Money raised from a run this weekend in Boston will benefit an organization that cares for post-9/11 veterans and their families. The fifth annual Run to Home Base takes place this Saturday in Boston.
“You know what, you can’t say no to being able to cross home plate at Fenway Park,” said Ron Pitcher.
Ron Pitcher, and yes, that’s his real name, has crossed the finish line three times and is looking to do so once again. A Red Sox fanatic, Pitcher is also a staff sergeant with the Connecticut Army National Guard who did a tour in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. When he first got back to the United States, Pitcher says he was uncomfortable in his own bed and felt he was on high alert in large crowds.
“I’m in the infantry and what we do is we do security details,” Pitcher said. “So we do a thing called scanning where my eyes are going rapidly all around the place looking for any kind of danger. When I found myself coming right back into things I’d go to certain functions with my family and I started giving myself headaches or starting hyperventilating because my brain was going into overdrive as I’m scanning the entire crowd looking for something that I probably know isn’t there, but I just couldn’t help it.”
Pitcher was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, it’s believed PTSD occurs in 11 to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The result of a partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation, Home Base has provided care for more than 1,000 veterans and their families since 2009. The nonprofit specializes in PTSD and traumatic brain injury. As Home Base’s primary fundraiser, the 9K run, which starts and ends at Fenway Park, has raised more than $9 million over the past four years. Veteran Outreach Coordinator Travis Weiner says the event is also about raising awareness.
“To de-stigmatize mental health issues stemming from a deployment,” Weiner said. “Also to just get it out there that it’s totally normal, that there’s nothing wrong with it, but that they are serious issues and there are people in organizations here to help.”
Pitcher says a lack of understanding and media coverage of those with PTSD or other mental health issues creates a stigma.
“I feel as if people look at it and automatically look at it as a disease in a sense that you are going to do something messed up,” Pitcher said. “Whereas it’s not classified as that. Not everybody who has PTSD will do certain things or react the same way. It’s got a lot of different variations to it.”
The impacts of a military deployment are not solely felt by the solider. Weiner, an Army veteran who did two tours in Iraq, explains Home Base also assists veterans’ and service members’ loved ones.
“When we talk about treating the families a lot of times if that’s a spouse well that might be couple’s counseling with the veteran,” Weiner explained. “If it’s a child, which we talk a lot about how hard deployments are on children. Extremely hard especially in Massachusetts and New England where there are no large active-duty bases and as such children can feel isolated when their parent is deployed. They can benefit from services here.”
PJ Lasky has raised nearly $2,000 for the race. She says she has a soft spot for anyone connected to the military because she has one brother currently serving in the Navy and another who is a Navy veteran.
“I just want to help support them because they support us every day,” said Lasky.
Ron Pitcher says the race has become a great team building experience for him and other members of his unit.
“I’ve been very fortunate to not be affected as much as other soldiers have been with PTSD,” Pitcher said. “I have a great support channel and great things I’ve been able to manage through friends, families and programs here in Connecticut. It’s something that really makes me want to help as much as I possibly can any way I possibly can.”
Weiner says proceeds will support all of Home Base’s efforts including clinical care, research and family outreach events.
“There’s never a case where an insurance issue precludes a veteran getting care here,” Weiner said. “It’s never happened. It never will. Those are things we figure out on the back end. Our mission is such that the veteran gets care first, we figure out all the payment stuff later.”