Since Home Base’s inception in 2009, Veteran Outreach Coordinators have served as the critical “boots on the ground” liaisons between the program and the Veteran community. Commonly referred to as “VOCs,” the team is responsible for connecting Veterans, Service Members, and their Families with a place that can help them overcome personal challenges. They are also part of Home Base’s clinical team, working alongside clinicians to provide support throughout the treatment process, translate military lingo and bring battlefield perspective to meetings with Home Base staff. As the program has expanded over the years, so too has the role of the Outreach team: in 2016, the VOCs added a new job to their duty roster – 24/7 liaisons to the Intensive Clinical Program (ICP), a two-week immersion where Veterans around the country are brought to Boston to receive critically needed therapy as well as stress reduction and mindfulness training.
To gain a better understanding of the critical role VOCs play at Home Base, we followed the team for one week and captured a behind the scenes look of what their days at Home Base look like.
As Veterans and Service Members from all over the nation arrive in Boston for the ICP, they are greeted by a VOC who personally escort each Veteran and Service Member to Home Base’s National Center of Excellence in the Charlestown Navy Yard. When they arrive, the VOC facilitates a brief orientation to the program and helps participants settle in at their “home” for the week: the Residence Inn by Marriott Boston Harbor, which is steps away from Home Base’s headquarters. “Veterans and Service Members who attend Home Base’s ICP are often weary from travel and apprehensive about the two-weeks of treatment ahead, so the VOC on duty plays a critical role in helping patients prepare for their time at Home Base,” said Home Base Veteran Outreach Coordinator and U.S. Marine Veteran Ryan Casavant.”
At the start of the day, a VOC greets the ICP cohort at the Residence Inn and walks them over to Home Base to begin their day. The VOCs serve as an essential peer support system for ICP patients throughout their two-weeks at Home Base, even accompanying patients to any individual appointments they may have on the main campus of Massachusetts General Hospital. When the VOCs aren’t with patients, they field “intake calls” from Veterans, Service Members, and Family Members from all over the country, seeking care at Home Base. Most intake calls are from individuals interested in receiving treatment in the ICP, but the VOCs also help to connect Veterans to Home Base’s programs, such as clinical program in the Outpatient Clinic, Warrior Health & Fitness and Family Programs. Depending on the nature of the conversation, these intake calls can take up to an hour. Throughout the day, the VOCs maintain a steady presence within Home Base’s clinical facilities and conclude the day by escorting Veterans enrolled in the ICP to one of their evening activities, like a tour of the USS Constitution, which is docked within sight of Home Base’s headquarters, before bringing them back to the hotel for dinner and rest.
The VOCs wear multiple hats at Home Base; their breadth of work covers several initiatives within the walls of Home Base and even out in the community. For instance, this week, while members of the team supported clinical activities at Home Base, another VOC took a trip over to Raytheon’s headquarters in Waltham, MA to speak at an employee rally, encouraging employees to sign up for the Run to Home Base presented by New Balance, one of Home Base’s signature fundraisers at Fenway on Saturday, July 27th.
“It’s important to maintain strong relationships with our partners in the community,” said Armand Hunter, Associate Director of Veteran Outreach and Peer Support. “Home Base has received so much support from them in numerous ways, it’s great to be able to connect with them and give back on a lower, more personal level. An easy way to do this is through working with their Employee Resource Groups centered on military service. We support their events around Memorial Day and Veterans Day and are always talking about different ways to collaborate. A nice thing we’ve done the past two years is hosted a gathering where the different ERGs can also meet each other. This endeavor, partnered with Joyce, our Volunteer Coordinator, gives them the opportunity to share ideas and events and strengthen their individual networks.”
After a successful day of outreach, it’s back to Home Base where VOCs help facilitate what is affectionately known as “Puppy Night” for the ICP. One night each cohort, dedicated volunteers, aka “Puppy Raisers,” from Canine Companions for Independence bring their puppies to the hotel after dinner for playtime and a therapeutic break for the Veterans. This evening activity is a highlight for not just the patients, but also our VOC team!
On any given day, a VOC will attend an outreach event. This week, it’s a Veteran Resource Fair. These events are held periodically in the greater Boston area and provide an opportunity for the Home Base VOC team to forge relationships with other organizations. It’s also an opportunity for Veterans and Service Members to learn more about the programs and services available to them at Home Base. Oftentimes, these “tabling events” lead to referrals into the outpatient or intensive clinical programs at Home Base.
