It is one thing to wave a flag and talk with pride about our brave men and women in uniform who risk their lives on foreign soil fighting for our freedom and a better world, but don’t stop there. Let’s understand what they go through when they come home, and make sure something is done about it.
This week and last the Slave River Journal focused on the plight of armed forces personnel who returned from action suffering from mental issues – commonly called PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). It is something you hear a lot about. Please make a point to read our stories, and they will better help you understand this malady. We owe it to our armed forces personnel who have put their life on the line to serve our country to know better what is afflicting them and take action on it.
The investigative stories we ran last week ranged from testimony of a military psychologist who is active in the treatment of PTSD to the first-hand account of Romeo Dallaire, one of our generals and most famous soldiers, for PTSD is not about rank. We also interviewed one of the foremost advocates for Canadian soldiers suffering from PTSD – a former soldier himself, who travels the country drumming up support for his comrades who suffer as he does.
This week we talk about treatment with a visit to an Aboriginal healing lodge in Quebec that takes care of First Nations veterans and an in-the-bush program in Alberta that the Fort Smith branch of the Royal Canadian Legion routinely supports.
It is interesting to consider the numbers of military personnel who came back from WW II in the late 1940s and how many of them must have suffered similar trauma. Of course, there was no recognition of the affliction then and certainly no form of treatment. The Royal Canadian Legion was their secondary family, forming a national community offering support and solace. Of course, alcohol was commonly used as a solvent to wash away the tribulations and nightmares that must have haunted so many.
Today there are far fewer soldiers returning from Afghanistan and other fields of conflict, and because of the disconnect of distance, context and small numbers, there is no ready like-minded community to provide a safety net for them. They are too often alone. Many of those combat veterans return home to a troubled life. They deserve the debt of a nation paid in full. That means recognizing and supporting the ailment they were afflicted with. Not only are they heroes, they are also ill, and require help and treatment.
Recently, at the Dene leaders’ assembly in Fort Smith, a theme that reoccurred over and over was “healing.” The commonality of concerns voiced about the impacts of residential schools was eerily similar to discussion of the aftermath of war that manifests in PTSD.
The Dene meeting was a political gathering and the assembled chiefs from Fort Chipewyan to the Mackenzie Delta spoke of economy, environment, politics, and health. But throughout that, healing was a constant in almost all the discussions. The reference was often to residential schools but it was also about other trauma – the impact of colonialism, alcoholism, discrimination, poverty and more. And always it came back to how when the human spirit is broken, it needs healing – and intrinsic to that healing process is the connection to Mother Earth.
We have been hearing a lot about “healing” these days, in many different contexts. It appears there are a lot of ills and a lot of broken people, from all walks of life, for many different reasons. Finding ways to fix these problems that haunt our society, like suicide and homelessness and different forms of psychosis, may be the challenge of the next decade. The two programs in this week’s Slave River Journal about healing PTSD are about similar problems, and similar solutions to what the Dene chiefs were speaking of.
It would be interesting if the knowledge First Nation Canadians garner from the National Truth and Reconciliation exercise currently underway, that has grown out of the shameful horrors of residential schools that scarred so many Aboriginal youth, might in time mature and evolve into unique powers, information and healing tools that resolve other issues – including PTSD.