The Mefloquine Debate

The Mefloquine Debate

This article has been brewing in my mind for quite some time. Although I wanted to write it, I didn’t want to be an angry veteran while writing it (which at times can be hard to do). I have lost a lot of friends to Mefloquin toxicity, currently being coined Quinism by Dr. Remington Nevin a Vermont-based physician epidemiologist and expert consultant in the adverse effects of anti malarial drugs, who is also a veteran and victim of Quinism. I lost one friend as recently as Jan 2, 2018 just a couple of weeks ago, although not a close friend we marched together on Parliament Hill in Sept last year asking for the Somalia inquiry to be reopen in order to allow testimony on Mefloquin. Although she was not military she was a warrior and a fierce one at that. She and a few others were instrumental in taking the fight of the veterans into Canadian culture. But first let me go back to the beginning.

In late 1992 the Canadian Government sought (or was coerced depending on who you listen two) to approve for use in Somalia the anti malarial drug Mefloquin, the approval process included the need for a study on the drug, and that’s where the controversy truly begins. I was the pharmacist representative for the Airborne Regiment, which means I was responsible to order, stock and pack all medical supplies for the operation. This is where the first oddity begins, at no time did any order, record or accounting of the anti malarial drug Mefloquine ever enter into our records for procurement, distribution or administration to any individual or unit at our level. In fact it wasn’t until we returned to Canada and the Regimental Medical Officer had us place on everyone’s file a letter stating that we had been exposed to Mefloquin during the operation that Mefloquin found any notation on any of our medical documents.

Three months into the operation, we had at least one psychotic break, a murder and if I am correct 2 attempted suicides. Yet despite this and from what we have gathered so far (that we were the drug trial for approval of Mefloquin on the Canadian Market) Mefloquin was approved for use in early 1993 while we were still on operation and without supporting clinical trial evidence. The media circus that followed our ill fated mission painted us as Racist Neo Nazi Skin Heads, who had always been out of control and should have been shut down as a unit decades ago. And in fact there had been incidences in the Regiments past as there has been in all military regiments’ history, when you train men to kill, expect them to at times reflect poor morality. In Somalia, the Italians’ wiped out several hundred Somali’s at a time for trying to enter their compound. India’s army conducted summary executions on the spot for any transgressions against them, and our American Cousins had several incidences a month of illegal shootings. This is not to justify our actions, but to place into perspective, the one transgression against a Somalian that was the dismantling of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Truth is unless there is a study on the effects of Mefloquin as stated in the Somalia inquiry we will never know. This is an excerpt from the Somailia Inquiry on the use of Mefloquin from page 3 paragraph 7;

If mefloquine did in fact cause or contribute to some of the misbehaviour that is the subject of this Inquiry, CF personnel who were influenced by the drug might be partly or totally excused for their behaviour. However, for reasons described more fully in Chapter 41, we are not able to reach a final conclusion on this issue. We can offer only general observations about the decision to prescribe mefloquine for personnel deployed to Somalia: 32

Although this is a small amount of what is in the chapter, I encourage you to read it all for yourself, Chapter 41 states;

We cannot say, however, whether DND took adequate precautions to ensure that persons susceptible to severe psychiatric disorders did not receive mefloquine, since even in 1992 it was known that mefloquine should not be prescribed to such individuals.

3. More recent medical information suggests that severe adverse effects from mefloquine used as a prophylactic are not as rare as first thought, but views on this point conflict, and further investigation may be necessary.

