Warriors Landing

Warriors Landing

Long time brother in arms, friend, colleague and Mefloquin warrior John Dowe and I were reconnected earlier this year after a 25 year struggle to stay alive and relearn to thrive in what we seasoned veterans often refer to as an urban battle zone. The zone I am referring to is the struggles of veterans returning from conflict abroad. I have mentioned John and a few others in past articles. I bring him up again, not just because of the ongoing work he is doing, but because approximately 6 months back he introduced me to another type of warrior, Erin Paterson.

Erin Paterson is the founder of Warriors Landing (WL) located on 100 acre Wood Wind Farms, co-located with Harnessing Horse Power, an Equestrian program. This combination is no coincidence. Erin is an international trauma advocate, independent researcher, writer and goodwill ambassador. Historically she has worked in fields of mental health and advocacy, making her effective in supporting others overcoming traumatic shock experiences. Much of her experience has come from her own personal struggles as a warrior, and a survivor. Her mantra is that PTSD is not about what is wrong with someone rather PTSD is about what happened to someone. She is fueled by a natural interest in personal research and a profound desire to help as many others as possible to gain education and support and to have that available to them when navigating catastrophic experiences.

Warriors Landing has had its setbacks like all small start ups, but has remained determined to create a strong Canadian Team to change the landscape of mental health. The goal is to establish a home base legacy that would act as first a national blueprint and then an international blueprint. Gathering together grass roots organizations in Canada who are willing to work to support veterans in need while working with the local business people, politicians, celebrities, artist or any other willing to create something extraordinary. This has become the core principles of WL. In Erin’s words “To get all of them and anyone that will listen to say, ‘I care, and I want to do something to help’, we need to build bridges and safe places for warriors to land in order to protect health and wellness for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones and all of our generation’s future, as this impacts us all.”

Woodwind Farm is an established equestrian center in central Ontario, running ‘Eventing’ and other shows throughout the warmer months. Eventing, having originated as a military training sport has the opportunity to create a landing point for warriors and warrior horses for years to come. It is the hope it will become a lasting legacy that will be carried on for generations, just as the bond between warriors and horses has always been. This is where Harnessing Horse Power comes into play. The project goal is to establish a Canadian home based breeding program that works towards preservation of the, at risk Highland Ponies, while connecting these warrior ponies with warriors. Thereby rekindling a strong beneficial and historical bond, this is proven to help veterans heal. Another important dimension to this program is the close proximity to Horseshoe Valley Resort, as well as the Simcoe Regional Airport and many other great landmarks. It is 1 hour north of Toronto situated in Oro-Medonte between Barrie and Orillia.

Having read all of the above, you can well imagine why Veterans House is so excited to be working with Erin and Warriors Landing along with our other groups, Rally Point Retreat Nova Scotia, Professional Insights British Columbia, and W.O.L.F. Academy Alberta. For more on Warriors Landings here are a few links to look at.



https://ptsdhome.com/testimonials and


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Rally Point Retreat

Rally Point Retreat

Couple years ago as we started building Veterans House (VH), we came across a group from Nova Scotia, Rally Point Retreat (RPT). The immediate response was, “This looks a lot like our project with only a few minor differences.” I would later use this group as an example of a direct competitor in Veterans House’s business plans S.W.O.T. Analysis. That is the part of a business plan that shows your own and your competitors Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats. Interestingly enough about a year later we were contacted by Bob Grundy at Rally Point Retreat for the same reason. They saw our group and noticed the same. His reaching out changed the course of our destinations and the destinations of a few other NFP groups as well.

One of the opportunities we originally saw from this group was that it may be more practical to work with them by dropping our program into their facility and supply them with funding. But because we were in the early stages of developing, we were still focused on creating the whole environment for Peer Supported Mental Health Healing that we envisioned, and were not ready to share our concept. It was as much about pride as it was competition, something we would have to let go of if we truly wanted to make an impact. Bob and I, along with my Brother Michael began a dialogue that would span a couple of years. It grew slowly over time as we developed a working relationship and trust. We began sharing information and strategies, as well as sitting in on each other’s meetings. It became a matter of time before we took the obvious step, and started looking a lot closer at a partnership concept. That happened a few short months ago when, as I mentioned in my last article, that Warriors Landings Ontario, Rally Point Retreat Nova Scotia, Professional Insights British Columbia, W.O.L.F. Academy Alberta, and Veterans House had begun a conversation to work together in common goals (more on the other groups over the next few weeks).

