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Pascal Lacoste
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Pascal Lacoste
2010-11-30 16:52
Thank you so much for allowing me to appear before you. I greatly appreciate this opportunity and can confirm that, by simply having undertaken this study, your committee is bringing a lot of hope to veterans who are suffering in silence at home.
I was fortunate to be able to serve my country for 14 years. Had I not been injured during a mission, I would still be serving our great country. The last mission I had the honour of serving in was in East Timor; I was there as an infantry soldier in an airborne division. I was injured in the field. When I arrived at the Quebec City airport, nobody was there waiting for me. And yet, I was repatriated from Australia for medical reasons. Let me tell you that I quickly understood what it feels like going from a hero to a zero when I arrived at the Quebec City airport and saw no one there to greet me.
That led to a lot of distress, both physical and psychological. We know that soldiers think of themselves as the strongest of the strong, those who are admired, feared and respected. Once we become a problem for medical reasons, we do not feel like speaking out because we will have to face both the judgment of our peers and of the chain of command, which will consider us as soldiers who no longer want to work. Unfortunately, I can confirm that is the reaction we face.
Despite my many problems, both physical and psychological, I went to the armed forces for help. They told me that if I asked for too much, they would force me to leave, because the army did not need problem cases in its ranks. So you either put up or leave. That does not make you want to ask for help; therefore, you suck it in and try to keep on marching to the beat.
Later on, when you come before the Department of Veterans Affairs, you are asked to prove that your condition is service-related, because there is nothing written down in your file. No, there is nothing in the file, because no one wants to say that they are sick. The moment you are declared sick, you are no longer a hero, but rather a zero.
I even went to the Department of Veterans Affairs to say that I needed psychological help, that I was afraid to hurt myself. A bureaucrat looked me in the eyes and told me—excuse the term—that I was a welfare bum in uniform and that I only wanted a bigger pay cheque. He told me to leave him alone.
Imagine that you are a highly capable soldier and that, within nine days' time, you fall physically and mentally ill. You no longer understand who you are and you need to muster all your courage to admit that you have medical issues. Admitting you have post-traumatic stress disorder is not an easy thing to do. I admit that I have a psychological illness. It is extremely hard to admit that to yourself. Not only do I admit that, but I have gone to look for help; but the army has told me that my stress is related to my childhood.
When I then go to the Department of National Defence, the bureaucrats there treat me like someone who wants a bigger welfare cheque and imply that my uniform is but a disguise. That is enough to keep you from returning to ask for help. You just feel like staying home and not asking for anything because you are made to feel like a costly nuisance.
People wonder why soldiers do not ask for help. It is because they are frowned upon; they are only seen as an expense. When I signed up, I did not think how much it would cost me; I gave everything that I could. I was pleased to do so. If I had to do it all over again, I would because I love my country. When I was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, I had the honour of receiving care. Things were quite complicated. It took over three years to recognize that I had post-traumatic stress disorder. My spouse was the one who supported me during that time. When you hear people say that family is important, that is so true.
When you enter the armed forces, as long as you are operational, you are commended for being good and strong and told to keep it up, and that your superiors have confidence in you and give you new challenges. What I love about the army is that they give you as much as you can ask for, and they will keep on asking for more as long as you can give it to them. That is highly motivating. But the day you become ill, you are told not to bother them, and they no longer want to hear from you. Therefore, the love you once felt in your work now comes from your social network.
But you have to be careful, because there are limits to what your social network and family can give. My spouse was diagnosed with burn-out, because she was the only one who took care of me, while the armed forces and the Department of Veterans Affairs told me that I did not have a problem and that my stress was childhood-related. During my childhood, I never used a C7 or sniper gun.
Finally, I was hospitalized at Ste. Anne's Hospital, after my spouse had been diagnosed as suffering from burn-out because she had taken care of me. She was a sound-minded woman, an ambulance attendant by profession. So she already had medical knowledge.
I was hospitalized in the only hospital for Canada's veterans, where there were only four beds for people in my generation. They only accept what they refer to as nice cases for these four beds. If you have any addictions to drugs, alcohol or medication, they do not want you. If they feel that you are aggressive, they do not want to hospitalize you in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. So the only places where you can go are the civilian hospitals. However, the staff working in civilian hospitals are afraid of us when we arrive because we have been labelled as individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
I told them that I was terrified, that I didn't feel like hurting anyone, that I was a man who was essentially gentle, but that I was afraid. I asked them to help me. They asked me what my problem was. I answered that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. They confined me to my room, where I was kept in a bed and injected with tranquilizers. And yet, I had done absolutely nothing, I had not been violent in any way whatsoever. I had voluntarily asked for assistance. When you ask for help, you are confined to your room, so that does not make you want to ask for assistance again. All you feel like doing is to remain silent, to shut up.