4. Mefloquine use could have been a factor in the abnormal behaviour of some troops in Somalia. However, one cannot begin to determine whether mefloquine contributed to the behaviour of the individuals in question without answers to the following questions:

A list of questions then continues that I did not include due to space, but you should read them yourself as this list of questions conclude with;

It is evident that further investigation is warranted before any firm conclusions about the role of mefloquine can be drawn. 33

The inquiry continues to outline the lack of cooperation at senior levels as the cause of further compounded adversity in reaching a conclusion with this observation from the inquiry not from the Airborne Regiment, but from the Department of National Defense, and those calling the shots here in Canada during the operation;

However, we must also record with regret that on many occasions the testimony of witnesses was characterized by inconsistency, improbability, implausibility, evasiveness, selective recollection, half- truths, and plain lies. Indeed, on some issues we encountered what can only be described as a wall of silence. When several witnesses behave in this manner, the wall of silence is evidently a strategy of calculated deception. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that many of the witnesses who displayed these shortcomings were officers, non-commissioned officers, and senior civil servants – individuals sworn to respect and promote the values of leadership, courage, integrity, and accountability.

So with all this uncertainty in the air, here is where the loss of this magnificent warrior I mentioned at the beginning comes in. Unless we know for certain the effects of Quinism the symptoms will continually be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or mental illness. If you read my article last week, Coming Out Of The Cold, the degree of ineffective treatment surrounding PTSD (incidentally the study I quote is a study on Civilian PTSD not military) can be further compounded, by treating Quinism as mental illness and not poisoning. My friends roll was critical in having this drug investigated because she and others like her show the exact same signs and symptoms as us military people, but unlike us they have never been in a combat zone to be traumatized. They received the same symptoms of us from taking the same medication while on vacation in some swanky resort. Yet like us she will be called a suicide from mental illness as opposed to a victim of poisoning from an untested illegally licensed drug.

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Coming In From The Cold

Coming In From The Cold

Twenty five years ago, Dec 26, 1992 to be exact I left Canada to “Enforce Famine Relief” in Somalia, life would never be “normal” again.  Twenty years ago Dec 27, 1997 to be exact I was medically released from the military with injuries that today remain unhealed. What followed my release, I initially described as gross incompetence. I often related it to a lack of knowledge and expertise on the part of the “experts” in the medical health field. PTSD was a new problem for Canada and we were ill prepared to handle it. Today Twenty five years later, not much has changed by way of medical treatment for the malady of veterans.  A presentation from a study done at McMaster University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences on PTSD was done back in 2010. Shifting through all the data and presentation’s information a few very glaring facts started becoming clear.

According to this study (which is a peer reviewed and fact based study) 50% of all PTSD studied is chronic, of that 50% effective reduction of symptoms only occurs in 11-36% of those studied, a combination of prescription medication and therapies producing the higher percentage numbers of improvement amongst those studied. Also noted is that of this 11-36%, 50% of them are non compliant with taking prescription medication and or therapies within 2-3 years due to drug interactions and side effects. That leaves roughly 15-18% finding any significant relief from medical treatment of PTSD long term. Or more simply put 82-85% of PTSD sufferers are found to not have any significant reduction of symptoms for any significant length of time through medical treatment.  Not very encouraging is it. Imagine my shock when at the end of the presentation it was suggest that the most productive solution offered was to find better measures to keep patients in therapy and on their medications longer.

Back in the summer of 1998, I sat down with the Surgeon General of Canada along with Psychiatrist Dr Robert Oxlade, my roll was as a patient advocate. I had had severe reactions to improper medication which cost me my family and career. Dr Oxlade wanted a longer in-patient program to properly evaluate PTSD without medicating the patient prior to treatment for evaluation. He rightly felt that medicating at the family practitioners level before clinical diagnosis was problematic because once medicated the initial symptoms had been altered and any diagnosis is based on a medicated and altered state of mind. He also felt that SSRI anti depressants were contra indicated for PTSD (one of these is what I reacted to). In addition to this he was responsible for introducing me to the now hot topic of Mefloquin Toxicity and how it mimics PTSD (another story). Following our presentation we were thanked and left with the clear impression that the Surgeon General at the time (who had just receive 3 million in funding for an outpatient treatment program) felt that the military then was on the right track for PTSD treatment. Fast forward almost 20 years and little has changed.