But that isn’t what this article is about; this is about Rally Point itself.

Bob and his wife Jo (Johan) started RPT in their own home and out of their own pockets. They quite literally opened their doors and invited complete strangers into their homes in order to help them cope. From this simple first step, they then incorporated as a NFP and began collecting resources and people to assist them in helping more and more people in need. Although they have received donations over the years, funding by way of money has never flowed as it remains elusive to many of the groups now working together. Yet despite this Rally Point has grown in popularity and in support by professionals in the Health Care Profession and most importantly in the veteran and first responder communities. They are in fact making a name for themselves by doing the very thing that they began doing when we at VH first heard about them. Opening their doors and caring.

It is this infectious optimism that reminds me so much of my Airborne past (and that is a compliment to BOB since he is Navy LOL). The word “Can’t” just isn’t in RPR’s vocabulary and the sheer tenacity to take on an establish construct of peer support and mental health care and turn it upside down is the primary reason we (our small group of NFP’s) will succeed in forever changing the face of Mental Health in Canada. Thank you Bob and Jo for setting such a high standard and example for others to follow. We look forward to what we can accomplish as a group. You can learn more about Rally Point retreat at http://www.rallypointretreat.org and http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2683777103 16:56 minutes in.

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Suicide by Mental Health Awareness

Suicide by Mental Health Awareness

We all want to raise awareness for Veterans and Mental Health Issues, especially around the month of November. But being aware of veteran’s homelessness and suicides is one thing, creating a culture that intercedes and restores the veterans to communities and families are another. Awareness does not equal action. I believe I have mentioned this before in some capacity, but in the event I haven’t awareness amounts to a person pointing at the problem and stating, “Look that’s a problem” and then that is it. The problem has been stated and no solution is offered or explored. No intervention is funded or began. It is simply awareness that the problem exists. Veterans long for the day that awareness ends and solutions begin, because until that happens the suicides will continue

There are several organizations that are taking action to turn the Canadian Veteran Community’s dream of belonging and understanding into a reality. There are several peer-supported home environments where veterans can heal from Mental Health or Operational Stress Injuries and transition to a meaningful life with their families and communities. What is unique about these groups are that they are based on live-in, peer-support, and the 24-hour presence of others who are also recovering and have encountered similar experiences in their transition. These projects have strong potential to contribute to suicide prevention and homelessness among the veteran population, and more important they are now talking to each other to find ways of supporting and combining their resources and successes. Although not all of these groups are fully operational or funded the ones presently talking to each other are; Warriors Landings Ontario, Rally Point Retreat Nova Scotia, Professional Insights British Columbia, W.O.L.F Academy Alberta, and Veterans House. I’ll speak more about each of these in the coming weeks ahead.

For years and even presently Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Operational Stress Injuries (OSI’s) are treated as mental illness even though research presented at The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research’s (CIM VHR) forum clearly shows that the physical damage to the brains Nero-pathways can be identified through brain scans. Most traumas are treated long term with rehabilitation therapies and short term with medications; where as PTSD and OSI’s are treated primarily as mental illness and an outpatient environment leading to difficulties with recovery specifically in relation to avoidance and non compliance issues. Suffers of PTSD and OSI’s spend years on medications with prolonged side effects and no exit strategy. Once they start this route they are expected to remain on it for life. No consideration to finding an alternative for medication is even in the foreseeable future from the clinical side of the house. In fact the most recent research from the mental health world is to increase therapies that will keep the sufferer on medications for a longer term in hopes that somehow the medication will solve the trauma and not just treat the symptoms.

Once medication and therapy have been administered the sufferer, is sent home. Back to where all the stresses of daily living that are crippling the individual remain in force, where they must deal with adversity and where they are expected to practice and master new skills on their own at the same time. They are then expected to report back on their progress and if they have done any home therapies assigned properly. In short the veterans are left on their own to self evaluated and report short comings and successes. There is no objective measure or standard in the self evaluation process that can be accredited to fact based peer reviewed research practices.

The model of these emerging Not For Profits is to provide a safe place to gain and practice new skills. Side by side with other veterans that have lived through the trauma and found successes themselves, veterans can emerge with confidence in their own ability to heal and grow. To be clear these groups do not treat, nor are they a treatment facility. It is however a safe environment for healing, supported with the firsthand experience of veterans that have gone through the process and succeeded, many of whom have shed their own dependence on medication. The presence of these veterans during the daily routines of recovering veterans adds that 24 hour accountability factor to deal directly with the non compliance and avoidance issues that prevent recovery. And perhaps even more important, rather then reinforcing PTSD as a mental health issue, it is viewed as it should be viewed. A life condition that requires retraining to gain new insights on moving forward and rebuilding life just like any other trauma that people experience.