When I was hospitalized in the veterans' hospital for physical problems, I was told that I required too much care, that I could not be given any help washing myself, etc. I replied that the hospital looked after Second World War veterans. I have the greatest respect for them, but why were they entitled to such care, but not me? I was told that these veterans were from another generation, that they had these entitlements and that young veterans had others, but not the same. I suppose that the bullets that whistled by our ears did not hurt as much as those that whistled by theirs. I have a great deal of respect for them, but I do believe that one serves one's country in accordance with one's generation, in accordance with the place where our country sends us. Why should we be treated any differently from them when we need care? Why should we beg for this care?
Despite all of this, I transferred my passion to my spouse, who joined the Canadian Forces as a reservist. She served in Afghanistan. She came back in November 2009. I supported her during 10 months. Throughout this time, when we called the Canadian Forces to inform them that Sabrina was not feeling well, that she was experiencing anxiety attacks, they told me that I knew what was happening, that I should support her as she went through these difficulties, that I was strong and that I should continue. After supporting her for six months, despite my physical and mental state of health, my spouse and I were both suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Supporting a spouse is already very demanding. In my situation, I was unable to do this, but I did manage because of my love for her.
Six months later, Sabrina tried to commit suicide. I sacrificed my physical and mental health for my country, and I almost sacrificed my wife for my country. That is a heavy price to pay. When I called the Canadian Forces to request assistance and to say that I was the first responder and that I was trying to resuscitate my spouse, I was told to go to the civilian hospital and that they could not do anything for me. So I went there.
Once at the hospital, I called the commanding officer of her regiment, because she was a reservist. Earlier, the ombudsman said that this was part of the commanding officer's job. She did go to the hospital, but the only thing she told me was that she was restricted to making suggestions. It was up to the Department of Veterans Affairs to decide who should be hospitalized. My spouse was unstable and she was not entitled to be hospitalized in the only veterans' hospital in Canada. She had to be put into a civilian hospital. In the civilian hospital, we were told that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and that they did not know what to do for her and that she should be hospitalized in a veterans' hospital. Where were we to go? Nobody wants to look after us. I brought my spouse back home and I took care of her as best I could until she was granted the great privilege of being admitted to Ste. Anne's Hospital, the only hospital for veterans in Canada. It is too late, I am no longer able to look after her. I had to leave her. We told each other that, although we loved each other a great deal, neither of us were in any state of health to be able to look after each other.
Sabrina came back from Afghanistan in November of last year. Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is still studying how to help us. I'm sorry, it is too late.
Sabrina has gone back to her family, in the Beauce, and I am alone at home.
I am not the type of person who complains for fun. I can attest that I have had a great deal of time to think about real solutions.
I have been fighting with the Department of Veterans Affairs in order to receive treatment for 11 years—this member of Parliament helped me tremendously with my file and I would like to thank him—and this is the first time that I have been asked, as a veteran, what I think would be good for me. I really appreciate this opportunity as I have been wanting to do this for 11 years.
Why does the department simply not ask us this question? It is very simple: we would like to be treated like human beings.
Some people say that going to war is the greatest act of love one can show to a person as you are saying that I am prepared to die for you. When you come back to your country and you ask for help, after having been prepared to make the greatest sacrifice possible, you are told that there is no money for the "welfare recipients" in uniform who are after a bigger cheque.
I even asked government officials whether or not I could sign a form saying that I was not entitled to a pension, but that I was entitled to care. If there is a money problem, what do I need to do in order to restore my dignity? I am still waiting for the answer.
I have been submitting requests to the Department of Veterans Affairs for more than 11 years and it is still studying how it can help us.
Given these circumstances, do you believe that soldiers feel like saying that they too are ill? No. The person who says this will be dragged into the mud. The law of silence prevails. You must never say that you are sick, because you will lose your job. No one will want to hire you if you are suffering from post-traumatic stress. You must never make this mistake. And this is the message that we pass amongst ourselves.
Do you want to know the truth? You must give us an opportunity to speak. If a child speaks and is punished every time he opens his mouth, he will no longer speak.
That is all. Thank you.
Linda Lagimonière
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Linda Lagimonière
2010-11-25 16:38
Good afternoon. My name is Linda Lagimonière and I am the mother of Private Frédéric Couture. Frédéric had an accident on December 16, 2006. He stepped on a mine. He was then sent home. The army looked after that. I have to say that, when he came back, it was quite the scene. There were soldiers everywhere. They took Frédéric to the Montreal General Hospital, not to Quebec City. That was a first for the army. Frédéric then spent eight months at home. On November 14, 2007, Frédéric committed suicide. He died in my arms. That is very hard, I can tell you.
