Son of a Blitch

Ep. 41 - Curtis Bell's Crusade: Breaking Down Barriers in Veterans' Mental Health Care

November 11, 2023 George Blitch Season 1 Episode 41
Son of a Blitch
Ep. 41 - Curtis Bell's Crusade: Breaking Down Barriers in Veterans' Mental Health Care
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Highlighting the untold stories of our brave servicemen and women, this episode features an intense conversation with Curtis Bell, a former Marine and firefighter/paramedic, currently in North Texas.

Curtis pulls back the curtain on the grim reality of veterans grappling with the transition back to civilian life, addiction, and suicidal thoughts. In a heartrending yet inspiring tale, he talks about the organizations he actively participates in - The Block Foundation and (North Texas) Patriot Anglers, and the lifelines they offer to veterans and first responders in need.

We gain a deeper understanding of the work being done by the Block Foundation, a non-profit that provides incomparable support to veterans and first responders. Curtis shares his role in the foundation, discussing significant and positive changes the organization is undergoing. He also opens a window into the world of Patriot Anglers, illuminating the profound impact of their therapeutic fishing trips on the lives of veterans and first responders. The camaraderie and brotherhood fostered during these trips form a vital part of their healing process.

Finally, a raw look into Curtis's own journey from serving in the Marines to confronting the challenges of civilian life. He opens up about struggling with the VA system, and the emotional toll it can take on returning veterans.

The episode takes a somber turn as Curtis recounts the devastating loss of his friends to suicide and how these experiences spurred him to champion for mental health support and awareness.

This episode is an empathetic call to action for us all, reminding us of the need to support our heroes when they come home.

TheBlockFoundation.org
PatriotAnglers.org

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody and welcome back to the Son of a Blitz podcast. I'm your host, george Blitz. Today is Veterans Day and I just got done with a very powerful conversation with Curtis Bell. He's a firefighter up in North Texas. He is a former US Marine veteran. He helps to run the Block Foundation and, as well as working on association with Patriot Anglers, we talk a lot about organizations that are out there to help veterans. There's so many struggles that veterans go through. I've come from a family of many people who have served a lot of first responders and there's organizations that are out there he talks to the ones that he's been involved with that are there to help those who really need it the most. I feel like In my experience I've known a lot of people who have taken their own lives, that are veterans, who have maybe gone into some serious addictions. It's a very, very difficult transition coming back into civilian life. I don't even begin to say I understand it, because I don't. I can see it and I can have a sense of it. That's why I've interviewed people such as Curtis who can talk about things firsthand. He really opens up and is very vulnerable and talks a lot about what he's seen and the struggles that he and his brothers have gone through. It's a very powerful interview that I just had. There's going to be many more that I'm going to have with a lot of veterans, a lot of veteran organizations that are there to help those who I feel need it most. I feel like if you've volunteered your life to service and to protecting the freedoms of our country and our people and you've gone out there, when you come back home, you need to have everything at your disposal. Sadly, that's not really the case. It's a struggle. I don't know if there's even a particular answer of we need more funding here, we need more mental health care here, or having the right psychologists and psychiatrists and different type of counselors available, because everyone has their own struggle, everyone has their own experience. I don't know if there's any one way that we can say, oh, we're going to solve all this, but we need to really do everything we can to provide all the resources that are possible out there for our veterans. I really feel like we need to be more aware of this as a whole and do everything we can to help support those who've sacrificed so much and their families who have sacrificed so much. Thank you, curtis, for sharing and for really opening up. Thank you all for listening and please, if you feel so inclined, to go and volunteer or to just spread the word of organizations in and around your areas that are helping out, and if you're listening and you're a veteran, you're a first responder and you feel like you're in the deepest, darkest place. There's people there that want to help you. There's people there that are going to do everything they can to make sure that they help find you some healing. I know it seems dark, I know it seems like there may not be another alternative, but this is where you need to reach out, because there's places and there's people that are there that are trained to be able to help you be able to get through this and you can get through it. I hope that you do If you're one of those people listening. Maybe this is why you're here today, to tune in, because maybe this is a message you need to hear from Curtis, from all these other people who are there. Again, it's a heavy conversation and it's because it's heavy subject matter. I'm just, I feel honored and obligated to continue reaching out and to shine the light in this area. This isn't going to be just a Veterans Day thing. I think it might need to maybe at least once a month, have an interview with somebody that is in this space to be able to help bring about healing and help, because it's very important. Thank you all who have served. Happy Veterans Day and, without further ado, here is the podcast with Curtis Bell. Hey, curtis, how you doing today, man?

