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.