About 100 people walked alongside veterans on the North Glenmore Park pathway in Calgary on Saturday morning to raise awareness about PTSD and suicide.
“What we’re trying to do with the walk for veterans is to help the public meet veterans in a non-partisan, non-Remembrance Day kind of way. Just get out and walk with folks, get to understand who veterans are today, how they live within our community and what they do,” said Lee Humphrey, a veteran who helped organize the event.
He appreciates that people carved out time to walk.
“When 100 people get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and they come out and on a chilly day and they stroll around a park with a veteran, shooting the breeze with them and talking about these issues, that tells me that people care,” Humphrey said.
While it’s easy to understand someone’s physical injuries, mental health problems can manifest themselves in many ways and can be difficult to diagnose, he said.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish today is to let people know that it’s not a disability,” Humphrey said.
“It doesn’t turn people into crazy folks, that they have to be afraid of. That it’s regular Canadians who served their country are having some mental health challenges, but they still get out there and do normal things. And you can interact with them and you can learn from them and they’re going to come away better off from it and you’re going to come away better off from it.”
Steve Critchley is the founder of Can Praxis, an equine therapy program that helps people who have been diagnosed with operational stress injuries.
“The veteran will attend our program with their spouse, partner or family member, and the important thing here is that we understand this injury is a family affair,” he said.
“The spouse is there because they’re injured with this injury as well… We understand that PTSD will introduce conflict and crisis into their lives. What we’re doing is helping them relearn how to have at least one successful conversation today, because if they can have one, they can have two. If they can have two, then they’re on their way to success.”
The program uses horses because of their social nature.
“Horses have their own chain of command and they have a pecking order. People in uniform are comfortable with that,” said Critchley.
“We’re helping people get to a place mentally and physically where the horse looks at them and says, ‘You’re worth the effort to relearn how to trust again.'”
Damian Robertson served in 1999 and 2000 in Kosovo and came back with a broken back and PTSD.
“I still struggle every night. I’m up at 3 a.m. every morning. I don’t have so much the nightmares, but I do have just the overall anxiety of being overseas and seeing what happens outside the comfort of what this is,” he said, gesturing around him.
After transitioning to civilian life and getting an education, Robertson is now a tattoo artist and loves what he does each day.
He explained that the resources and understanding of PTSD have increased since before 9/11.
“It’s OK to talk about it. It’s OK to get it out there,” he said.
“I learned through programs like Can Praxis… how to have good conversations with people around me to get my voice across when I’m having trouble instead of just being misunderstood because I’m angry about some injustices in the world that I have no control over.”
In addition to Calgary, the second annual Canadian Walk for Veterans took place in 10 cities across the country: Courtenay, Vancouver, Edmonton, Barrie, Ottawa, Kingston, Philipsburg, Moncton and Charlottetown. The inaugural walk last year was held in seven cities.
Eighty per cent of money raised from the walk will go to four organizations that support veterans and first responders, according to walk officials. Twenty per cent will go towards administrative costs.