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Have you ever encountered one of those toxic people who undermine your very existence? For decades, just the thought of such a person drove me nuts. I saw them as the reason people fail to thrive and dare I say even perish in life. Having reflected lately on all the advancements and great things that have been happening in my life, I stopped once again to reflect on such people.

Yesterday a man I was speaking with became aware I was a veteran and immediately blurted out “Thank you for your service”.  No I didn’t think he was a toxic person, but my immediate response was to inform him how much I hate that phrase. I then went on to add, “If I wanted thanks for my service, I would never have become a Soldier.” Yah, he was taken aback by that (just a little) until this moment I hadn’t really reflected why I dislike this phrase so much. Mostly it’s because it feels like those with no knowledge of what to say, feel it’s the safe polite statement to make about a veteran’s service. In short it feels like lip service, and political correctness. After reflecting on my unintended rebuke, (it really was unintentionally blurted out) I realized to me this phrase is toxic. It’s like someone believes I entered into the service in order to sacrifice myself and my family, which is a far from the truth as you can get. If the truth be told, I entered the service because I wanted an adventure of a lifetime, and got it. I totally loved my career and never wanted to be thanked for it, I always felt like I had stolen the privilege of being paid to do what others could only dream of, or have to pay to experience.

It’s not the only phrase that bothers me; “You’re a survivor” is another one. I always imagine the guy (or gal) with a death grip on the roots of some vegetation hanging on the side of the cliff (insert mental image of Wyle E Coyote here). Until their strength gives out, these people are survivors as well. Problem is they never thrive in life. They just barely hang on until they lose their grip or the infrastructure gives way. Unless you have defiantly clawed your way back up on the top of Terra Firma, you really have only managed to survive long enough to take stock of how fragile life is, but you haven’t enjoyed the life you are living. Once you stand on the top of the cliff again and take stock of how much worst life could have been, and look toward to the open meadow in front of you, and engage it, you aren’t enjoying anything. You are only a survivor. Me, I’d rather be a Thriver (yah I know, I made up the word).

I think back over my life and remember all the naysayers, dream stealers and character assassins that I have faced, and it has come to me recently that I owe them an immense debt of gratitude. Every time one of these toxic individuals entered into my life I was compelled to prove them wrong. If I hadn’t out right rebuked them to their face, I most certainly envisioned doing so. Mostly, I would mutter under my breath and vow to undo any attempt at preventing me from my desired goal. Quite often some people who didn’t know me well would express that I was over confident or arrogant in my beliefs that I was always right in my opinions. My experience is that they really didn’t like that I rejected their opinions or attempts to limit my dreams and goals. Often as I accomplished my desire, some would approach me quietly and express (about their previous contempt) an apology for not having seen my potential. These people were no more malicious in their opinions then the poor man thanking me for my service.  Yet despite the lack of intent, many of their words are toxic. The fact is, I just don’t want to be boxed into someone else beliefs of my limitations and most people without intent manage to accomplish boxing people in regardless.

At the end of the day, it is these people that have helped form me into the person I am today. Had I not faced this adversity; I would never have overcome the obstacles and emerged a stronger, kinder, mature man that I am today. And although I am sure I still have my critics as to whether or not I have accomplish the amount I feel I have accomplished that’s ok, I plan on proving them wrong anyway.

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Just What Is It We Remember? Part Two

Just What Is It We Remember? Part Two

It took me several years to figure out that all those Legion members aren’t veterans. To look at them with their chest full of metals, beret and blazers they look and act the part. As they march somberly in step they look almost identical to old veterans of the Great Wars. Except for the medals (Legion metals are worn on the right and are awarded for participating or holding office), and here is where the debate begins. The Legion owns Remembrance Day with the poppies, wreaths and parades et al. No veteran organization can fill the gap without the consent of the Legion. If you have any doubts look up the copyrights on the poppy, or try and present a wreath without going through the Legion.

There are two camps on Legion Members, and no it’s not just for and against, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Veterans abandoned the legion in droves over the years. I’m not going to pretend to know or understand all that transpired as I was not a member at the time, nor am I a member today. So, on the surface it would be easy to count me as one of those who failed to support the legion and keep it focused on the veteran. Over the course of time veterans were initially replaced by family members and then for the branches to remain open extended to the general public. Here in my little town of 5,000 it is mostly Fire Fighters and emergency responders that occupy the benches, that and a culture of locals looking for better bar prices.

