Paul Perrone is a retired United States Air Force Sergeant and veteran advocate. He authored the book Toy Soldier: Sergeant Perrone's Story, which chronicles his experience contracting and then dealing professionally and personally with a service-connected disability. As Paul summarizes his experience, "In 1991 while serving in the first Gulf War, I contracted an illness that never went away. After a long and grueling process, including dealing with many skeptical or unwilling-to-help military medical professionals, I left the job I loved in August of 1992... still unable to pursue gainful employment."
"I then fought for and received, after almost five additional years of bureaucratic denials and stonewalling, what I considered to be fair recognition from the Air Force for my service-connected illness. In August of 1998 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis [MS]. Determined to make a difference and not let the remainder of my life and these experiences be in vain, I became a veteran advocate helping others navigate this very complex Department of Defense and Veteran Administration medical system. I documented my experience in the book Toy Soldier so others would have easy access to this information."
Paul's advocacy role involves speaking at events; for example, he was the keynote speaker in 2007 at the Massachusetts State House and has spoken at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's annual event in Washington, DC. In addition, as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society is interested in learning why veterans have a higher rate of MS than the general population, he assists in recruiting veterans when asked. Paul learned about the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) through his advocacy work with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society National Chapter and the Central New England Chapter. Paul participated in the 2008 and 2009 scientific peer reviews as a consumer reviewer and describes his involvement with the PRMRP as "a rewarding experience."
"MS is not an easy [disease] to understand, even for those living with it," says Paul. "I feel the scientific community is a bit frustrated... because MS has several causes, [and] treatments vary from one person to another with limited to no success. MS does not affect everyone the same. In fact, I like to say, if you know one person with MS, you know one person with MS."
In addition to his advocacy work, Paul takes great pleasure in spending time with his 6-year-old son. He also enjoys music and organizing weddings and other events with his disc jockey business. Additionally, he volunteers with community television. He co-hosted and produced a showed called "Veteran Spotlight" from 2000-2007.
Paul's advice to others living with MS? "Take charge of your illness and the desire to help. Take some time and get to know yourself if you have not done that. Be the captain of your own ship."