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MLB's vet initiative supports Rush's Road Home

Chicago university program dedicated to helping veterans with PTSD
Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Dr. Michael Brennan has spent enough time embedded with soldiers in the Middle East to understand the trauma that serving on the front lines can cause.

But in many cases, the mental scars left by war become worse once soldiers return home and begin to transition back into civilian life. Among the troops that served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, between 14 and 18 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which takes a toll on not only the soldiers themselves, but on their family and loved ones.

CHICAGO -- Dr. Michael Brennan has spent enough time embedded with soldiers in the Middle East to understand the trauma that serving on the front lines can cause.

But in many cases, the mental scars left by war become worse once soldiers return home and begin to transition back into civilian life. Among the troops that served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, between 14 and 18 percent of veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which takes a toll on not only the soldiers themselves, but on their family and loved ones.

Brennan, a clinical psychologist and U.S. Army veteran, is part of a team of mental health professionals that provides care for military members and their families on a daily basis at Rush University Medical Center. And thanks to Major League Baseball's Welcome Back Veterans initiative, holistic treatment programs, like Rush's Road Home program, are ensuring that veterans are receiving the care they need to adjust to everyday life.

"It takes a nation -- not a government agency -- to build a military and go to war," said Brennan, who serves as the clinical director for the Road Home program at Rush. "It also takes an entire nation to bring them home healthy."

Since 2010, the Welcome Back Veterans initiative has helped generate close to $30 million in grant money. Those funds support a national network of Centers for Excellence to provide support for veterans around the country. In addition to Rush University, sites benefiting from the Welcome Back Veterans program include the University of Michigan Depression Center, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Emory in Atlanta, UCLA, Duke University and the New York University Langone Medical Center.

More than 10,000 individuals have been assisted since support from Welcome Back Veterans has been sent to the treatment facilities across the country. In addition, the funds raised through grants have assisted close to 30,000 individuals to better prepare additional organizations to work with military members and their families.

Here in Chicago, the Road Home program provides mental health services to military members and their families regardless of their discharge status and ability to pay. In addition to providing therapy and counseling to veterans who live in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, Rush offers an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), for veterans whose PTSD is not responding to standard, one-day-per-week care offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans from across the country have been flown to Chicago to receive more than 100 hours of therapy over a three-week period.

In many cases, veterans struggle to deal with the daily realities of living with PTSD, which is caused as a result of combat exposure and/or military sexual trauma, according to Dr. Rebecca Van Horn, the associate medical director for the Road Home program at Rush. Often, anxiety can be caused by any number of sounds or otherwise ordinary visuals that can immediately place veterans back in the middle of a war zone.

"PTSD looks different in different people," Van Horn said.

The Road Home program delivers both evidence-based treatments, like cognitive processing therapy as well as more innovative approaches, like mindfulness exercises that assist in helping military members cope with living with PTSD.

One unique aspect of Rush's treatment program is that many of the clinicians who treat patients are veterans themselves, which provides a level of authenticity that other mental health facilities cannot provide.

"It's not just clinicians who have an awareness of PTSD," Van Horn said. "I think that adds an element of awareness and authenticity that really helps connect us to our patients and sort of communicates an awareness of what they're actually going through that is very different from [being told], 'No, I really understand.'"

Major League Baseball's Welcome Back Veterans initiative, along with the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, has donated $2.5 million to the Road Home program, which, along with several other of the Centers for Excellence, has benefited from MLB's commitment to military affairs nationwide.

In addition, MLB has allocated $900,000 to the Club Mlitary Community Grants program, which provides $15,000 in grant funding to each of the 30 clubs for both 2018 and 2019 for use in their local military-focused programming. Funds can be used to support one of three pillars in support of active duty service members, veterans and military families. The pillars include quality of life programming, transition assistance, and mental health.

Regardless of location, Major League Baseball's commitment to serving those who serve the country remains unwavering.

"Throughout our history, many baseball players served and continue to have friends and family who serve," said MLB's Vice President of Social Responsibility Melanie LeGrande, who toured Rush's facilities last week. "Baseball remains an outlet for many of our fans, to come together as friends and family to have a good time and also bridge communities. It is more common now than ever before that some individuals don't have a direct tie to the military. Baseball is proud to promote the armed forces and show our appreciation for this important work in protecting our freedoms, through charitable grants, ballpark activations, and local club programming."

Jeff Arnold is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago.

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