WAR WOUNDS CREATE A VETERAN'S VETERAN
Retired Army Sgt. Brad Payne, 47, wears a Purple Heart on his hat because being high profile about his experience gives him the connection he needs to help other veterans.
Payne comes from a military family. His father served in Vietnam. His father’s father was a prisoner of war on Bataan in the Philippines during World War II. His mother’s father served under Gen. George Patton. Despite questions, they never talked about their military experience.
When Payne came home from his first deployment, his father and grandfather looked him in the eye and said, “Now you know” and it felt comfortable because I felt accepted,” Payne recalls. “And other veterans need that.”
Because of his combat experience, Payne understands why veterans can’t tell their stories except to other veterans who share their experiences.
“I wouldn’t want anybody to have to see or do the things that I did,” said Payne, “but I’m glad we were successful.”He served three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.
He guarded the ballot boxes in the first-ever Iraqi election.
He helped build solar-powered watering systems for farmers.
He watched friends die.
He took a bullet himself, reaching for the body of a soldier killed by a sniper.
“So I think about this: Am I alive because I moved in time? Or did I get shot because I moved?” Payne ponders. “When you have that kind of pressure on your mind — on a daily basis — it kind of makes everything else less important.”
Civilians have no reference for the insane pressures of combat, the rigors of military life.
Payne is on 100% disability from the military. He knows both the struggles of the battlefield and the barriers to re-entering society.
“I was really down and depressed. I couldn’t get a job.” With seven kids, Payne struggled to provide for his family. The sense of purpose he felt in the field suddenly evaporated. “Nobody wanted to hire me. I was suicidal.”
He understands the experience and the road to stability, which is why he’s the perfect person for his job.
Payne serves as Jefferson County’s Veterans Behavioral Health Peer Support. When he started a year ago, the program had nine clients. He now has 31.
“I’m passionate about helping veterans and want them to be as successful as I am. At least,” said Payne. “My superpower is based on my lived experience.”
Payne reaches out to veterans and connects them to services that will meet their needs: mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric and medical services, case management, supported employment, and supported housing.
But mostly, he listens.
He uses one phrase to help veterans overcome their frustrations: But why?
“And they really hate that because rather than challenging themselves and get to the root of the problem, they’d rather just vent about it,” explains Payne. “But at some point, I feel it’s important to take responsibility. To progress on your road to recovery, you need to have that awareness.”
Payne holds weekly meetings with veterans at the Veterans Community Center on Mondays from 4 to 5 p.m. He also spearheaded a Veterans Healing Garden, where the community can experience the healing qualities of working in the earth.
In addition to being concerned about veterans’ mental health, Payne also provides educational resources and financial information.
e provides opportunities for gathering, like barbecues and visits to a therapeutic horse ranch.
He wants to create a drone training program through Wounded Eagle Unmanned Aviation Systems, a hobby for some and an income opportunity for others.
Payne grew up in a military family who would not talk about their experience. Now he considers fellow veterans his family, and builds relationships based on shared experience.