Most of the dialogue I see online and person to person remains standard in tone and content. From we gave it up; to I don’t feel welcomed, to critiques of how and where money earmarked for veterans is spent on other than veterans, to Legion members imitating veterans without having served themselves. In truth most if not all are accurate and valid to a point regardless of which side of the debate you are on. And make no mistake from my own perspective, the Legion backed the Governments plan to axe full medical pensions in 2006 and in my mind have missed the boat on key veterans issues for the past few decades. My main reason for not being a member however is not based on these facts. I believe they did what any civilian organization professing to aide veterans would do. Completely miss identify the needs of a culture (a Veteran’s Culture) because they are not capable of understanding the needs of that culture never having been a part of it. (see my article from 29 Oct 2017 titled Veterans Affair’s).

The main reason I don’t attend the Legion is that I can’t maintain my calm via my routines (see my article Rage from Oct 15 2017) especially in the environment that the Legion presents. Even if it was filled with veterans, I couldn’t do the drinking even if I was to sub for non alcoholic, as I can’t drink pop either, even fruit juices would do me harm with the amount of sugar in them. My health can be that fragile that a simple misstep can cost me more than I have to give. The organization in my mind no longer fits the respite needs of the modern soldier/veteran. We have changed, but the Legion didn’t change with us. It focused on covering the bills instead of covering the veteran.  I suspect in time, it will start closing doors, or lose all interest in helping veterans. The unfortunate part is this now civilian organization with little veteran involvement is still the defacto expert on the needs of veterans with regard to veteran support and their word or position is taken as gospel. If only they could understand the needs of the modern day veteran to meet those demands.

It is possible that a large veteran membership drive could right the direction the legion has taken. But that would have to be well organized and orchestrated, as the present ruling class is well entrenched and believing that they have the veterans backs. The Legion then too would be competing with the emerging veterans organizations that I have no doubt will one day replace the Legion and who are posed with much greater strength and focus on the veteran.

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Just What Is It We Remember? Part One

Just What Is It We Remember? Part One

Remembrance Day is right around the corner so it may startle you to know that as a veteran I always hate this time of year; I have for 25 years now. Mostly because all I want to do year round is forget the trauma caused by service. But each year at this time I am asked to remember the sacrifice veterans have made in service to Canada. It’s a real tug of war, who knows better what has been sacrificed than a veteran, yet it’s the veterans that just want to forget what it has cost them.

I tried to stand on parade on Remembrance Day 20 plus years ago, but just couldn’t do it. At the time it wasn’t even the trauma I endured that stood between me and my duty. It was the endless barrage of shear ignorance that marched past me row on row. Not vicious or malevolent ignorance, intended to cause harm or disrespect, rather ignorance of the reason we stand on cold rainy November days to begin with. Growing up it was to remember the great wars, I remember all the focus on WW1 and 2 and the in depth time spent on knowing the “axis and allies” of Europe. Why we wear poppies and the immortalised poem “In Flanders Fields”.

In fact I spent a great deal of time in the military admiring the veterans of the 2nd World War. I was an Airborne Commando with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Our predecessors formed the original Special Service Forces which spear headed D-Day and most major battles following the invasion of Normandy. I was one of 50 soldiers to be selected to Jump into Normandy on the 50th anniversary of D-Day and was able to meet and talk with several of the remaining veterans on what would be for many, their last trip to Normandy, where it all began for them. I recite all this so you understand I have the utmost respect and admiration for any veteran of any conflict that has risen to the challenge and paid the price for their service. Remembrance Day I have no problem with. But I sincerely question what we are being led to believe.

Since the great wars Canada has been involved in many other conflicts that pretty much get ignored. It began following the Korean War and followed through Cypress. Remember that childhood learning I mentioned. Never was the Korean War ever mentioned. I didn’t even know it existed until I was in my late teens and began to watch M*A*S*H on television. The trend today is no different. In the past 25 years we have been in the Gulf War, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan, and it wasn’t until the suicides post Afghanistan that people even began to take notice or media to spend anytime mentioning or commenting on the numerous deaths that the Canadian Veterans were suffering. Even still, the focus became very narrow and scripted. It became about Afghanistan veterans and what they went through, never a mention on the 15 year history of suicides and death from 4 other conflicts.

