Soldiers, civilians ‘run home’ to support PTSD, TBI treatment

Story by Kelly Souza, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine

Soldiers and civilians from Natick Soldier Systems Center stand together at Fenway Park before the Run-Walk to Home Base, May 20, 2012. About a dozen active duty Soldiers and civilians from NSSC in Natick Mass., joined the nearly 2,000 runners and walkers who participated in the Red Sox Run-Walk to Home Base. The Run-Walk to Home Base is a unique 9k run and three-mile walk which helps raise awareness and support for PTSD and TBI. (Photo by David Kamm, NSRDEC)

BOSTON (May 21, 2012) — It was a beautiful Sunday morning, the kind of day where the sun is saying so long to spring and heating up for summer. Fans eagerly crowded into Fenway Park adorned with team shirts and carrying supportive signs.

But, fans were not there to cheer on the Red Sox that morning.

Instead, they were supporting runners and walkers as they crossed Fenway Park’s famous home plate. About a dozen active duty Soldiers and civilians from Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., joined the nearly 2,000 runners and walkers who participated in the Red Sox Run-Walk to Home Base, May 20, 2012.

The Run-Walk to Home Base is a unique 9k fundraising run and three-mile walk which helps raise money for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. Participants begin at Fenway, wind through a scenic route of Boston and then end back at the Park with a timed finish in front of the Green Monster and a photo opportunity crossing home plate.

Dr. Naomi Simon is a psychiatrist and the chief medical officer for the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. She said that the program is a joint collaboration between these two organizations that provides clinical care and support services to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and families affected by combat- or deployment-related stress and traumatic brain injury, regardless of their financial situations. This makes the dollars raised from the Run-Walk to Home Base vital.

“The Run-Walk to Home Base has been a major philanthropic sustaining force for the Home Base Program,” Simon said. “Almost all of our services are paid for through philanthropic efforts like the Run to Home Base. This program is critical in giving families a place to seek care, regardless of their ability to pay for it.”

The Home Base program also provides community education and research to improve the understanding and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — the so called “invisible wounds of war.”

According to Simon, who oversees the clinical and research programs for Home Base, the vast majority of funding for the Home Base Program comes directly from this annual Run-Walk. “Pretty much all of what we are doing would not be able to happen without this run taking place,” she said.

Since its inaugural run in 2009, the Run-Walk to Home Base has raised nearly $7 million to support the Home Base Program. Runners and walkers must raise a minimum of $1,000 to participate in the Run-Walk, while active duty members are permitted to participate for a nominal fee and no fundraising requirement.

Along with the enormous generosity of donors, Simon said awareness of PTSD and TBI is also generated from this event.

“Another wonderful thing about working with the Red Sox Foundation is that they can help us move the needle on stigma associated with psychiatric illness,” Simon said. “We’ve had Red Sox players do public service announcements to tell people it is completely expected that if you have combat stress that you should get help with that. There is nothing weak about suffering from these injuries and there is no reason not to get care.”

For many of the service members participating in the event, this statement hits close to home. For one Soldier from Natick Soldier System Center, awareness is what the run-walk is all about.

Sgt. David Arvizo, who currently works for the office of medical support oversight at the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine at NSSC, deployed to Afghanistan as a medic with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment.

This was the second year that Arvizo ran the race. Last year he did it for time. This year he said even though he ran for fun with his friends and fellow Soldiers, awareness of these injuries is always the most compelling reason to run.

“I’m running because this is important. PTSD and TBI are two things that we just don’t know a lot about,” Arvizo said. “There is so much research that needs to be done, so that the veterans who are affected with these injuries can get the care they need when they return home to a normal life. It’s immensely important.”

Arvizo, who is planning on temporarily leaving the military to complete an undergraduate degree in biology followed by medical school, would like to return to the Army in the future as a physician. He said that all too often he has seen Soldiers return from war and not get help.

“Veterans come back now and they do not all have visible wounds, they do not all get purple hearts if they get hurt,” he said. “Veterans come back and they have problems. What people do not realize is that it’s not easy to come back to normal life. A lot of people are afraid to ask for the help they need.”

Arvizo hopes that programs like the Home Base will help improve the treatment of PTSD and TBI, allowing veterans to come forward and seek treatment. He encourages anyone who is having a hard time adjusting to home life to get help.

“If you even think you are having a problem, go talk to somebody. Get help. It is not easy coming back. Anyone who has deployed knows that. They should not be afraid to get help.”