Speaker 2:

Hey, good, good, appreciate you having me on George.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely Well. You know, just to give a little background, Curtis and I met when we were in line at Shields up in the colony for an event where Steven Rennell was coming doing a little meet and greet, signing for his most recent book. We just got to talking and Curtis shared a lot about some organizations he works with the Block Foundation and Patriot Anglers. We were just talking about your time and your service and, again, thank you for your service. We were just talking about some ideas and said, hey, let's just stay in touch. Obviously, today, the day that this airs this airs, will be Veterans Day and I wanted to do something, as I've been creating this podcast, to give back to folks and raise awareness for veterans, organizations, people who are giving back and helping those who have helped us and serve. I wanted to have you on the day to have you talk about some of the organizations you've worked with and that you promote and why it's important that we focus on really giving back and really trying to help the veterans that have been there in service. If you just want to run with it and talk about some things and then we'll dive into some more conversations as we get a little closer there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sounds good. First of all, I just want to say happy Veterans Day to all those that have served and are currently serving, along with their family members, because as a veteran, I couldn't have done it without the support of my family as well. So appreciate everybody's service out there, thank you. So my name is Curtis Bell. I'm a Marine Corps veteran. I was in from 2002 to 2006. I primarily served with VMGR 252, c-130 unit out of Cherry Point, north Carolina. I'm currently a firefighter, been a firefighter paramedic for the last 16 years. I'm with the McKinney Fire Department up here on the north side of Dallas. I've been involved with non-profit work as long as I've been in the fire service. I feel like my heart has always been towards the philanthropic side, just giving back and helping out where I can. So very early on in my career I had some opportunities to get involved with a few things and it's kind of led me to where I'm at right now. I'm the founder of the Block Foundation. Our mission statement is to benefit veterans and first responders and the DFW mesh planks. We left it pretty vague so that we didn't get hold into one niche that we could essentially help any veteran or first spawner that comes to us for help. However, whatever that may look like whether it's getting some bills paid, that they're struggling financially or whether they need a liaison to point in the right direction to get some vetted, culturally competent mental health help that's where we're at with Block Foundation. We're actually currently right in the middle of a big move with the Block Foundation. We're actually it's about to get obtained Excuse me, let me back up on that. Block Foundation is going through some big changes right now with ownership. One of the biggest struggles in non-profit anybody that's ever worked in non-profit is fundraising I pride myself of. Becoming a professional beggar is essentially what I feel like at times with that. But through those struggles, through those hardships with that, it's led me into a path of where we're headed right now, which is we're about to partner with a company called Firehouse Sir Club. The owner of that is about to take ownership of the Block Foundation. I'm still going to remain as the executive director. It's just I no longer have to necessarily worry about where my funding is coming from. I get to focus on what I want to do, which is giving back to the firefighter and veteran communities. We're actually expanding it across the nation with this company. A lot of big changes has come. I'll share more details on our social media sites as they come about. But another great organization that I was really want to talk about today that I'm a part of it's called Patriot Anglers. It's the North Texas Patriot Anglers, to be exact, two of my good friends now. Louis Duckwall, who is a retired gunnery sergeant, is the founder of that organization. Mike Green, who's a retired captain from the Marine Corps. They both run that organization and I got tied up with them. I've been about a year and a half now. It was one of the greatest trips I've ever been on. It got me back going to Angel Fire, which is near and dear to my heart, because I was actually born in Taos. I grew up skiing in Angel Fire, since I was knee-high to the duck. I was a little bit of a kid and all my memories go back to Angel Fire. So it just happened, stan. So I got to go out with them to that area and do some fly fishing, which I'd never done before. A little intimidating, being a rookie at that, but once you get the hang of it, it gets addicting and in a good way. It's so therapeutic and I can't even describe why it's therapeutic, to be honest with you. It's just great experience, great organization. Since then I've been on well over a dozen trips with them. It's kind of morphed into with me being a fireman. It's kind of morphed into me being the cook for the trips, which is one thing that I really enjoy doing as getting in the kitchen and throwing down a meal for everybody that's there. So I help out in that way as much as I can. And then most recently it was the first for that organization, for Patriot Anglers, we got to do the first all firefighter trip and it was with some of my buddies that I work with at McKinney Fire Department because, as you and I were chatting before this, we've had a pretty tough year with it up there and I won't get into all the details, but there's a lot of guys on that department that needed a break and just being a friend of mine sitting around the smoking table at the firehouse one day no-transcript we're both just like why don't we try to put this together? And so we got some things in action and ended up having a three-day trip up there to Broken Bow, and it was probably one of the best trips I've ever done.

