Consider two groups.

One wears a uniform to serve the country, deploying overseas and entering war zones where their lives might be at risk. The other wears a uniform to serve the community, deploying at all hours of the day to protect and serve us, while putting their own lives at risk.

We depend on both groups for our security: the military, and first responders.

The similarities between the military and first responder communities run deep. They both put their lives on the line for us, and often dealing with similar physical and mental health struggles as a result of their service. 

Yet when it comes to supporting each community, it’s clear that veterans have a more comprehensive structure of support in place. I would know, because my organization is part of that support structure. 

Sadly, first responders often lack a similar support structure.

These men and women have committed to serving their communities regularly put their lives at risk apprehending criminals, fighting fires, saving lives, and ensuring public safety and order. Their service deserves similar respect and recognition to what we give our military service members and veterans.

We’ve heard about the tragic pattern of veterans taking their own lives, often as they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, a similar trend is playing out in the first responder community.

Recent research published by the Ruderman Family Foundation has shown that repetitive traumas are contributing to a rise in PTSD and depression among first responders. Today, one-third of first responders have been diagnosed with depression or PTSD.

Research indicates that strong social networks and community engagement are essential for managing stress and dealing with trauma. Our first responders need a way to decompress with their families when their shift is over. 

That’s why after a decade serving the military community, the Veteran Tickets Foundation last year launched 1st Tix—a program that provides free entertainment opportunities to first responders. 

1st Tix allows currently serving and retired law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs, and all other first responders to attend community events free of charge. These events include professional sports, national concert tours, NASCAR races, comedy shows, and art festivals.

First responders pay just a small delivery fee to receive their free tickets thanks to the support of partnering sports teams, leagues, promoters, organizations, venues, and everyday ticket holders who donate their tickets.

We’ve found through surveys that attending these events helps reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, create positive memories, and helps participants stay engaged with their own communities and the broader American culture. 

Since launching 1st Tix a year ago, we’ve already provided hundreds of thousands of tickets to over 72,000 first responders who have signed up, and we’ve seen the positive impact in their lives. 

Gary, a paramedic in Mississippi, wrote us after a country music concert:

“I work a very stressful job and don’t have a lot of time with my wonderful wife and five great kids. This concert was a great getaway for me my wife and two middle sons. This was the first time they have been to an event like this. We had a great time being able to do something together.”

And Sarah, a police officer in Minnesota, wrote after a rock concert:

“We could not be more grateful than we are for this experience. As a police officer/wife/mother it isn’t easy to find time for myself, and I certainly have a hard time justifying the cost of events when money could go to my kids. Music is therapy for me and is much needed with the stresses of the job. It is also so nice to feel appreciated and seen as a value to society.”

We rely on our first responders as much as the military to keep us safe, and we put a great burden on their shoulders in dealing with these challenges. 

We owe it to them to take their challenges seriously, and to apply what’s working for the military to enhance the lives of the first responders we depend on every day.