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Case Study #14: Spreading Good Ideas in Mental Health

The McCormick Foundation and Welcome Back Veterans

In 1955, Col. Robert McCormick, owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and a decorated military officer and veteran of World War I, passed away, leaving in his will instructions for the creation of a charitable trust devoted to public purposes. The foundation made large contributions to military causes during the 1950s and ’60s through its creation of the First Division Museum, a very fine historical facility and military research archive in Wheaton, Illinois.

The grantmaking of the McCormick Foundation took a renewed shift toward the needs of veterans, servicemembers, and their families in the later 2000s. McCormick operates a “Communities Program,” which matches funds donated by the public fifty cents to the dollar, and then uses the foundation’s significant grantmaking expertise to help the fund make savvy charitable investments. In 2008, a group of Chicago investors opened a fund under the program to support Operation Healing Freedom. This supported a treatment institute for mild brain injuries, a rehabilitation center for wounded servicemembers, comfort homes for family members nursing servicemembers, local employment programs, and scholarships for veterans.

Operation Healing Freedom caught the attention of Fred Wilpon, majority owner of the New York Mets baseball team. He proposed setting up a similar partnership between McCormick and Major League Baseball to fund veterans programs around the country. It was called Welcome Back Veterans. The fund’s first two rounds of donations were broad in scope and geography, but in 2010 McCormick sharpened its focus. “Based on what we learned, we zeroed in on mental-health services at major medical centers,” explains Anna Laubach, director of veterans’ initiatives for McCormick.

The Red Sox Lead the League in Mental-health Services

After winning the World Series in 2007, the Boston Red Sox players and ownership team took a trip to Washington, D.C., for a White House ceremony. During the visit, Larry Ronan, the team’s medical director and a passionate disaster-response physician with connections to the military, organized a tour of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the players. Shortly after, the team’s charitable arm, the Red Sox Foundation, approached Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation’s leading psychiatric-health centers with more than 600 faculty members, to propose a partnership for assisting veterans. Opening its doors in 2010, the program provides mental-health care (treating about 500 New England veterans in its first two years), trains professionals on military trauma, and conducts research on traumatic stress and brain injuries.

The McCormick Foundation saw the potential for bringing this program to other medical centers around the country. The foundation provided $2.9 million to match funds raised by Major League Baseball, then added another $2.2 million a year later. Programs similar to the one at Mass General sprang up in Atlanta, as a partnership between Emory University Medical Center and the Atlanta Braves baseball team, and at UCLA, Stanford, Weill-Cornell, University of Michigan, Rush University, and Duke medical centers. To date, the McCormick Foundation and Major League Baseball have committed a combined $30 million toward these projects.

Welcome Back Veterans not only provides excellent clinical services to its clients, but also allows high-caliber medical centers to share research and promising practices. “We get together once per quarter. The clinicians are hungry to work together, and learn from other programs that are slightly different from theirs,” reports Michael Allard, the program’s chief at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The goal is to make the whole of veterans services greater than the sum of the disconnected parts.

Among the great successes of Welcome Back Veterans is its 14-part training series for clinicians, created in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center on PTSD. Participants take a pre-test, go through the educational program, take an evaluation after training, and a three-month follow-up survey to measure how much they’ve improved their military cultural competence. Welcome Back Veterans expected a few hundred participants to enroll; instead, it has trained more than 5,700 and growing. Through its investment in Welcome Back Veterans, McCormick has thus supported not only treatment at the network’s medical centers, but also a collective improvement in the environment of mental-health care for veterans and their families.

In 2008, the foundation’s 10-year strategic plan promised to help veterans by supporting what it calls “systems of care.” Rather than singling out individual issues such as employment, mental health, or education, McCormick sees its best opportunities in bringing order and coordination to private and public resources that already exist. The goal is to make the whole of veterans services greater than the sum of the disconnected parts.

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