Speaker 1:

That's fantastic, man. I'm glad you guys got that. I know, without going too many details, there was a lot of loss, there was a very difficult year for you and your buds, so to be able to have something where you could all be together. It is therapeutic just being out in the woods and whether it's fishing or hunting or hiking and just kind of being out there and kind of having that stillness and calmness that can come about and the camaraderie that can be something that definitely can help heal. It's never a full, maybe it's a band-aid, because that is kind of always can be very fresh and hard to move through some of those times. But I'm glad that you and your friends are able to have that experience which hopefully kind of helped to facilitate some beginning healing through that time. And I think that's when you're talking about bringing people out into the outdoors. Can you talk about what maybe some of the people who you've helped kind of mentor through that process and kind of walk through that process, how that they've responded as far as being able to have that kind of be a therapeutic exercise and being out there? What has it done for them and why do you think that that's important, that we continue to be able to bring those of service and first responders into that element. What do you see firsthand from that experience?

Speaker 2:

And, yeah, thanks for bringing that part of it up, because that's really what it's all about is that individual experience with that, and so we try to cater to it through the Patriot Anglers. First of all, we take care of the lodging, we take care of the food, we take care of the guide service. The only cost out of pocket for the people that experience this is really getting up there and getting back home, and so we try to keep it as minimally impact on them as possible. And I've met some really great people through that organization that are both the founder and the guys that run it to the participants in there. And it's really humbling to see some of these guys come out that just looking at them you can tell they're hurting, like you can tell they're not in the best place. They're kind of struggling, as many veterans and first responders do, and to be able to just provide a platform to help provide a platform to give them a break. It's like as soon as we get up there to the cabin, you can kind of see like a weight is just lifted off of them, if nothing more than for a few days, and that's really all we can ask for with that is that they are relaxed and having a great time while they're there and with the hopes that that carries on when they get back home and just showing them not only getting out in nature, getting outside, getting waist deep in a river that's 40 degrees, trying to put a fly rod on the nose of a brown trout or a rainbow trout or whatever swimming through that river, but also it almost kind of brings back a little bit of that brotherhood that we had in the military and that I think the majority of us crave when we get out. You know it's something that you can't replicate, that you know I'm a firefighter and we have that brotherhood and the fire service but, as any fireman that is also a veteran will tell you, it's still different. There's just nothing that compares that brotherhood in that military setting and we just try to recreate that as best we can within those three, three or four day trips that we get out there, just to give them a little bit of reassurance that the struggles you're going through. You may feel alone, but you're really not alone. There's so many other guys that are sitting in your shoes right now that it's just kind of helping connect some dots and maybe making some connections with different people that can help each other out after the trip and kind of one person who was in the same shoes as this other person can kind of help guide the way of how they got in a better state or better position, or however you want to turn that so, yeah, it's been able to see that almost on an immediate level is pretty humbling and that's really, at this point, that's really what I crave is just being able to provide that platform in the hopes that that's the outcome.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's super important, you know, and I think for a lot of people who might not have family. You know for myself I can speak only for myself that I definitely have family members who have served and I can see some of the things you're talking about. I understand the struggles of what it is to come back home. You've kind of it's. It's something that it's a whole different life and lifestyle and whenever you come back home, that brotherhood isn't necessarily there. Like you said, you can kind of get it and you understand it with having that brotherhood of you know being you know a firefighter and there is that and there is that if you're in you know police service or if there's other types of first responders that you know there's a, there is a connectivity there, but it isn't the same. And so I kind of wanted you to also touch about that idea, for maybe those who don't have that experience is what is it like for a lot of veterans when they're coming back home? They've been away in service and then they're back. What do you see are some of the you know common struggles that people are facing when they're coming back? And you know I mean we can kind of dive into later on what it is. You think maybe we need to shine the light on of what those struggles are and how we can go about maybe helping them as a greater. You know good as our communities and such too, because you know obviously there there's, you know, we've read the statistics, you know there's so many people who have addictions, struggling with mental health, and so you know. I know that we can get into the fine details of everything, but I really kind of want to give some broad strokes here and maybe talk, you know, as your experiences, your friends, your colleagues, what is that like for those who don't understand that?