On the surface it may be due to the number of Afghanistan Veteran Suicides, but guess what? They can’t tell you that for sure because no one knows the true numbers. I know from my own unit of 14 members 1 died within 2 years of Somalia, and of the remaining 13, all but one left the service early and have suffered significant trauma with losses of health, family and careers. My unit was a small specialised group that paired up with other larger units at the platoon and company level. Speaking with one of the guys from one of those platoons, he told me of how he started to contact his brothers but had to stop half way through his list. The number of suicides and messed up brothers was too much for him to handle and it was causing him to relapse in his own mental health.

Last year I attended the remembrance ceremony for the first time in over 20 years, and was shocked that they took the time to mention Afghanistan Veteran Suicide. And as I waited … the speech fell silent with no mention of the hundreds of suicides and trauma ridden veterans from Korea to Rwanda, No mention on the suffering of their families, children, wives, husbands, sons and daughters. No mention on those that were frozen out of their pensions post 2006 and how many of them are homeless on the streets. Not a word on the thousands suffering from traumatic injury to their bodies, brains and spirits. These are the things I spend an entire year every year trying to forget, only to spend an hour on Remembrance Day to experience how much we as a society have forgotten.

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Veterans Affair’s

Veterans Affair’s

I have never experienced anything but professionalism and understanding from any front line worker at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and I certainly have no gripe with the thankless job many of them have had to do. Unfortunately that’s not the same for the organization as a whole; in fact there are many problems with VAC but I think it serves to better your understanding if you first understand what VAC is and isn’t.  The first thing I think the average Canadian needs to understand is that VAC does not treat veterans nor is it responsible for the treatment of veterans. It seems whenever veterans and VAC are discussed with regard to the treatment of veterans, an expectation that the department is responsible for treatment is always at play. The latest buzz phrase is “duty of care” So the first thing in understanding this conflict is that VAC does not treat veterans. In fact VAC is more of an actuary, a bureaucratic entity that administrates a budget to facilitate the flow of payment for pensions and expenses, related to veterans’ retirement and health care, that’s all.

Here’s the break down. A veteran must apply for a medical pension for an injury or illness related to service. Then wait for months as their case is deliberated by the bureaucratic process. When I applied 25 years ago this took over 18 months. It now takes 4 months (what it is in reality varies on the complexity of the claim) and if you complain someone will readily remind you that it used to take 18 months. Yes, knowing this is always helpful (or is it?) and makes every veteran remember it can be worst. In fact the process is very adversarial, you must prove the injury or illness is service related. Originally when the process was initiated, the rule of thumb was that if it could be service related then VAC must error on the side of the veteran. That changed over time and an appeal process which already existed was expanded. Today with every application the appeal process is expected. Very few claims today appear to be approved without appeal, if not for the pension itself then for the percentage of injury. I know of no veteran that has not had to go through the appeals process, though I am sure there has to be those that exist.

So once you have a pension then all is rosy correct? Well not really. Now that you have a base medical pension, you can apply for programs you are entitled to under your approved pension. Oh and yes if you are denied the programs you can appeal that as well. But wait it gets better. To access many of these approved benefits you must also get approval. Yes that’s right for example, I have coverage for orthopedic devices to assist me in daily living, but I must submit for approval to receive reimbursement for the expenses, the same if I have to pay out of pocket for a specialist, therapy, or any other expected expense not covered by my provincial health care plan. Oh and yes if you are wondering, I can appeal that as well if I am denied. In fact the entire system’s problems (in my opinion) of the veterans’ application process are about those who review the appeals process having sufficient work to justify their bureaucratic positions. After all these positions as well are budgeted items for VAC.

The real problem with the system is that there is no advocate for veterans with regard to changing rules or creating a system that meets the veterans’ needs without the adversarial approach. Yes we have an ombudsman, but they cannot effect change any more than one of the adhoc veterans advisory boards can. They can make recommendations or highlight problems, but they have no authority to make change. Any recommendations are brought to the government in power and filtered through the agendas of the government of the day. No one who speaks for veterans can affect change at any level. Except maybe the Minister of Veterans Affairs, oh wait he is the representative of the Government of the day as well isn’t he, not the representative of veterans, my bad. So how do veterans get representation as veterans with VAC … we don’t. And unlike all other Canadians, we cannot file suit against the government to hold them accountable either as we forfeited that right when we signed on as soldiers. To be fair VAC has hired more low level workers and given them more discretion to spend small amounts without having to seek approval, and these front line workers are second to none. They work hard to get veterans what they need and are entitled to. But in a bureaucratic system such as this one even they cannot talk to the decision makers any more than a veteran can. This is by far the most insulated and controlled entity I have ever experienced.

