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The Veterans Trans-Atlantic Partnership (VTAP)
Following the highly successful Mental Health Symposium in London, Walking With The Wounded was invited to meet Home Base at their Centre of Excellence in Boston. Home Base is a partnership of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital; offering world-class clinical care and support, in addition to fitness and mind-body wellness programmes for Service Members and Veterans who struggle with the invisible wounds of war. They also offer counselling and support to family members.
We had the privilege of joining Home Base for two days in September. With our flights donated and accommodation booked, four of us set off. This included WWTW trustee Professor Neil Greenburg, an Academic Psychiatrist, specialist in the understanding and management of psychological trauma, occupational mental ill-health and post-traumatic stress disorder, Fergus Williams WWTW Director of Operations, Amy Franklin Deputy Director of Operations and Carolyn Brown, WWTW Clinical Lead and mental health nurse.
Home Base offers a number of programmes to support veterans and their families; a two-day assessment for those with a suspected Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), a two-week intensive treatment programme for those with PTSD or a TBI, a four-day intensive programme for Special Forces veterans and regional outpatient support.
Thanks to the Home Base team, we were briefed on each of these programmes and in particular, guided through all the elements of support in the two-week intensive programme which includes art therapy, nutrition and cooking, fitness and wellbeing, prolonged exposure therapy (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), medication reviews and family support. We were even able to take part in a fitness session and sample the produce from the group nutrition work.
There were two key reasons for this visit. Firstly, we wanted to share knowledge and experience with our colleagues in the USA, for the benefit of veterans and their families in the UK and overseas. For me personally, a few things stood out:
1) The importance of nutrition for mental and physical health. Whilst we are not able to incorporate a nutritional programme within the work that we do in the UK, I feel there is scope to better equip our team of Employment Advisors and Family Support Workers to be able to provide information to service users on the importance of nutrition and to tap into free resources that are produced by Home Base. We are talking to the Home Base Nutritionist to see what is feasible.
2) Home Base is about to launch a new database for their client information and coincidentally they will be using the same software that WWTW adopted a few years ago. By speaking more closely on this, I feel we could improve our system. With improved systems, we can offer a more efficient service and collect better quality data that in turn helps to raise more funds and increase our services.
3) Both organisations contact service users after they have been discharged from the programme to see how they are six and twelve months later. It is not always easy to do this, but when done properly we can learn more about our services and what we can improve. We can also make sure the service user is doing OK and put them in touch with support if they are not. By sharing knowledge with Home Base of what is working and what is not in doing follow-ups we can learn and improve.
The trip was insightful. Now that we understand the detail, we are keen to take up the offer to send ten UK veterans and their family support person to attend the two-week treatment programme with Home Base. We will send five groups of two veterans starting in early 2020, which will allow us to ensure we are appropriately selecting those veterans who will benefit most from the programme and tailoring the before and aftercare in the UK accordingly.
It is hugely exciting to be working collaboratively with our friends at Home Base in Boston to help shape our programmes in the UK and provide treatment to a small number of veterans who may benefit from their work. We look forward to sharing the results in 2020. Huge thanks to Brigadier General (ret) Jack Hammond, Michael Allard, and all the team at Home Base for your hospitality.