A little less than a year later, a commission of inquiry was held. That is when I found out that Frédéric had tried to kill himself over there. The army never told us that. We also found out that he had never received any psychological help, except for a 15-minute session with a 20-year-old psychologist who was just starting out in the profession. Physically, Frédéric received the best care possible. Psychologically, he received none.
William Maguire
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William Maguire
2010-11-23 15:32
I was up here in March. I recognize some faces and see some new faces. As I think I stated in March, you're going to hear it in a soldier's language. I don't beat around the bush. I shoot from the gut. I have nothing to prove to anybody.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking at an individual who has suffered with the dreaded affliction known as PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. I have been suffering with this mental disorder for the past 36 years of my life of 62 years. For the past four years, I have been under the care of medical professionals after being diagnosed with the disease in April 2006.
PTSD is a dreaded disease that one can be suffering with while looking completely normal to anyone who does not know what the veteran is fighting with on a daily basis. In other words, we all look normal. You walk in and see me and think, “There's nothing wrong with that guy. He's normal.” Well, I'm not normal, not mentally anyways.
One of the biggest factors that we constantly endure is the knowledge that once a veteran is diagnosed and the word gets out, then we are looked at as an enigma and are treated with distrust, not to be put into an area of responsibility. Basically we are treated like one with leprosy.
To try to cope and hide the fact that there was something wrong with me, I put on a phony act and tried my hardest to socialize, but in the end it all came crashing down, which damn near destroyed me. Many veterans cannot handle this daily battle with oneself and completely withdraw into a world of depression and what we refer to as “bunkering in”. That is, a veteran goes into his basement or his little room, and he stays there and will not come out. He becomes completely reclusive, not wanting to socialize or be bothered by anyone. There is a complete social breakdown.
As for me, I have been suffering from massive headaches, nightmares on a regular basis, bouts of anger to the point that I have scared individuals, frustration in not knowing what was going on with me, anxiety over having to carry out the simplest tasks, and an unwillingness to fully trust anyone close to me--i.e., at work or at home. I was always on guard, keeping my shield up at all times, constantly vigilant as to what was going on around me. I had social misbehaviour and run-ins with authority. These things are common in men suffering from PTSD. I use the word men because I have never worked with women with PTSD.
These conditions manifested themselves directly when I returned from Cyprus in December 1974, after a United Nations tour with the Canadian Airborne Regiment. After my first marriage broke up in 1982--I had been married for 10 years--my parting wife stated to me that she still loved me but did not know me anymore. Another statement she made was, “You are not the same man I married since coming home from Cyprus in 1974, and at times you actually scare me, as I do not know what to expect from you.” This is another one of the things that we have to face--the family support system, and loss of that system.
After returning from Somalia in 1993, I remarried, hoping beyond hope that I could find normalcy with the woman who I now love. This too fell to the wayside, leaving me in a daily battle with my conditions, which I call the roller-coaster ride of emotions: up one minute and down the next.
Presently, I am still suffering through many of these conditions, even though I am seeing a psychologist on a regular basis. Because of the constant struggle to find meaning in life while suffering from the black dog of depression--that is what I call it--my physical being has taken a beating faster than what I or the medical professionals predicted.
I may be wrong in making this assessment, but I blame the never-ending cycle of emotional ups and downs caused by PTSD for my failing health. To try to find some meaning in all of this, and to make a commitment to myself--in others words, for a get-out-of-the-house project--I volunteered to join the OSISS, occupational stress injury support service, as a peer helper. It is this experience with OSISS, of which I am no longer a member, plus taking on a workload of veterans on my own that I now draw upon.
I did my best, giving 100%-plus to help my fellow veterans until I went through what we call the burnout phase, something all peer helpers like me will go through, because you get too involved with the man that you're working with and you get burned out.
It was during these episodes of burnout that I suffered severe depression and a deep bunkering in period. As you can imagine, this took its toll not only on me but also on my relationship with my loving wife, which was already at the breaking point. It was during these black dog times that I completely cut myself off from the outside world, missing important medical appointments and basically cutting back on my duties to help my fellow veterans.
This part really upset me, as I consider it my duty to keep in contact with them. That's the old thing about soldiering. You help your buddies, and in return they help you. When you can't do that anymore, then it falls on your shoulders: you've let them down. We've all gone through it.
These episodes would last for weeks to months at a time. While I have suffered through these horrible times in my life, my loving wife has constantly stood by my side, even though I would spend days in my bunker, not washing, shaving, or changing my clothes, and only going upstairs to eat every now and again. She has endured quite a lot over my illness through the years, and has even threatened to leave me on a few occasions. I would not blame her in the least if she did, as I think she would be better off without me.
