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New mental health services partnership to aid local vets

By Staff | Nov 11, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Monday a new partnership between Lee Health and Home Base Southwest Florida that will offer mental health services for veterans and military families at no cost.

The announcement came on Veterans Day, with DeSantis joining four-star Army General Fred Franks and Lee Health President and CEO Larry Antonucci at Health Park in south Lee County.

“Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans, and it is our duty to ensure those who have served our country are receiving the care and support they deserve,” DeSantis said Monday. “As a fellow veteran who served in Iraq, I understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by our veterans, military members and their families. Many veterans are still fighting the invisible wounds of war and these new mental health services are critical to ensuring veterans in Southwest Florida can lead healthy lives.”

Home Base Southwest Florida is a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program.

Mental health services, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression treatment, was made available at the Lee Health Behavioral Health Clinic starting Monday.

“The clinical program at Lee Health will offer a multidisciplinary approach to care and complement Home Base Southwest Florida’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,” a description of the program states. “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.”

Naples resident and U.S. Marine combat veteran Karter Elliott spoke about his personal journey that included PTSD. Elliott suffered from nightmares, anxiety and outbursts that continued to linger and began to tear apart his family.

With Home Base Southwest Florida in his corner, Elliott was able to find the help he needed to cope and manage his mental health.

“I was sick of like the roller coaster ride and the low points,” Elliott said. “But I think I was finally ready to take the steps to take care of myself, for the betterment of my family.”

Home Base Southwest Florida program director and U.S. Marine veteran Armando Hernandez said the service tremendously impacts the lives of veterans returning home from duty who may find challenges reacclimating to civilian life.

“Five years ago, Home Base Southwest Florida 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,” Hernandez said. “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, D.O., a psychiatrist with Lee Health, will serve as clinical leader for the Home Base Southwest Florida Outpatient Clinic at Lee Health. For the past year, he and 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,” Raab said. “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 and services they need to begin the healing process.”

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 Southwest Florida signature events like the Kensington and Pelican’s Nest golf tournaments and Run to Home Base Florida.

“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.”

Franks, Home Base Southwest Florida honorary director, is a Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran. He began Home Base Southwest Florida in early 2014 with a vision of being able to offer the full family of Home Base Programs.

“The establishment of these clinical services brings that vision to reality and adds to our fulfillment of that 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 Southwest Florida’s Operation & Special Projects Manager Monique Hashimoto athomebaseswfl@partners.org, (239) 338-8389, or visit www.homebase.org/SWFL.

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