More than 100,000 Veterans reside in Southwest Florida, yet many former Service Members across the state are lacking access to needed mental health services. Today, a new collaboration aims to increase the availability of mental health services to South West Florida veterans and their families.
Home Base Southwest Florida (SWFL), a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program, formally announced its expansion and clinical partnership with Lee Health, the largest healthcare system in Southwest Florida, to offer mental health services for veterans and military families who call the five-county region home – at no cost. Florida Governor Rob DeSantis joined Lee Health and Home Base SWFL leadership for the press conference announcement at Lee Health.
Mental health services for the treatment of the invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress (PTS), transitional anxiety and depression, will be available at the Lee Health Behavioral Health Clinic beginning November 11th.
The clinical program at Lee Health will offer a multidisciplinary approach to care and complement Home Base SWFL’s Warrior Health & Fitness Program, which has served as a platform for more than 250 local veterans to come together, reconnect with other members of the military community and embark on a path towards long-term wellness. Through the Warrior Health & Fitness Program, physical health goals like losing weight, gaining muscle, eating healthier, and managing pre-existing injuries and health issues are common, but the program also includes mental health and wellness goals.
Previously, those seeking clinical care could access mental health services through Home Base’s two-week Intensive Clinical Program headquartered in Boston, MA. These services will now be available in their home community at Lee Health.
Emphasizing the need for improved mental health treatment access, U.S. Marine combat veteran and Naples resident Karter Elliott, spoke at the press conference about his personal journey in seeking care, noting that like many other veterans impacted by post-traumatic stress, it was a long process to understand what was happening to him, before he could be open to doing something about it.
Elliott suffered from nightmares, anxiety and outbursts that wouldn’t go away – it was tearing apart his family. With the help of Home Base SWFL, Elliott was able to find the mental health care he needed to help him manage it all and enrolled in Home Base’s Intensive Clinical Program in Boston.
“I was sick of like the roller coaster ride and the low points,” Elliott says. “…but I think I was finally ready to take the steps to take care of myself, for the betterment of my family.”
Elliott says the intensive therapy changed his life, but he found it difficult to find a mental health care provider who offered evidence-based therapies to sustain his progress back home, until now.
“Five years ago, Home Base SWFL was created to help fill an important need for our veterans transitioning from military service and we are proud to expand our mission once again,” said Home Base SWFL Program Director and U.S. Marine veteran Armando Hernandez. “This partnership with Lee Health will augment our ability to serve veterans in the area and ensure our veterans, impacted by the invisible wounds of war, receive access to timely and quality medical care.”
Eric Raab, O.D., a psychiatrist with Lee Health, will serve as clinical leader for the Home Base SWFL Outpatient Clinic at Lee Health. For the past year, he and designated members of Lee Health’s behavioral health clinical team have received extensive clinical training in evidence-based therapies for PTSD by Home Base’s clinical experts from the leading Psychiatry Department in the nation – Massachusetts General Hospital.
“While most military service members and veterans who return from deployment can reintegrate successfully into civilian life, an estimated 1 in 3 may experience mental health problems, such as PTS, major depression, and anxiety,” said Raab. “We are taking a major step in bringing Home Base’s gold-standard care of treatment for the invisible wounds to Southwest Florida and encouraging local veterans to take that all-important first step in getting the vital care they need to begin the healing process.”
Lee Health clinicians will continue to participate in weekly phone consultations for the next six months to ensure the best care is delivered to Southwest Florida veterans and their adult family members and will continue to work in tandem with Home Base SWFL staff to best serve each patient, ensuring that no veteran—and his or her family—falls through the cracks.
“We know that treatment works and that recovery is possible,” said Kris Fay, Chief Administrative Officer for Lee Physician Group. “We see it every day in our behavioral health clinic. It is deeply satisfying to collaborate with Home Base SWFL to help veterans get the mental health services they need and deserve.”
Addressing what is often a barrier to care, Home Base SWFL clinical services at Lee Health will be provided at NO COST to veterans or military families. This care will be funded through the philanthropic support from Wounded Warrior Project and the generosity of individual and corporate donors from the Southwest Florida region supporting Home Base SWFL signature events like the Kensington and Pelican’s Nest golf tournaments and Run to Home Base Florida.
For Home Base SWFL Honorary Director, four-star General (USA ret.) Fred Franks, helping “the next greatest generation” of veterans readjust to life back at home, is a matter of fulfilling trust. “It takes tremendous courage for a veteran to step forward and ask for help – not all trauma of war or service is physical or apparent, and many of our returning service members need care and support. The establishment of these clinical services is the fulfillment of a trust. The trust between our Nation, our communities and our veterans that when their mission and duties are complete, we will be there for them at home.”
To learn more about clinical services available to veterans, service members and military families at Home Base SWFL’s Outpatient Clinic at Lee Health, please contact Home Base SWFL’s Operation & Special Projects Manager Monique Hashimoto at firstname.lastname@example.org, (239) 338-8389, or visit www.homebase.org/SWFL.