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Comics and country artists give voice to vets

Country act Big & Rich are among the performers at the Mission Gratitude event to benefit Home Base, which aids war veterans dealing with PTSD.

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Country act Big & Rich are among the performers at the Mission Gratitude event to benefit Home Base, which aids war veterans dealing with PTSD.

To Darrell Hammond, Monday’s Mission Gratitude show at Symphony Hall is personal. The evening will benefit the Home Base program, which helps veterans of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families deal with “invisible wounds,” the more subtle mental scars of combat caused by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Hammond witnessed firsthand the mental stress his father endured as a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and as a child, it made Hammond afraid to be around him.

The “Saturday Night Live” alum coheadlines the night with fellow comedian Sarah Silverman and country music acts Big & Rich and the Band Perry. The lineup also includes music by Rita Wilson, Cassadee Pope, the Henningsens, and Angie Johnson, and appearances by former Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Pedro Martinez and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

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“All I needed to see was the invisible wounds,” Hammond says. “It’s the trauma of war. My dad was a traumatized guy. Once he became a warrior, he didn’t know how to be anything but a warrior. And then you’re back in society.”

Hammond told much of the story in his 2011 memoir, “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m [expletive],” from which he will draw his performance Monday.

His father had problems with alcohol abuse. Hammond recounts finding him alone, giving speeches to his fellow soldiers, or holding the Luger pistol he had taken from a German officer before he used it to kill him. On his deathbed, Hammond’s father apologized to his son for their strained relationship and wore his medals, explaining what they were for. “I have half his medals on my wall, and my sister has the rest in Tennessee,” he says. “It was a real spiritual thing for me. I’ve struggled with spirituality in my life, and I’ve struggled with what soldiers do.”

The roster of artists is eclectic, and its politics diverse. John Rich of Big & Rich and Angie Johnson are both official “NRA Country” artists, while Silverman just appeared in a video on FunnyorDie.com poking fun at the gun-rights organization. Reached by e-mail, Silverman says Mission Gratitude’s message is bigger than anyone’s political views.

“This is an issue that brings everyone together,” she says. “All the most important stuff does.”

The concert will serve two purposes, according to the executive director of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base program, retired Brigadier General Jack Hammond (no relation to Darrell).

The first “is to raise awareness for the issue in that we’ve got one in three returning veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan affected in some way by post-traumatic stress, and one in five is affected by a traumatic brain injury. Here in New England, we’ve got about 100,000 returning vets, so that number is somewhere around 30,000 to 40,000 across New England.” He hopes the high-profile show will help extend the reach of the program past the Greater Boston area into the rest of New England, where Home Base might be less well-known.

Comedian Darrell Hammond.

The other function of the night is to raise money for Home Base’s clinical operations. Hammond estimates the program has helped more than 700 veterans and their families with complex clinical care and provided counseling to more than 2,000 people over the past four years. That includes services to the veterans and counseling for family members who might be affected by a loved one’s deployment.

Hammond says the Red Sox Foundation and Mass General provide assistance in fund-raising and operations, but Home Base relies on philanthropy to fund day-to-day operations.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries can be hard to recognize, and they weren’t even recognized as problems until after the Vietnam War, says Hammond. “If somebody got blown up and survived, they were just grateful that they were blown up and survived,” he says. “But we’ve seen the longer-term effects of these mild and medium traumatic brain injuries. If you’ve had a minor cognitive impairment, how would you know? It’s almost self-evident that you wouldn’t, so somebody else has to pick up on it. And certainly if you’ve got a veteran in their 30s or 40s and they start getting forgetful, people joke about stuff like that. They’re like, you know, you’re getting older, don’t worry about it.”

Silverman says she performed at another benefit last June that opened her eyes to the problems associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she is happy to be a part of Mission Gratitude. “I hope it brings attention and dollars to the reality and severity of PTSD,” she says. “These scars are our responsibility as a nation united. To help in any possible way is an honor.”

Just don’t expect the irreverent Silverman to soften her touch because she’s playing a benefit. “I probably should, but I never do,” she says.

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.
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