It used to be in the military that if I had a grievance I could take it to my Commanding Officer and have my grievance heard. He may tell me I was full of shit and to get back to work or I would spend a day in cells, or listen and correct a wrong which I identified. But either way the Commanding Officer always listened and I had the opportunity to say what I thought to his face, even if I didn’t always like the outcome. The hardest part of being a veteran is having an organization that does not represent your interests and will not take the opportunities it has been presented with to engage in face to face meaningful change. Not discussion, but change. After 150 years of historical neglect you would think that someone within the bureaucratic ranks of this organization would understand the veteran culture and meet its veterans with dignity and not bureaucracy.

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What About The Children?

What About The Children?

Here’s the kicker, a few weeks ago my wife who is retirement age (I don’t dare give her actual age) was offered by Veterans Affairs the opportunity to retrain and assistance in seeking employment so we can add to the income of our house hold. Yah that’s right, a women who has filled her days raising children and working can get financial resources to return to school so that she can work well into her retirement; (as can I) but my children who need assistance to overcome the trauma of their childhood and are struggling to pay for college and university have no resources other than student loans. And yes you can argue that this is all most children have, but you would miss the point that they did not have the stable financial up bringing others enjoyed, not to the fault of poor family planning, but because of my military service. Now I’m not ready to lie down and died as of yet and I have a Not for Profit to build, so I myself am going to take any training I can get and use it to change the course of veterans mental health. But looking past myself for the moment, I have developed the habit of watching my children grow into young men and women and it frustrates me at the extra effort they must put in just to meet the status quo.

The recent Ontario College teachers strike brought up a few thoughts this morning as I was reading a few messages between my children. It struck me that there is an increasing recognition for the extent of damage caused to families post military deployments. A few years ago Dr Heidi Cramm began research surrounding military families with regard to this very topic. Military Bases have for years put in place family support while soldiers were on deployment or exercise, and have extended those services particularly in the mental health prevention and treatment side of the house. Many similar concerns and comments have appeared at the Canadian Institute of Military and Veterans Health Research forums, as well as the Veterans Advisory Board and miscellaneous other symposiums regarding Military and veterans well being. So you might think that with all this awareness of late that there would be a program or two in the works that would support children of veterans damaged by service to rebuild their lives and move forward. Well there isn’t.

I have one daughter in college, who may or may not have to replace OSAP loans because of the recent College Strike; loans that she used to live on and would have a difficult time repaying or surviving without a second influx of cash next term. All of which could be lost depending on how long the strike lasts. One son wanting to return to college, employment in his original training never came to fruition. A second son is taking university courses on a per semester basis has he builds up enough cash. All of these children (now adults) have been through extreme adversity from early ages, yet despite this have managed to rise above the trauma of their youth and grow. My other daughter is an impressive dance choreographer. All of these achievements they have done on their own. I have never been in a position to support them financially and could only support emotionally two of the four children.

Now before you start telling me about post secondary funding by the legion, you should make sure you check a few facts. First take a look at the number of recipients, and wither they are in fact military families that have been awarded the scholarships. The stats may change your opinion on how available that particular resource truly is. And for the record I am not saying that families shouldn’t apply and try for these awards, just that they are not as available as you may think. What I am advocating is that if a child of a wounded veteran, released medically is interested in advancing their education, then there should be funding available to them. They should not have to apply for grants, scholarships, or bursaries competing for marks to overcome the trauma they suffered from their childhood. The truth is, children who have suffered childhood adversities tend to struggle in education a great deal more than those that haven’t. Therefore educational grants and loans should be readily available without competition to any of these children without exception.

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Every once in a while my brain begins what I call its rage cycle. Very rarely once it begins can I keep it from going through its cycle. I can regulate my activities, and control my diet and to a certain extent my surroundings. But in the end I am a slave to the cycle once it begins. Rage is hard to describe to very many people, they generally relate in terms of anger, rest assured it is not anger, it is rage. Sometimes it begins with an injustice. The past few weeks the injustice of my children the damage done to them has been the catalyst. But sometimes, it’s just watching unhealthy people continue in their unhealthy way to make themselves sicker and sicker without seeing that it is their habits that are at fault and not their “Genetic Make Up”. For several decades now I have had to answer to this rage that continues inside me. The truth is it’s not even the event triggering the rage that is the issue as any injustice or petty belief I have can trigger it. It’s the rage itself that is the problem. It truly is darkness, or an abyss. If I was depressed I have no doubt it could cause suicidal ideation, but I’m not a depressed person in any way. If it was anxiety, I would be so paranoid; I would be unable to engage in any aspect of life. The only way to describe it is rage, and to unleash it or not to keep it subdued would result in a catastrophic event that would cause harm to anyone in my vicinity.