“I love the social aspect of the job, and meeting people face to face at events,” said Josh Egan, Veteran Outreach Coordinator. “There are high-ranking people in the military, and at the hospital as well, but sometimes a Veteran needs another lower enlisted E4 to give them the real scoop on how the treatment works. I like chatting with Veterans eye to eye, and when we both establish that we’ve both been deployed to Iraq & Afghanistan, then we’re chatting on the same level. This goes beyond just thanking someone for their service.”
Back at the Home Base headquarters, a group of VOCs prepare the ICP patients for the arrival of their family member or support person. Support persons are an integral part of the healing process and Home Base encourages each participant in the to invite a support person to join them in Boston for several days during their time in the program. While this is an exciting time for patients, there is also some inherent anxiety around family members traveling to Boston. The VOCs play a pivotal role in ensuring the new arrivals go smoothly.
The VOCs at Home Base also serve as liaisons to partnering organizations. Thursday morning starts off with a visit from a partnering organization. Our VOC team facilitate a tour throughout Home Base’s headquarters and provide an extensive overview of services provided at Home Base. In addition to their role as liaisons between Home Base and Veterans and Service Members, VOCs are responsible for fostering relationships with related organizations that function as important referral sources, as well as providing a network of support for Veterans and Service Members after they complete treatment at Home Base.
“Every day is different at Home Base, but one thing that remains consistent is our role in sustaining meaningful and trusted relationships with local and national Veterans Service Organizations”, said Julie Baldwin, Veteran Outreach Coordinator. “We provide community education and outreach regarding resources available to the Veteran community at Home Base with the goal of connecting more people to care.”
While some members of the VOC team conduct the Home Base tour, several other VOCs work closely with the family members of the ICP patients to ensure they are receiving the support and guidance they need to help their Veteran heal. Meanwhile, another VOC accompanies Home Base’s Associate Director of Neuropsychiatry for a special presentation to more than 20 PhD candidates on Home Base’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) services.
On Friday, a small group of VOCs attend a networking lunch event with various other Veteran Employee Resource groups representing companies from all over Boston. The event is the perfect opportunity for the VOCs to discuss potential collaborations and spread the word about Home Base services to members of the Employee Resource Groups who interact with Veteran employees every day.
After the networking event, the VOCs return back to Home Base to prepare the ICP patients and their families for a weekend getaway to horse farms in Andover, MA or Temple, NH. The purpose of this time away from the clinic is for patients to decompress and reconnect with their family members as well as themselves during a weekend of respite.
Being a VOC is not a typical “9-5” job’ in fact, many events staffed by the Outreach team take place on the weekends. While a group of VOCs attend the weekly outings with the ICP cohort, back in Boston, a VOC attends “Operation Thank a Veteran” – an initiative spearheaded by Giselle Sterling, former Commissioner of the Office of Veterans’ Services for the City of Boston during which Volunteers go door to door in local neighborhoods (Jamaica Plain, in this iteration), knocking on the doors of Veterans to say “thank you for your service.”
Meanwhile, several other VOCs host an Adventure Series event, which is attended by military families from all over the region. From ski weekends in Vermont to sailing lessons on the Charles River, these monthly events are designed to strengthen family bonds before, during and after a deployment. Having a VOC presence at these events is extremely impactful, as the Veterans and family members in attendance have an opportunity to connect directly with a Veteran if they are interested in coming into care.
While many may begin to unwind from their weekends on Sundays, the VOCs kick-start a new week by bringing the ICP patients and their family members back to Charlestown after a weekend of equine-assisted activities. The family members pack for their return home, and the Veterans have the rest of the day to themselves to prepare for the second – and final – week of treatment. Throughout this time, the VOCs monitor and stand at the ready in their role of peer support. Watching their family member pack for home can be difficult for the Veterans, who still have another week of treatment ahead of them. At this juncture, the role of the VOC is even more invaluable. The VOCs offer support and words of encouragement to the ICP patients, urging them to continue their journey of healing at Home Base.
Though Home Base has grown exponentially over the years, the Outreach team remains at the core of what makes the program unique, going above and beyond on a daily basis to ensure Home Base is successful in its mission to heal the invisible wounds for all who come through the doors.
“It takes a lot of courage to make that first call to Home Base, and perhaps you’re several time zones away, but to have a voice on the other end of the line that not only understands military culture, but has lived it – is invaluable,” said Bill Davidson, Director of Veteran Outreach and Peer Support.
From the time a Veteran makes his or her first call to Home Base, to the time they walk out the front doors and head home – and after – the VOCs “have their six.”