Speaker 2:

if you can maybe speak to that for a little bit, yeah, and that we're going to be here much longer than we'll wait. I'm really going down that path. I can get on my soapbox about that and I'll be here for the next three days talking about it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I'm sure recording all this right.

Speaker 2:

Um man, try to try to like condense that down to where it's easily digestible. Is Well with that folks. Thank you so much. You know it's one of those things that first of all, you got to start with boot camp and I don't care if you're in the Marine Corps or you know Army, navy, air Force, coast Guard, whatever, like boot camps. Boot camp, and you know some are a little tougher than others, but they're essentially breaking you down and breaking old habits and rebuilding you to the standard that they want right, which is not normal in our society. And I mean, just to bluntly put it, the standard of those recruits coming out of boot camp is not the normal standard in society, like that's not what college students are, that's not what people getting into their career paths, or even just those that are, you know, trying to find a job here and there kind of thing. That's not. They cannot relate to that at all without going through it. So that's the initial part of it, I feel like, is that's where the initial struggle starts, is in boot camp, even though that's what the that branch of the military needs you to be. We do a great job at training our guys and girls for the jobs that they're going to be doing. But none of the branches really do that great of a job in the transition afterwards to try to get you back out in the real world and give you those skills and personality traits that are going to help you to be successful on not just your career but also your social life, your interpersonal relationships with your family, your friends. You know your significant others. Whatever it is, they don't really do a good job. On the back end of that, I feel and at least that was my experience they just gave me a little two day class that at that time I had zero interest in paying any attention to it, and they gave me my papers and said you know, good luck. And so here I was, 22 years old, you know, combat veteran, with multiple tours in Iraq, afghanistan and Africa, and you know, I don't even know how many countries total got to visit. And here I am getting shoved out into the world with no one to you know, no one that I have to check in with. That was my normal Like. You always have a supervisor, it doesn't matter what your rank is. You always have a supervisor that's pretty much telling you the next step to make. And so here I am, you know no one to answer to anymore. And you know most of my friends that I went to high school with. Now I have college degrees and are getting into their career fields and starting families and I can't relate to them, you know I can't. Their college experience is. I can't compare it to my military experience and I'm not saying one's better than the other by any means. It's completely different. That's everybody's past right.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I just couldn't relate and so it was tough getting back out into the workforce. You know going from certain standards to not having those standards, and I don't even know Trying to keep this easily digestible without getting emotional or start, you know sounding like I'm accusatory or whatever. Man, there's so many things that are still lacking on veterans care for that and I'm going through that personally right now as we speak with you know, just the mental health care that. I get on a regular basis, I refuse. I've tried the VA system and I refuse to go to it because it's more stressful than it is helpful.

Speaker 1:

How so do you mean?

Speaker 2:

So you know we live in a digital world now and so the VA is trying to, you know, pinch every penny that they can and the majority of the appointments that I have now, especially with where I live, which is not close to a big mesh ballton area I'm kind of, you know, out east in East Texas, as I live out there they like to do everything in virtual, and so if you can imagine trying to have a counseling session when you're talking to, you know, somebody on Zoom or a computer screen or on your phone and trying to really get into that vulnerable state and have those therapies be effective in the least bit there's just a major disconnect with that, I feel, and that's what the VA pushes and that's along with Mets In my experience, you know it's me let me kind of delve off into another topic real quick, but the block foundation. you know it's named after one of my best friends that I grew up with. His name is John Hartwig. His nickname was Block because he had a blockhead but he owned it, so it was a term of endearment and he loved it.