Remember that study from 2010, 2 years ago the Veterans House team did a presentation to the current Surgeon General and his staff on our concept for peer supported healing. For the record this presentation went a lot different than the first and we were well received. We left challenging each other on our assumptions and with a mutual respect for what we were trying to accomplish. The Surgeon Generals comment forced us to rewrite our entire business plan and for the better. We learnt a lot from this encounter. Likewise we were able to challenge the Surgeon General and his staff on the medical community’s failure to address the physical trauma occurring in the brain due to Cortisol release from PTSD.  Today’s treatment protocols treat only the symptoms of PTSD not the physical trauma to the brain, despite the medical community’s acknowledgment of the physical trauma to the brain.

Another admission from this meeting was the stark realization that medical practitioners see the McMaster study as problematic. Everyone at the table at the second meeting was in full knowledge of the study and although none would call the study flawed, they did refer to it as problematic.  In fact it is problematic, as it shows rather clearly that practitioners who have invested hundreds and thousands of dollars into treatment modalities are so invested in the modality itself, that they fail to recognize that it does not serve the best interest of their PTSD client and rather than admitting that and seeking a better solution, they conclude that better efforts be made to keep patients in a treatment protocol that is relatively ineffective. This is often justified by the position that any reduction in the symptoms of PTSD is improvement.

Veterans House is looking to provide insight on this very problem by researching and providing direct feed back to practitioners in real time with our partners. Not on the medical treatment, or ignoring its value either, but rather on peer supported healing. Every trauma victim must at sometime rehabilitate from their trauma or remain crippled and PTSD has as much physical basis of injury as any other trauma.  A stroke victim must re-learn how to walk, talk and communicate effectively. A hockey player with a concussion is often back on the ice scoring goals at the top of their game within 6 months to a year. Isn’t it time we taught PTSD trauma victims how to retrain and relearn the skills they possessed prior to the physical trauma injury of PTSD in a safe environment that isn’t a lock up or mental health ward that has a proven history of up to 85% inefficiency at promoting recovery?



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W.O.L.F. Academy

W.O.L.F. Academy

A couple guys I have just barely gotten to know are Dwayne MacDougal and Derek Anaquod. They are two of the force behind The W.O.L.F. Academy presently running a 5 day retreat that teaches soldiers a proven set of principles to take back control in their lives. These guys are fiercely following the leave no soldier behind principle. Much of what these men echo in conversation could easily have been my own words verbatim on peer supported healing and the need for a comprehensive approach to retraining. In their own words “We process the student’s result in these challenges and the student learns to create a new ‘Way Of Life Forever’ or W.O.L.F. They will come out of The W.O.L.F. Academy with the means to set goals and achieve them using the following principles: IDENTITY, STRUCTURE, DISCIPLINE, CHALLENGE and PACK.” It’s also very reminiscent of ex NHLer Doug Smith’s The Trauma Code and his 10 principles. I’m a big fan of Doug’s and I am proud to list him as a friend and mentor. For these two men to enter into a conversation which had already been initiated between 4 other Not For Profit’s and present themselves completely in line and in tune with the conversation and beliefs is no small feat.

They tell me their Academy instructors have gone through major hardships in their lives and have all found different methods to overcome their personal issues. They utilize their experience, knowledge, motivation, training and fundamentals to help guide others into becoming people that are focused, productive, confident and disciplined.  I know exactly what this means, it is what I myself had to do to “recover”. My entire day, as I have mentioned in previous articles, is a set of disciplines from; diet, routines and even physical disciplines. Doug calls it performance driven; we old school military guys call it drive. I still picture my old Company Sargent Major (CSM) St Jacque at times when I get out of bed in the morning (even though I no longer shave daily) standing with an expectation of morning inspection. My morning routine does not and cannot happen without my being motivated to advance my broken brain. This mental picture forces me to do the essentials so I may continue to move forward.

Even here Dwayne and Derek’s words echo my own experience, “We develop complex training exercises that challenge soldiers to grow their minds mentally and train their body physically upon completion of the Academy”. Better yet is their understanding that we (the recovering and partly recovered) need to stay involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters by bringing challenges and training to them. How else can we expect someone in crisis and trauma to focus if we are not ready to meet them where they are?  It is W.O.L.F.’s stated objective that through patience, leadership and guidance, their goal is to make every student part of the PACK for years to come and to one day see these changed soldiers take much larger roles within W.O.L.F. and in their overall lives.