For decades now I have spent the better part of my day in a ritual that allows me self control. From the time I get up until I close my eyes at night, I engage in an ongoing series of exercises to calm the rage in my mind. For example the first hour of my morning is spent calming my spirit (in fact I stop and do this many times during the day). As a rule I rise before anyone else in the house, and make a coffee (I allow myself one shot of caffeine in the morning), sit and inhale the aroma and allow my body to finish waking from its sleep or many times lack of sleep. On the rare occasion that I don’t have the hour to myself, I find a spot and push out the world if I am able. When I can’t find a place for myself; on these occasions my risk of expressing my rage is greatly increased. I continue with momentary periods of occupying my mind on repetitive simple tasks that allow me to continually calm my mind. For example, most food I eat is non processed and raw when I buy it. So refining my food, gives me time to slow my mind. I grind my own grain into flour; make coffee by grinding the beans and the perculating them in an old fashion perculator and many simpler home processing tricks rather than buying prepared foods. If I could I would buy a cow and milk it as part of my routine to slow the world down so I don’t feel I have to get off of it. It’s not because I can’t organize or handle stressful days, but rather because if I don’t slow the world around me down, I won’t be able to have stressful days and not lose control of the rage. As I’m getting older the probability that I could one day end up in a nursing home scares the shit out of me. I can’t imagine a day without my routines. Who becomes responsible when because of an environment that doesn’t allow me the freedom of my routine (and dictates what my routines will be) disrupts my ability to have self control?

I spent a lot of time on ranges perfecting the art of instinctive battle drills. Responding without thought to given dangers. The fact that I can slow the world down and think before I respond is the only reason I am still alive. The Desmond family of Nova Scotia brings to mind the ugly truth of what I refer to as the flip side of the suicide coin. Behavior that is so outwardly driven, that it results in self destruction, but only after you had destroyed what you loved. I suspect I know a little about what you may be thinking if you have read this far into the article. This is some pretty dark reading. Unfortunately I will get a little darker before I return to the light. When someone’s brain is damaged to this point and when all hope of returning to that light is abandoned, (this is where I was 20 years ago when my children were taken from me) this is when they will act out. Knowing this Lionel Desmond asked for help but none was there. To be clear I never acted out in any act of violence, I had always been able to maintain control on the rage, but to this day I still don’t know why I never broke and acted out. Perhaps it was the old men from the Knights of Columbus that showed up and led me by the hand or my family or any number of other intercessory events that kept the breakdown from occurring. I do know that it often felt at the time like it was a deliberate attempt from those involved to create a situation that I could never recover from, so that my children would never have a relationship with me. Every week a new accusation would be leveled against me, and every week I would have to return to court to answer the accusation. The accusations were never justified or proven, just leveled week after week. In the middle of it all my pension would be cancelled and I would have to fight to get it reinstated, which would take months. I even had to have myself admitted to prevent further accusations and to allow an independent Doctor to assess my mental health. Looking back at this I am even more amazed that I didn’t follow in Lionel Desmond’s footsteps. If in fact I was the problem they believed me to be, why after $50,000.00 in court fees, a week long trial that found no evidence and the return of one son did I not break mentally? For this I have no answer, only that all of this occurred throughout the 90’s and began 25 years ago as I write this article. Twenty five years later we are no closer to having a solution to the problem, although we do throw millions at it annually.

So what would have happened to Lionel’s family and my own if instead of being abandoned by our government, society in general and then attacked through the courts; or deigned treatment or a safe place to recover? What if Lionel and I had a safe place to go with others, who understood our rage, and had suffered and survived and learnt how to flourish and stay one step ahead of their rage. Would I have gone as deep and as dark as I did? Would I have lost the relationships I lost? Would my children have been hurt to the extent that they were hurt? I ask the same question of the Desmond Family. Knowing what I know today allows me to grow, thrive and enjoy life, had the two of us been working towards his control on the rage within him would his family and him still be alive and healing while moving toward a fulfilling future? The only way to answer these questions is to change the past which we cannot do. But we can change the future. In the next few weeks several Not For Profits focused on veterans mental health are beginning a conversation. A conversation we hope will end with a step forward in funding and organizing a peer’s support initiative that will accomplish just that.

