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In crisis after Iraq tour, Kansas City veteran given second chance at fatherhood

Posted at 5:01 AM, Nov 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 14:01:59-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- After returning from serving in Iraq, James Brown’s life went in a downward spiral. He got addicted to pain pills, went to jail and lost custody of his children. 

“It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters.” The old saying rings true for Brown. 

He served our country, then came home to a broken family. His troubles went out of control when his wife left him. Brown was arrested multiple times after his return from Iraq in 2015, once on a weapons charge.

“I tried to commit suicide, then I got addicted to pain pills, which also got me in trouble with the law,” said Brown. “I was on my way to try and commit homicide -- kill me and my kids.”

He felt he was out of options, so Brown put a call into the VA for help. He received a PTSD diagnosis after his military service, and workers moved to get him into a rehabilitation program through KVC Health Services. According to the VA, as many as 20 percent of Iraq veterans come home with PTSD every year. 

But, Brown was already on probation, and a judge decided to put him in jail. 

“He had me incarcerated, saying I was a threat to myself and my community,” said Brown. 

Since no other adults had custodial rights, the kids went to a foster home. 

“Just seeing them get in someone else's car and waving goodbye was very painful,” said Brown.

His two young children, Jayden and Adrianna, went to live with Cathy and Stu MacFarlane as part of the foster home program. While the couple has children of their own, they’ve also spent the past four years opening their home to children in need. 

“The kids that we see and come in the home, they are great kids, sweet kids. They just need love. Families need support,” said Cathy MacFarlane. 

Jayden and Adrianna spent a year with them. In that year, Brown got out of jail and focused on getting his kids back. 

Brown says the MacFarlanes and his caseworker helped him every step of the way. 

“What more can I say? What more can be asked? They are just great people,” said Brown. 

The bonds they formed continue to this day. The caseworker, now working as a teacher, said she sort of went the extra mile with Brown, even attending some of his rehabilitation classes with him.

"They think of our children as siblings, so they get excited to see each other,” said Cathy MacFarlane. “James doesn’t have anybody close that he can call, so he calls us. I like being his emergency number on his educational forms.”

While Brown admits his start was not ideal, it's how he's working to finish, as a father, that makes the difference to him and his family.

“This is very much how the process should work. It doesn’t 100 percent of the time, but [it can] if you have parents that go into a very hard situation and are willing to accept the help,” said Cathy MacFarlane. 

“Buying clothes, movie night, getting ready for school, cooking dinner, I didn’t know those things were in me,” said Brown. 

Being a dad didn't come easy for Brown, but he feels he's on the right track. 

“I am getting my kids back. They are a very huge part of this success,” said Brown.