Ross Zafonte, DO: Home Base Program Helps Veterans by Asking: “What Does Success Look Like for You?”


Does success translate into riding a horse again, returning to your pre-military job as an accountant, or coaching your kid’s Little League team? Staff at the Home Base Program understand that what success looks like for one military member with TBI and/or PTSD may look 180-degrees different from that of another. Using evidence-based guidelines to drive their therapeutic regimens as well as applying lessons learned from helping thousands of people in the program, Home Base providers are not only fine-tuning what they do each day but also learning and creating the next generation of effective therapies.

Dr. Ross Zafonte is the Chief of Traumatic Brain Injury for Home Base, part of the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior Care Network.

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The Home Base program, tries to do a few things, one of which is to really understand how we can use positive imagery and how we can return people to what they want to be. What is their goal, what does success look like for them? Success may look very, very different for different people. For some people, it could be riding their horse on their farm. For someone else, it might be returning to being an accountant. For others, it might be “hey, I just want to be able to go to my kids’ Little League team.” And one of the most important things that we’ve learned is what drives success for that person and how to uses that as a measure. I think that all therapeutic decisions evolve.  They evolve by two things: therapy and team experience and, two, evidence-bases in the literature. So, while we use evidence-based guidelines and have been a part of groups that have assessed or written those, we also have gained a lot of experience over time, a stunning level of experience. And part of that are things that really do help people. That is, art-related therapy, that is behavioral related therapy. That is the role of companion therapy dogs that for many people truly do provide a disproportional benefit, whether they’re brain injury or brain injury plus PTSD. And then really looking to be at the cutting edge. We are also responsible for creating the next generation of therapies, and so Home Base has an arm to it, really beginning to explore from a research perspective hey, how can we do better? Because if my trainees in ten years are doing the same thing that we’re doing now, I did a poor job. We have focused areas of behavioral therapy in everything from migraines to thinking about specific medication interventions for those with more severe injuries, to trying to understand better how we might use certain interventions for post-traumatic headache or enhanced visual or balanced based therapies. Or, understanding how we might enhance the role of exercise as a therapeutic. Remember our veterans are people who were in incredibly good shape and then many have fallen off the cliff, as we all do. And how do we use that reparative aspect and the dosage of it in the right setting for the right people to make an important difference. BrainLine is powered in part by Wounded Warrior Project to honor and empower post-9/11 injured service members, veterans, and their families.

Posted on BrainLine October 6, 2021. Reviewed October 6, 2021.

About the author: Ross D. Zafonte, DO

Dr. Ross Zafonte is the Clinical and Research Leader for Traumatic Brain Injury at the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program. He is the Earle P. and Ida S. Charlton Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, vice president of Medical Affairs at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at MGH.

Headshot of Dr. Ross D. Zafonte