Speaker 1:

You know he was a gunnery sergeant Marine Corps. You know I got out.

Speaker 2:

He and I joined together. I got out after four years. He stayed in. He found the family that he longed for, that he wanted, and that was the Marine Corps and that was his family. And, you know, he ends up getting medicated, retired for some mental health issues, for some bad experiences that he went through over there and, excuse me, he made it about 18 months and December 18th of 2015,. John lost his battle and I had to watch this two little girls that are the same age as my two little girls bury their daddy four days before Christmas. So that was kind of a, you know, hidden home moment for me for sure, and that's really what made me make that turn with the philanthropic side, with the nonprofit side of things, to really start focusing on mental health, because before that I was I mean, I was just like the majority of people out there was so ignorant to what it really is and I was in denial of my own anxieties and you know short tempers and just everything else that went along with that, and so it kind of made me take a step back and do some searching and you know myself and and I can now tell you that I'm probably in the best place that I've ever been in my adult life with that. Thankfully, you know, there's kind of a silver lining through all this. And you know, john, unfortunately you know, was not the only one that I lost. I've buried 13 of my friends in suicide and it's it's tough, still emotional on a lot of it, still working through some of it. And most recently I lost my partner at the fire department February 13th this year. He lost his battle with mental health and took his own life. So I've been around it a lot more than I definitely can't be, but it's one of those things. That's like I got to keep fighting for people to have those conversations Because I feel like being proactive in the mental health community is really the only way to kind of put a stop to it or to at least put a dent in the numbers, and so that's kind of my drive. With all of it, I'm not trying to take a dark turn on any of this or put a damper on the mood.

Speaker 1:

That's the reality and thank you for being so open and sharing everything. Man, I know it's very difficult to talk about, it's hard to hear it, but it's a necessity and I think we need to shine the light on that darkness of what's happening, because I think a lot of times, maybe even the organizations that are trying to help are throwing a blanket over it or trying not to expose the true numbers of what's happening, and what's happening when our veterans come home and it's you know, I'm just, I don't know the answer to that.

Speaker 2:

I don't know the answer to what it is. That is the fix, Because there are a lot of people out there in the mental health community that are far more educated and far more experienced than I am. With every letter, the alphabet behind their name hang credentials that are still struggling the same on trying to figure out what that answer is, and it's just mental health is so dynamic that it's really just unique to every individual. And, like you said, there are a lot of organizations that are out there that are trying to just throw a blanket over it In the hopes that it kind of does something productive. And so, you know, we see, being in the mental health community as long as I have been you definitely see, like the old Marine Corps adage that we always used to say, it's good initiative, bad judgment type deal, Like the initiatives there, like the good, it's all done out of good intent. But, you know, looking back on it, you know the whole hindsight 2020 thing, it's probably a lot of these things that have been done or are being done probably aren't the best options that we have out there. And there's some other organizations, like Patriot Anglers and another one locally here, 3FTL, that are doing some phenomenal things with Patriot Anglers, getting our men and women out in nature and experiencing that and providing that type of platform to 3FTL, you know, helping with the clinical aspect of things, getting you into counseling and a psychiatrist if you need it or whatever type of therapy you think that would be best suited for you. It's you know, they are vetted, culturally competent mental health clinicians that they're doing some great work up here in the DFW Metroplex and I can't speak enough about them. And there's a handful of other organizations, like Dr Heather Svodell with first doing some great stuff as well. They've got a really phenomenal setup down there at the Star in Frisco and they encompass kind of a whole health mentality with their treatment plan, Anything from physical therapy to the counseling aspect to the recovery type stuff of you know, cryotherapy, red light therapy, you know sending us on a cold water therapy, just all kinds of stuff that they have at that facility. It's really phenomenal. And there's so many more out there that I mean again, I'd be here for three days listening out all the great organizations that are doing some stuff out there.