From the very first time my brother Michael and I spoke about the concept of Veterans House this very idea was the core belief, as it was with Rally Point, Warrior’s Landing and Professional Insights/Muscle lines. Those that have received healing must be enabled to help others to heal. Failure to do this will cripple the healing process and limit the full extent of recovery. I believe this is the core belief of our group. And again I state openly that as astonished as I am that we (all traveling different rivers) find ourselves intertwined in such harmony, I am equally unsurprised. With such similarities of trauma, background and experiences, we all know at our core that instinctively these beliefs and activities must be nurtured and explored in order for any of our kind to recover from the trauma we have been exposed to.

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Muscle Lines / Professional Insights

Muscle Lines / Professional Insights

I first met Rob Froher in Saskatchewan at the University of Regina a few years ago; I had the extreme fortune of being admitted to Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur’s Entrepreneurial Boot Camp, one branch of the Prince’s Charities.  Rob was also on the course and the two of us hit it off almost immediately.  We were both very health minded and hard core dedicated to self improvement.  Rob served 25 years in the Navy as a naval communicator during which he used military style training to maintain his own fitness and that of his subordinates. Despite the distance between us, we kept in touch and up to speed with each other’s activities.

Rob is one of those highly skilled and empathetic BCRPA certified trainers. His expertise has been accumulated over a life time of personal fitness and now he is turning his attention to helping others achieve success over their fitness challenges and their limiting beliefs. He has used fitness, nutrition and life coaching to conquer depression and anxiety and is excited about sharing his victories and insights from his past with others. Through innovation and constant learning he brings a very high level of service to his clients. Rob likes using his skills to alleviate a host of ailments including; inflammation, depression, anxiety, moodiness and deficient immune systems.  So when Rob mentioned he had found “a guy” I had to talk to I wasn’t completely surprised.

The ‘guy” was Scott Mitchell of Professional Insights, in Duncan B.C.  Scott possesses a broad background in forestry, corrections, employment and social services, and is known as a person of integrity amongst other professionals in his community. Scott specializes in connecting with the environment through intentional exercises designed to mirror nature as a part of our being. He believes that deepening the awareness of the components and essences of the natural ecosystem (as metaphor) creates conditioning for establishing a clear vision of who we are. There have been a few people who have brought to my attention the newly evolving practice of Eco Therapies, Scott is not the first. However, from my conversations with Scott over the past few months, I know him to be as passionate as a man can be at helping others to regain what they have lost through traumas.

These two men (and a few others I am just beginning to know) are the force behind what will be the 3rd of the Not for Profits (NFP) to have Joined with Veterans House to break the stagnation of status quo. Their NFP is still in its infancy and will be fully formed within the next couple of months. I want to release the name it excites me so much, but I would be getting ahead of myself as there is still much work that needs to be finished first, and since it’s not ‘my’ NFP, the honour of the launch belongs to those that build it. Who would have thought that a business course a few years ago would bring these brothers together in this manner? For the longest time I often felt I was in this alone, even when I had a team working with me. It’s that disconnect that we submit ourselves to, believing that we need to drop our heads and muscle through it alone, that can sometimes prevent us from achieving our ultimate goals.  These men continue to serve to me as a constant reminder that we are not alone; nor should we proceed alone.  We are connected and in this unity we are strengthened.

I feel it is almost an uncanny coincidence that this emerging group of like minded men and women, brothers and sisters from across Canada, would share a vision so closely linked and in tune with each other’s beliefs. The truth is when people this dedicated to making a positive impact in mental health set out to accomplish their goals; the end result can only be that they would naturally find each other and unite as one. In fact it is a mirror of nature as Scott would put it; large paradigm shifts always begin with like minded people posing questions and coming up with solutions. You can learn more about these guys in the links below, as for that NFP name…


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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. 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 and 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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