Gulf War veteran Curtis Brown of Richmond has gone to war for his country, now he’s at war with his country to try and improve services for his fellow wounded warriors.
He recently went to Washington, D.C., where he charged onto a bureaucratic battlefield with the hopes of making life better for veterans struggling to get proper care in the Veterans Affairs hospitals. Specifically, he is focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction to opioid drugs used as painkillers.
“These guys have left the battlefield to enter a new battlefield,” Brown said.
It’s a battle he knows all too well. He has fought both wars. Brown was an E4 in the Army and served during the Gulf War in 1990-91 with the First Cavalry. He received two bronze service stars for his service, but while in Iraq he was exposed to chemicals that made him sick. In August of 1991 he was injured in a training accident and medically discharged.
For 18 years he suffered with chronic pain, PTSD and an addiction to the pain relievers, muscle relaxants and antidepressants the doctors at his Veteran’s Affairs hospital kept prescribing him.
After 12 years, he and his wife, Heather, realized that the source of his pain was a broken neck and spine he suffered in the training accident. He had three surgeries with a doctor the VA hospital in Shreveport, La., sent him to, but they were botched and made things worse. In 2010 he found a new doctor and again went under the knife.
“My neck is 98 percent titanium,” Brown said.
Today he is healthy, off medication and on a mission. He wrote a book called “PTSD: Programmed To Self-Destruct,” which details his own struggle and the path he took to beating PTSD and drug addiction. That’s what he wants to talk to lawmakers about.
He was in Washington the week of Feb. 4 and met with Texas Congressmen Pete Olson and Louie Gohmert and Sen. Ted Cruz. He was also Olson’s guest at the National Prayer Breakfast where he heard President Donald Trump speak.
“He gave an awesome speech. There was no teleprompter; it came from the heart,” Brown said. “When he started talking about opioid addiction, Pete (Olson) grabbed my hand and said, ‘I’m so proud of you Curtis.’”
“I was honored to be joined by a Texas hero, Curtis Brown, to hear President Trump speak at the 2018 Prayer Breakfast,” Olson said. “Being among a table of people of strong faith from Texas, California, Canada and Ukraine, Curtis was able to share his personal story about overprescribed and addicting painkillers that derailed his personal recovery from his service injury and threatened his marriage. His message was simple – painkillers are only part of recovery – they are not the solution. The solution should be physical therapy and mental therapies, combined with love from family and God.”
In order for the government to properly take care of its veterans, Brown said it must first fix the broken VA hospital system. VA hospitals are notorious for lengthy delays and sub-par service. He said that not only are veterans losing faith in the system, so are doctors, as many good ones shy away from the VA.
“There is a stigma there,” he said. “How do we erase that stigma? There is no use trying to build trust until you rebuild the system.”
He said most VA doctors opt to medicate pain rather than fix the problem.
“Medication is not the answer; it’s created more issues,” Brown said.
He also talked with lawmakers about expanding the Veterans Choice Program, which allows them to seek medical attention in their community without going to a VA hospital. That program allowed Brown to get the help he needs, but he must routinely fight for that benefit.
Brown is also pushing for a new program that would have the military assist veterans in their transition back to civilian life. He said many people come into the military and spend their time in a highly structured, high-intensity way of life and then are cut loose to fend for themselves in society without basic skills such as money management, job hunting, or even household management.
“Trust has to be reestablished and relationships have to be reestablished,” he said.
The result is an increasing number of veterans who are unemployed, homeless, suffering from depression, and committing suicide.
“They’re not trained to deal with everyday life,” he said. “It’s like running a long distance race and suddenly stopping with no cool-down period.”
He said something as simple as a month-long training program just prior to exiting the military could ward off many of those problems.
“These guys have got to be encouraged to have a vision,” Brown said.
Brown does have a vision. He wants to see all of his brothers and sisters in arms become healthy. He said the Congressman want to bring him back to Washington to address Congress. He has also become a public speaker and is looking for more speaking engagements. He recently finished recording a segment for “The 700 Club.” He has also been invited to speak on the Sam Malone radio show, as well as maybe doing his own weekly radio show on IHEART Radio. Additionally, Rep. Gohmert has invited Brown to join him on the Sean Hannity show the next time that he hosts the show in New York.
“I’m here to help people,” he said.
He is also hoping people will help him. He would like to get copies of his book to VA hospitals, prisons, and rehab centers.
“It’s not just for the military,” he said.
For more information about Brown and his book or to make a donation, visit ptsdhopeawaits.org.