As time passed and my condition worsened, she kept cutting back on her hours at work so she could be with me more and more as she was concerned that I was going to kill myself. When she could not cope anymore at work, she decided to quit her job to be with me at all times. Even though this was a great boon to me, it cost us dearly financially, but we manage. This is more stress put upon us. Besides all this, I have not been able to sexually satisfy her for over 10 years. You can imagine what stress this has put on our relationship.
I see my life as one of constant pain and suffering. My life as I knew it is in ruins, and at times I feel that there is no sense in carrying on under these relentless circumstances. I have to admit and I say without malice that PTSD has taken a great toll on me and on hundreds of other veterans.
This is what I have experienced over the past four years.
First, PTSD will ruin the veteran's family and social life until they turn to addictions such as alcohol and prescribed or illicit drugs, gambling to the point where they are no longer in control of their finances, or dangerous sexual overactivity that may turn to prostitution. Or they might become workaholics. By carrying out these manifestations, they ruin any chance of getting self-respect or battling the effects of PTSD.
Also, I must state that when someone is suffering from one or more of these addictions, it makes the diagnosis of PTSD more difficult, as the person must first be treated for these addictions. This period of assessment is very stressful to the member, as it will more than likely ruin his marriage, if he is married, or any relationship that he is in. With the loss of family support, which is critical for the veteran's recovery process, he will more than likely end up as a recluse or come to the point of attempting suicide.
If he can maintain family support, which is hard and stressful not only to the veteran but to the family as well, then he has a much better chance of living with the effects of PTSD. On the other hand, if a member is single, then the battle is waged on a different scale--that is to say, it is harder on him to seek help and he will probably turn to other means such as addictions. If he is not fortunate enough to get medical help immediately, he will normally self-destruct.
Because of the constant mistrust by veterans towards authority and the banishment they feel by the system in place, they will rebuke any help and form themselves into splinter groups to seek advice and help from one another. This is what I refer to as a speeding car going down a one-way street--a very dangerous street at that. Instead of gaining help from one another, all they are doing is putting their lives in jeopardy by not seeking proper medical assistance. Meeting in one's basement or a garage does not solve anything, especially when they do most of their discussions over a couple of cases of beer or illegal tobacco. All they end up achieving is more anger, frustration, mistrust, and the threat of oncoming deep depression. I have personally witnessed these occasions twice, and must admit that it totally shocked the hell out of me.
I have personally attended two group sessions held by my psychologist, which have helped me considerably to further understand the effects and causes of PTSD. These, as well as one-on-one sessions, have taught me how to cope during times of undue stress and anxiety, and have taught me the triggers that set me off. These sessions have considerably helped numerous fellow veterans to try to live a normal life. I will not go as far as to state that they are a magic cure, because they are not designed as such, but they will further benefit the veteran in their daily battles with PTSD and help them put trust in one another. The veteran can only get out of the program what they are willing to put into it. In other words, what I've put into it is what I receive. If I don't want to meet the psychologist halfway, he will not meet me. Then it's a waste of time for both individuals.
Many veterans have been refused help from the medical system because many doctors and psychologists refuse to take us on as patients. They do not know how to treat us, nor do they understand the effects PTSD can cause on the human body. Training is also a big issue. By their refusal, veterans feel even more isolated and mistrustful toward the system. This is one of the main causes of mistrust. If I go looking for help and I can't find it, I don't trust anybody. Then we go to the splinter groups. It's like you're on a speeding car going down a fast hill with a brick wall in front of you. There's no way out of it.
One other major factor that we all suffer from is trying to be understood and properly cared for by a respectful system. That can have very serious effects on the veteran if not found in time. Without proper medical facilities and care, we are basically doomed.
Suicide is on the rise, and I again refer to my own personal experience in stating this. During the last group session I put forward a question to my fellow veterans in attendance. When I asked how many in the group had contemplated suicide, seven out of eight put up their hands. When I asked how many had plans to carry it through, four put up their hands. When I asked how many had tried, three put up their hands. I was one of the three. I have personally suffered through five suicides plus numerous attempts. This has taken its toll on me, as can be well imagined.
Before closing I would like to state that PTSD—and this is coming from a veteran—cannot be cured, but it can be controlled if caught in the early stages. I was not lucky enough to be properly treated at an early stage, even though I requested help back in 1985 and the early 1990s. I knew in 1985 that there was something wrong with me, and my biggest fear was that I was going crazy. That is the first thing a veteran will think when he starts misbehaving and becoming a social outcast. He thinks, “I'm going nuts. I'm the only one out there suffering.”
When I went to the base surgeon in CFB Shearwater in 1985 and explained my concerns about loss of control and nightmares, the medical doctor stated that it was all in my head and that over time I would heal myself.
Well, here I sit, and I am far from being healed.
Signed, Mr. William D. Maguire.
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