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Brothers and Sisters, … and Veterans?

Brothers and Sisters, … and Veterans?

Even from the most grievous loss comes hope. Twenty years ago I lost 4 children secondary to the trauma of military service. At the time I went into battle mode trying to stop the damage from occurring to them and to myself. Being as damaged as I already was, it didn’t accomplish much in the short term. I had to make choices to accept the losses and focus on what I could accomplish at the time. After 3 years I had regained my oldest son Lynden, 2 years later I was called to rescue my oldest daughter Monique. Only to lose her a second time 2 years later, she was also badly damaged from my military service and the unprecedented and over reactive response of Child and Family services. It took another ten years after that to restore that particular loss and restore a relationship with her. Interestingly enough it is that relationship that would become the catalyst in restoring my relationship with my youngest two children Jordan and Camille. This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of walking Monique down the aisle and giving her away at her wedding. This is the first time I actually felt good letting one of my children go. Several years ago her and her brother Lynden with the help of their step sister Emily reached out to my youngest son. The outreach was not to be, as there were still a lot of 3rd party interventions keeping these siblings apart.  I have two children from one relationship and another two children from a second relationship. They are brothers and sisters that have never been allowed to connect share or love each other. Nor were they ever allow a relationship with their father. None of which was ever their choice or mine.


Despite this, social media connects much of what we seem to lose track of, despite some of its negative impact on intimate relationships. In our case it helped restore a family. My younger son Jordan took a chance and reached out for help to meet his sister Monique on this very joyful occasion and it was clearly not an easy thing for him to do. We had a few awkward moments and conversations, and I had to curb my desire to grab a hold of my son and not let him go. But we also laughed a lot and cried a little. Much the way I felt so many years ago, only this time I had all those feelings plus a few new ones stewing within my damaged brain. The weekend itself was a flurry of activity with family coming and going, late nights and travel. Not the most ideal environment to be meeting someone for the first time in 20 years. I can only imagine the experience from his point of view. He was 3 at the time he was taken and has no memory of anyone or any event, but everyone he met family wise knew him and greeted him like an old loss love (which he was). Then there is his sister Camille. I have still not met her but a few days ago she reached out and asked to get to know me and her brother and sister. The process will begin again, and by the grace of her brother we will be more skilled this time around when we do meet. Perhaps something less chaotic than a wedding and a little more relaxed with more time to admire and share with each other.


The experience was not unlike jumping into events and training with other veterans over the past few years which I had done with Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur or True Patriot Love. That brotherhood I trained and lived with for 17 years in the military and was separated from for pretty much the same length of time brought very similar emotions to bare. When I saw my colleagues Brian, John, Dave, Kelley, Craig (but to name a few) for the first time in 25 years I felt very overwhelmed. It was like a part of me that had been missing for an eternity had just been returned. Meeting my son and talking with my daughter via text messenger was very much the same. Military veterans need to remain connected with each other. I never understood this until recently or to the extent that we need this extended community to heal and convalesce.


Yesterday while texting with my youngest Camille; I set up a messenger group for her and her brothers and sisters (and myself) to get to know each other. I left a single message “Let’s start getting to know each other” I then left and was engaged in a course for a few hours that evening, when I returned 20 plus messages popped up one after another in rapid fire as the conversation loaded. For the first time as a parent I knew what it felt like to sit back and watch all your children play together while you sat back in a chair and watched. My children had never played together (at least not all four together) in their lives. Well, technically they still haven’t as it was only on messenger. But the banter is very reminiscent of my own brothers and sisters when we gather, and at the moment I find it hard to sit still knowing that the day we gather physically will come very soon.


Brian and I got together just last Friday and sat on my porch enjoying a cigar and catching up on each other’s success and failures. It was the same nervous “I can’t wait” feeling for him to arrive. It was the same meeting Kelley, Dave and John up in Ottawa, I guess we really don’t know what these lifelong relationships mean for us until we experience moments like this. Old men gather to tell stories on benches in the park and old ladies collect to gossip in the kitchens (or so we picture in our minds) for just this reason. To know where we came from, whom we are and where we are going. And as much as we need to do this as parents, brothers and sisters, we need also to do this as veterans.

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