Every week a group of retired military veterans and former RCMP members gather for a meeting in Edmonton. They are open and honest about their day-to-day struggles trying to adapt to civilian life.
Leaving service has been just as difficult as combat.
The group is called The Old Boots Veterans Association and late last year, it celebrated five years together. It’s a milestone for many who found it hard to open up to anybody.
The support group is independent and runs on a small fee and donations.
Guiding the members is registered psychologist Liz Massiah, a self-described military brat herself (her dad was in the air force). Massiah said she got tired of listening to lonely and isolated veterans trying to go it alone.
“When they lost the structure of the military, the routine of the military and the role, then they’re just lost,” she said.
A question she said she is often asked is: “How can I regain a sense a purpose when I feel like so much of me has been torn away?”
It’s not an easy answer. Massiah said re-integration is a slow process, especially when structure and order is drilled in year after year.
Adapting to family life and “civvies,” as the members called civilians, is often aggravating.
Then there are the triggers.
“Triggers are fairly common,” said retired Major Pat Henneberry, who served nearly a quarter of a decade with the Canadian Armed Forces.
“Screaming kids — that’s something I can’t get used to.”
Henneberry said he discovered that trauma when he volunteered to chaperone a school dance. He said the music made him flash back to the sound of mortars and the lights were like tracer bullets — then he heard kids scream.
“Unfortunately, I saw that for real a couple of times,” he said.
“The images came right back all from something innocent.”