Boston Red Sox Hit the Home Run of a Lifetime: Healthcare for Veterans
By Karen St. John
To the die-hard fans in Massachusetts and those of us scattered across the nation, good news about the Boston Red Sox is not a surprise. In fact, it is downright expected when our team has so many players with awesome skills and fierce determination. But even I, a steady Red Sox fan from Indiana and veterans activist, was thrown a curve with this latest hit.
Stepping up to the plate on behalf of veterans, officials from the Red Sox Foundation and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) teamed up to form the new philanthropic partnership, Home Base Program, for local veterans and their families. The program will study and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) in veterans. The New England Veteran’s Administration (VA) of Boston is assisting in the program and will co-locate a PTSD/TBI clinic with MHG so that veterans can use medical professionals from both organizations.
Like Fenway Park, the Home Base Program has four “bases.” Not only will it provide diagnosis and clinical care for veterans with PTSD and TBI, it will offer support services to the families of these veterans, conduct research into these complicated disorders to develop better treatments, and it will educate local community health-care providers about the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and TBI.
To fully appreciate the full impact of the Home Base Program, one has only to study the statistics on PTSD and TBI.
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, reported in 2008 that “[O]f the 1.64 million service members who had been deployed…as of October 2007, we estimate that approximately 300,000 individuals currently suffer from PTSD or major depression and that 320,000 individuals experienced a probable TBI during deployment.” Its Center for Military Health Policy Research addressed the effects of repeated deployments stating that “Not only is a higher proportion of the armed forces being deployed, but deployments have been longer, redeployment to combat has been common, and breaks between deployments have been infrequent.” The study stated that body armor, along with medical and technical advances, are saving lives that would have led to death in prior wars. It adds that there are still casualties with the living, the “invisible wounds, such as mental health conditions and cognitive impairments resulting from deployment experiences.”
The Center summarized our nations’ responsibilities to our military: “As with safeguarding physical health, safeguarding mental health is an integral component of the United States’ national responsibilities to recruit, prepare, and sustain a military force and to address Service-connected injuries and disabilities. But safeguarding mental health is also critical for compensating and honoring those who have served our nation.”
The Red Sox understand what the Center is trying to tell our nation.
Fresh from a visit to the White House in 2008 to celebrate the team’s 2007 World Series championship, Tom Werner, Red Sox chairman, and Larry Ronan, the team’s doctor, took the team to the Army Medical Center to visit the wounded soldiers. What was to have been a quick visit on the way to the airport, lasted two hours.
You cannot sign hats to young soldiers without arms or legs, with shattered skulls from TBI, or shaking with PTSD nightmares, and not feel your soul weep. Werner and Ronan were moved to action.
A few months after the visit, Ronan visited with then Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), Jim Peake, to describe how the Red Sox and Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to help our wounded soldiers. With interest from the federal VA, efforts began in earnest to create the Home Base Program.
Then the elections happened. The VA administration changed. Jim Peale was replaced by Eric Ken Shinseki, a retired United States Army four-star general. But Ronan need not have worried. Shinseki was himself, not only a veteran wounded in the combat (Vietnam War), he was a Boston Red Sox fan.
In 2004, I watched the Boston Red Sox come into the 4th game of the American League Championship Series, three games behind the Yankees. The 86-year-long legend of the “Curse of the Bambino” (see below) was well upon them in the 9th inning with their 3 runs to the Yankees 4. Yankees superstar closer Mariano Rivera was on the mound when the Red Sox caught up and the game went into extra innings. A two-run home run by David Ortiz in the 12th inning cinched the win for the Red Sox. “The rest,” as they say, “is history” , with the Red Sox snagging the World Series. (See below)
Now the Red Sox are staging another comeback against seemingly insurmountable odds; only, this time, it is for another “team” – their local veterans who suffer from the challenging effects of PTSD and/or TBI.
And like 2004, this “team” is going to come out winning.
The Red Sox sold Babe Ruth (“The Bambino”) to the New York Yankees in the off-season of 1919-1920. The Red Sox had been highly successful before they sold Ruth. After the sale, the Red Sox continuously failed while the Yankees continuously succeeded. And thus, the curse legend began. The curse became such a part of Boston culture that when a road sign on the city’s much-used Storrow Drive was vandalized from “Reverse Curve” to “Reverse The Curse”, city officials left it in place.
Game 5 would go for 14 innings and set the record for longest postseason game in terms of time (5 hours and 49 minutes) and for the longest American League Championship Series game (14 innings), though the former has since been broken. Only three teams in the history of the Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) has ever been down by three games to come back and win a seven game series. No NBA team has ever accomplished such a comeback. The NHL’s 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley cup over the Detroit Red Wings, and in 1975 its New York Islanders did the same over the Pittsburgh Penquins. The Boston Red Sox are the only baseball team in MLB history to make such a comeback.