I attended a Langley Rotary Club-sponsored event on the weekend in support of the Wounded Warriors Canada program. Wounded Warriors Canada assists members of the military and their families who suffer various kinds of physical and mental injuries as a result of their service.
Retired Lieut-Col. Chris Linford, who himself has battled post-traumatic stress disorder, was one of the speakers and told the gathering about how widespread PTSD is among Canadian soldiers who have been returning from conflicts overseas, and how only just recently they have been receiving support .
For a soldier, a police officer or a firefighter, it is not cool to admit that something horrific you have just seen has bothered you. The old timers on the job will tell you to “suck it up” or “get back out there and work it off.” They become adept at saying, “I’m fine.”
Lieut.-Col. Linford takes it further and points out that an officer who goes to superiors and says he has stress-related problems is usually limiting his chances of promotion and advancement, so it’s best to just shut up, keep it inside, be charming and professional, don’t let on that something is gnawing at your stomach and feeding on your brain.
They can hide it from co-workers and superiors, and family and friends. But only until the dam breaks. Families of soldiers and first responders learn to live with mood swings and anger outbursts. After all, their spouse is involved with some pretty nasty stuff from time to time, so they learn to be quiet when they’re quiet and not to push the wrong buttons. They try not to bring anything to the surface.
Recognition and acceptance that PTSD is as real a battleground injury as a bullet wound has led to programs like Wounded Warriors Canada, where soldiers and their families can get counselling.
Linford speaks candidly about the journey he and his wife have been on, which brought them back to sanity and to a point where they can now counsel others.
A large part of the therapy programs includes the use of animals in the therapy. Courageous companions is a partnership program which trains elite PTSD service dogs. These dogs are trained to operate with veterans suffering with PTSD and have made an incredible impact in the lives of our service men and women in their struggles with mental health.
Another partnership with Canpraxis uses horses in therapy sessions. Horses use their instinctive understanding of body language to assess the potential threat posed by others. They understand our body language too. They respond to people and express their reactions through their body language.
As Linford points out, we can hide our inner feelings from our spouse or friends but you can hide nothing from a horse or a dog. They know when there is stress or tension. Any of us who have been around animals know exactly what he’s talking about.
More than once that evening it was pointed out that it was too bad we have to have Saturday night fundraisers to raise money to help our returning veterans. When they board the plane to leave Afghanistan or Rwanda, the horrors don’t stay behind, they are packed tightly in their kit bag and come home with them.
They protect us over there. The least we should do is protect them when they come home. At least that’s what McGregor says.