occurring substance use disorder, family relationship challenges, and other issues associated with military service-related conditions,” Cooper explains.

In 2014, Home Base launched Home Base of Southwest Florida, but initially as a health and fitness program. The collaboration with College of Health Professions and Social Work at Florida Gulf Coast University was a natural fit.

“Not only is Lee County the spring training home of the Boston Red Sox, but more than 110,000 veterans call Southwest Florida home, including 9,000 of whom served in wars after 9/11,” Cooper notes.

A Free, Empowering Program

Home Base of Southwest Florida’s Warrior Health and Fitness program, like its New England counterpart, is a free, 90-day program.

It empowers men and women veterans to take control of their physical health and wellness through supervised physical exercise, education about healthy eating, living, stress management, and the health benefits of physical activity.

“Participants benefit from partnering with medical providers to make informed choices that promote lifelong health, while also forming a new band of ‘brothers and sisters’ through shared experiences designed around positive competition,” Cooper says. “Trainers, registered dieticians, and mental skills coaches are all on-board to help participants regain the best versions of themselves.”

Creating Connections

The program also connects participants with additional resources and services, such as the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Veteran Centers in Fort Myers and Naples, and the VA Healthcare System.  

All veterans—including amputees—who live in Southwest Florida are encouraged to participate. Discharge status isn’t a determination for participation, either.

“If you swore to support and defend this country, Home Base doesn’t care what happened between the day you took that oath and today," Cooper says. “It’s about picking up that Veteran or Military Family and providing them with the care they need to become the best version of themselves.”

Cooper notes a key feature of the Warrior Health and Fitness program is that it’s a portal for more complex care for those in need of treatment for the invisible wounds, a growing need among veterans that Home Base identified some years ago.

Behavioral Health: A Three-Pronged Approach

So, in 2019, Home Base Southwest Florida partnered with Lee Health Behavioral Health to provide offer outpatient mental health services for veterans and military families in our region.

“The program offers a multidisciplinary approach to care that complements the Warrior Health & Fitness Program,” Cooper explains. “Our integrated team of child and adult psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists, nurses and nurse practitioners, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, licensed clinical social workers, addictions specialists, and peer-to-peer outreach coordinators provide appropriate and uniquely-tailored care.”

The clinicians of Lee Health’s outpatient behavioral health team have received extensive clinical training in evidence-based therapies for PTSD by Home Base’s clinical experts at Massachusetts General Hospital and its psychiatry department.

The program’s behavioral health care goal is three-fold, Cooper says:

  • Develop an effective treatment plan that meets every individual’s needs and improves their quality of life
  • Help overcome or ease the effects of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury
  • Help the service member or veteran successfully return to family life, job, school, and community.

“Again, like with our health and wellness programs, we’ve eliminated cost as a barrier to care,” Cooper stresses. “There is no cost to the participant for the outpatient clinical services. Since Home Base started, all care provided is funded through the philanthropic support of patriotic Americans and corporate donors.”

The exceptional quality of care provided by Home Base of Southwest Florida mirrors Lee Health’s goal of empowering healthier lives through care and compassion provided close to home.

“Before Home Base took root in our five-county area, if a veteran needed mental health support and services, they often had to travel outside the region to Miami or Tampa,” Cooper says. “Home Base provides care to veterans close to home. That’s mission critical.”

Home Base of Southwest Florida offers the following health and wellness, and mental health care services and programs:

Warrior Health & Fitness Program

Two-Week Intensive Clinical Program (ICP)

  • Home Base’s two-week Intensive Clinical Program (ICP) treats veterans and families who are struggling with PTS, TBI, military sexual trauma, depression, anxiety and co-occurring substance use disorders. Although treatment is based in Massachusetts, the ICP serves veterans and families from across the country, offering a holistic and innovative approach to clinical care.

Weekend Intensive Clinical Program

  • Home Base’s Weekend Intensive Clinical Program is a specialized intensive clinical program for Southwest Florida veterans and service members and others from around the country.
  • The program condenses several months of therapy into a four-day period. Transportation, food and lodging are provided, thus ensuring participants to Home Base’s world-class clinical care, with minimal disruption to their schedules.
  • Participants receive a total of 30 hours of individualized evidence-based therapy. Upon their completion of the program, participants will also receive case management services to help them transition into their home communities.

“At Home Base, we believe veterans don’t come home to programs,” Cooper says. “They come home to their communities, because it takes a community to support its veterans.”

To learn more about clinical services available to veterans, service members and military families at Home Base SWFL’s Outpatient Clinic at Lee Health, contact Monique Hashimoto, Home Base Southwest Florida’s Operation & Special Projects Manager at [email protected] or call 239-338-8389.

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