Brian Paul has lived a life dedicated to serving others. As a member of the Oklahoma National Guard, he worked hand in hand with the FBI and ATF at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building bombing in 1995, receiving both the State Activation Medal and the Army Humanitarian Medal for his work. Following his service in the National Guard, Paul became a volunteer firefighter in Kansas City, eventually working his way up to a full time firefighter and EMT in 2012.
Always focused on those that needed his help, Paul ignored the accumulating stresses that are inherent for those that serve as first responders and veterans alike. For Paul, he knew something was wrong but didn’t have the resources or assistance to know that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
He turned to alcohol to calm his nerves. The day after a 24-hour shift would often consist of heavy drinking to relieve the anxiety he experienced. One incident during his time as an EMT was especially difficult for him. “We lost an eight-month old child. I remember looking into his eyes and they were bright blue like my son’s. That’s something I will never forget.” His drinking gradually increased and he found himself needing a drink before work to be able to perform his duties as a first responder.
Paul says there was plenty of debriefing after a fire to understand what they could do better, but there was no help for how to cope with the loss of a young child in your care. His increasing difficulty in being able to think clearly on the job led to a lighter workload, and after a back injury, eventually being let go. It was a dramatic fall from grace for Paul, who had come highly recommended by the chief of his department for two open positions out of 800-plus applicants, to now being out of a job. However, the separation from the stresses of his career would not end his battle with PTSD, and it would quickly lead to a divorce and homelessness.
Three months following his divorce, Paul sought treatment at English Mountain Recovery, an addiction treatment & drug rehab center located in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was only then that he understood the extent of his illness and finally started to receive proper care. “For veterans and first responders, people tell them constantly that they are heroes. I was at home trying to be Superman not wanting to prove those who looked up to me wrong,” Paul said.
Now just over two years sober, Paul is once again focusing on helping others. He founded Veterans 4 Life, a foundation created to provide the proper care for other veterans and first responders that Paul hopes will prevent the same downward spiral that he experienced. Veterans 4 Life hosts a number of events for individuals and their families, including cookouts, bonfires, and private fishing events. In addition, Veterans 4 Life also provides access to more traditional PTSD and addiction treatment facilities. The idea is to provide healthy outlets for these individuals instead of turning to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with stress. In the process, Paul also sees a developing community of like-minded people that let each other know they are not alone. By sharing his story, he hopes that those in need will reach out to him and his organization for help.
Mission: To celebrate the extraordinary examples of courage of our military and first responders while encouraging them to the correct and proper care they might need for problems they may have because of their service.
Locations: Three locations in Yukon (headquarters), Phoenix and Kansas City
Biggest Need: In addition to raised awareness in the communities they serve, Veterans 4 Life is looking for volunteers to help host the many events to bring veterans and first responders together.