Speaker 1:

But yeah, unfortunately you see some as well that are just kind of throwing that blanket out in the hopes that something sticks and yeah, Well, if you know, I think we're going to have to have continued conversations because I want to dive into some things more with you and but I for this, you know, I wanted to give people an idea of you know, the organizations you're working with and I really appreciate, curtis, you being so open and talking about these things. We need to. I think I think so many people in our day to day lives we're just going through and we're you know the little nitpicky shit that we worry about. And then it's like you really have people who have gone over there. They've volunteered to serve our country, for protecting our freedoms and our way of life that we take for granted so often. And these people are coming home and I'm not going to say everyone's damaged, but I've yet to meet a veteran who doesn't have some residual damage or the idea that you know, transition back into civilian life, because I don't think there ever is really a full transition into civilian life. You are trained as a soldier or warrior or, as you know, whatever it is in that capacity and I think, coming back in, to have that transition, we need to have the resources, you need to have the mental health you need to be able to have. You know, whatever it is, if you have some physical issues or ailments to be able to deal with, that it's not just the pop a pill culture Take, take, take, because then you're going to need more, more, more, and then we know what happens. And but a lot of people don't know what happens. And that's where I feel like it's important for all of us to wake up to the reality that we have problems that we need to fix and it's not just maybe throwing, you know, money or pills at something or you know we could really need to have competent mental health for those people. I feel like, in my opinion, the people who need the most support in our entire country are those who have served. Those are the people who have done everything, they've given everything, they've sacrificed their families of sacrifice, their children, their parents. Everybody has sacrificed for those people who are giving everything and we need to be there to support them and give them our our full heart, soul, whatever it is that we need to do to provide.

Speaker 2:

So and I think one thing that I'd like to say to those out there, if they are struggling, you know it's it's it's a difficult conversation to have, that that you might, that you might be hurting or or you might need help, but it is one of the most important conversations you'll ever have and I promise you that if you put in just a little bit of effort to to find that that therapy, that that works for you, it will change your life. And another thing that I really want to touch on real quick is one of the things that has helped me the most recently is, you know and I've got to give credit to my girlfriend that kind of kind of getting me back into this, but getting back in a church and finding that, that men's group, that that holds you accountable, and and just finding a good church base that I don't know, I can't speak highly enough of that that that kind of renewing my faith with all that has has really just been one of the best things that's happened to me recently. So those are the. Those are the last two things I really wanted to share. So appreciate it.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, man. It's so true. You know, that kind of first step is recognizing sometimes there's a problem, whether you know whatever it is that and and you know, especially mentally it's hard for a lot of people to admit that there's things going on or that they're weak and they need help, especially when those have been people who have been trained to be the strongest in that sense, and it's like it's hard to be vulnerable. It's hard, but you know that that other approach of what may happen when you feel like you're in the darkest place, it's not. It just leaves behind so many. It fractures more than it can ever do anything else. It fractures the lives of those around you after and it's we need to be able to seek out help and get it in those places, and there's organizations and there's foundations and there's people who care and there's people that want to make sure that if you're struggling, they help you through that and I think that's something that is is of the utmost importance and that, wow, curtis, thank you for joining me today. Before we leave, if you'll, please kind of tell everyone where they can go to to learn more about these organizations and you know, kind of the website and any socials that you have going on and how they can go ahead and, you know, maybe reach out to you if you want to talk to them more.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so it's. It's more text-patreon anglers. You can Google, search that, and, and they're on. I know they're on Facebook and and and Instagram as well. Blogfoundation it's blogfoundationorg. We're on Facebook, instagram as well. 3fto is another another one. First it's and it's the F1 RST, dr Heather Swadell. That's another great organization to go look up across all the platforms as well. So, man, I don't know there's, there's so many. You start, you start searching those up and and and you'll start getting you know, tagged into a few of the others that are right there on par with with the rest of them. So.

Speaker 1:

Well, good deal. I'll put the links in below so everyone can kind of check those out. Once again, curtis, thank you for being open, being honest, being vulnerable and being, you know helping out other people and extending. You know your heart and you know your compassion and your empathy for others and and helping them kind of find some healing, because it's the most important thing. And once again, thank you for your service. Appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity. Absolutely, we'll talk again soon and you take care. Thanks, thanks, curtis.

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