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Drowning His PTSD in Alcohol Almost Killed This Former Firefighter Until He Connected with Whole Person Care

Published June 7, 2019
  • Community Education
  • Success Stories
  • Whole Person Care

Joel Covert Meme

Former firefighter and cowboy Joel Covert likes to bring doughnuts to the hospital workers, case managers and counselors who saved his life.

As a graduate of the Whole Person Care program, Joel received help from several Shasta County programs as he fought to overcome PTSD, excessive drinking problems and depression. It means he’s been buying a lot of doughnuts and putting many miles on his car.

“They’re the heroes who helped me get sober,” he said. “I like to show them I’m a success story and their persistence paid off.”

Joel's severe mental health issues led to him being hospitalized close to 20 times, nearly dying from drinking and overdosing on sleeping pills. He also estimates he spent more than 13 months in different mental health facilities.

It was during one of those hospital stays that Joel met with his Whole Person Care team, and they made a plan to get him well.

“I should have been dead. I had thrown in the towel, but it felt like they were throwing it back at me and saying, ‘You’re not done yet,’” he said.

Joel’s Whole Person Care Success

Shasta County’s Whole Person Care pilot helps people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. People who are eligible are assigned a small team that includes a registered nurse, a medical case manager and housing case manager who work with the client to develop a plan to help that person’s wellness. About 51 percent of Whole Person Care participants have established permanent housing.

With his Whole Person Care team’s help, Joel, who used to drink a handle of whiskey a day, has been sober for a year as of June 1. For nearly five months, he’s rented a room out of his own pocket at a peaceful place in Cottonwood. It’s not far from where he grew up, near the TA truck stop in south Shasta County.

He’s now focused on improving his mental health, and helping other first responders. He also wants to get his foot in the door in the world of roping.

“I’m rebuilding my life. I’m at peace with where I’m at,” he said. “I know if I continue what I’m doing, I’ll get everything back, and the sky’s the limit for me. It just takes meeting the right person at the right time.”


How Whole Person Care Helped

Joel’s life began to unravel after he suffered a severe back injury while working for UPS in 2010. The injury put him out of work for two years and crushed his dreams of becoming a full-time Anderson firefighter.

He had already started drinking heavily to numb the pain of the Post-Traumatic Stress he suffered over the course of his four years as a seasonal and volunteer firefighter. He’s not alone. It’s estimated 14 to 22 percent of first responders experience PTSD.

 “I’ve seen more trauma in one day than many will see in a lifetime,” he said. “But when you’re running codes, there’s no time to mourn. You jump on the engine and head to the next call.”

He suffered strained relationships with his family after he and his wife divorced, and he also says he was kicked out of his church, leaving him with no friends or supportive relationships.

JoeloutsidewRope-smallA Path Forward

After that meeting at the hospital, the Whole Person Care team arranged for him to stay at HHSA’s Crisis Residential and Recovery Center. It’s a safe environment where people can stay and begin to pick up the pieces after a crisis.

He started his sobriety there. After about three months, he enrolled at Visions of the Cross, where he graduated from a 90-day sobriety program.   

Joel wants to continue to share his story and inspire others, especially fellow first responders. His biggest goal is to make his story heard, spread the word and offer support.

When the general public needs help, he says, they call 911 and first responders show up. But, Joel asks, who do the first responders call when they need help?

“We’re not expected to show any weakness. We’re supposed to put on that Superman cape and go back out there, but I see the pain in a lot of their eyes,” he said. “I want people to know there’s nothing weak about getting help.”

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