Many military veterans struggle in silence

On Remembrance Day, military veterans who fought for Canada often don’t talk easily about the struggles they have experienced.

“With those kids of events, like Afghanistan, unless you’re with somebody who lived it or had similar experience, it’s extremely difficult to relate,” said Samuel Embregts, a former artilleryman with the Canadian Forces who served in Afghanistan.

“I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a severe one,” he said.

The illnesses, physical and mental, that he and others experience post-service is seen by some as another kind of sacrifice. Injuries like that, say experts, make it hard for many veterans in post-military life.

A Canadian government Life After Service Study (LASS) of regular force veterans released from service, conducted every three years, suggests more than a third report difficulty in adjusting to civilian life.

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According to the survey there are higher instances of certain illnesses among military veterans.

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“Compared to Canadians of comparable age and sex,” the report reads, “regular force Veterans… had higher rates of chronic health conditions such as back problems (45% vs 22%); arthritis (35% vs 20%); depression (26% vs 7%); anxiety (21% vs 6%); and post-traumatic stress disorder (24% vs 1%).”

Those who work with vets say these illnesses complicate the lives of former service members.

“Because it’s difficult to get out of the house, it’s difficult to interact with people,” explained Karina Hamelin, a psycho-social counsellor at Le Sentier, a Montreal-based non-profit organization established to support veterans.  “You never know when you might have a panic attack.”

The report also says vets who left the military between 2015 and 2018 are having a harder time adjusting.

Another factor that compounds the issue, experts point out, is getting vets to admit they need help. It’s something James Hughes sees at the Old Brewery Mission, where support for people experiencing homelessness is provided.

“They have been trained to help others,” said Hughes, the Mission’s president and CEO.  “They have not been trained to open up and allow themselves to be helped.”

Since 2017 the Old Brewery has had a special programme, called Sentinels of the Streets, to support homeless vets and those at risk of becoming homeless.

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There are increasingly more services available to help vets, but advocates stress that the general population can help too.

“Having an understanding, as best we can, of what they go through, what they struggle with,” points out Oliver Thorne, executive director of the Vancouver-based Veterans Transition Network.

That, he added, and pointing the vets in the right direction when they need help.

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