Understanding the invisibly wounded soldier

On November 11 we observe Remembrance Day in Canada. In other countries it is known as Armistice Day. It commemorates the signing of the agreement that ended the First World War at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. That was supposed to be the “war to end all wars” and of course we know it wasn’t. Sadly there has been another World War and there have been many other conflicts in Korea, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world. Too many young men and women have died; many more have been injured physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They are still suffering with those invisible wounds, the ones that have gone by different names and most recently known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Too many have taken their own lives because they couldn’t bear the pain any longer.

Just before Remembrance Day in 2017 I had the honour to speak with a former member of Canada’s military Andrew Godin about his PTSD.  He told me that although things are getting better, there is still a long way to go to get soldiers the help they need. 

 From my conversation with Andrew I wrote an article for The Napanee Guide that I hope will help people to better understand the invisibly wounded soldier. Here is that article:

The Invisible Soldier: Many veterans living with the invisible wound, PTSD.

Published November 9, 2017: Napanee Guide, Postmedia Network

Napanee resident Andrew Godin was officially released from the Canadian military in 2006 but he lived with his invisible wounds from his years of service starting in 2003, and he still lives with those wounds. Godin, like many veterans, lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and by telling his story, he hopes he helps others living with it too.

“We are getting better at getting over the hurdle of talking about PTSD, and treatments are getting better too, but there is a lot of work to do, and some men and women will still not talk about it, because they don’t want to jeopardize their careers,” Godin said.

After his diagnosis, he said that he was offered a very different job than the one he’d had as the Office Production Manager and Warrant Officer with the Mapping and Charting division—a new job that he felt he could not do. So he opted to leave the military, and still holds some resentment against those who were not willing to help him continue with the job he loved.

“I was dead to them, and after 20 years of service, it was a difficult decision to leave, but I was being ‘retired’ to this other job very fast, and I couldn’t do it.”

Godin said that he thinks there is still a lack of education and understanding about PTSD and how it affects people. He added that things are a lot better now, but there are things to work on: one of them being a better level of health services and consistency of services.

“There have been some services available in the past that are no longer available, because many thought, or think, the problem is over, that we’ve dealt with it, so it’s time to move on,” Godin said. “Changes to the Veterans Charter [where vets get a lump sum payment rather than a monthly pension] does not work for people with PTSD.”

Godin explained that some choose to self-medicate the symptoms of PTSD—sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, mood swings, etc. with alcohol or drugs, and they become addicts. They need something to kill the pain. When they have access to a lot of money, they are not capable of making rational judgement as to the wise use of those funds, and soon burn through them. Some sufferers with PTSD get to the point where they cannot cope anymore, or they can’t wait for treatment, and they commit suicide.

“It’s not the PTSD that gets you—it’s the other stuff related to it. I know more people who’ve died by their own hands than were killed in rotation. They were just tired of fighting every day. I know families that have been devastated by PTSD, and its effects,” Godin said.

“There is still a real lack of help for family members dealing with a spouse or family member with PTSD.

They unfortunately bear the brunt of the disease and become the front line support for these people and they neither have the support, resources or expertise in which to do so. I’m lucky to have the support of my wife, but I’m also not going to let this [PTSD] get me, so I’m still fighting every day.”

Godin said he doesn’t know how we have the conversation to talk about this invisible wound that no one really wants to talk about, or deal with. Veterans groups have started their own support groups, and being able to get together with friends at the Legion branch helps.

“It’s hard because everyone is off on their own agenda, and there are not enough resources—money or people—to help,” he said. “This isn’t limited to the military; it’s widespread that mental illnesses are not as well serviced as some physical ones, but we [the military] have to keep our eye on the target: doing a better job of helping our men and women who are dealing with this.”

Some programs that are helping offer veterans the opportunity to play golf, go horseback riding, or enjoy other sports. Their teammates are all veterans, so they have some shared experiences.  Some of these programs are privately funded; others funded through Legion branches. Currently there aren’t any of these programs in this area, but that could change. The Invictus Games that were held in Toronto had many participants who are living with PTSD, as well as those who’ve been physically injured. Godin said this recognition of the physical and mental illnesses that soldiers deal with helped bring the PTSD to the forefront. He added that he hopes that when people are thinking of veterans on Remembrance Day, they will not only honour the war dead, but honour the living too—especially those living with the invisible wound of PTSD.

“Something like the Invictus Games is great because it gave people a new purpose; a new focus, and it brought attention to the strength that soldiers have—the physical and mental toughness. So that’s a positive change for the future. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a long way to go.”

 

 

6 thoughts on “Understanding the invisibly wounded soldier

  1. A few years ago I was at the local Legion after the ceremony at the Cenotaph and a young soldier stood up and began to berate the Legion members for focusing on veterans of the first and second World Wars. He felt that the younger members of the military were not being recognized for their service or their challenges once back home. Let’s hope that the conversation around PTSD continues and help is readily available to all who need it.

    1. Hi Lillie, I think the conversation about PTSD is continuing, and I also think that younger members of the military are being given more respect by older members and vice-versa. I think there is more understanding about mental health issues, both in the military, and in society at large. Let’s hope that translates into the services that are needed and that everyone gets the help they need.

  2. I have friends who have PTSD and it is a need that needs to be understood and helped especially by the military who have an obligation to help. This is a sad story but it is a story that needs to be heard. It needs to be heard so that we can address the needs of those suffering and their loved ones and get them the help they need. It is happening more than we know. Great article Christine. G

    1. Thank you, Grace. It is a sad story, and one of many, but I think there is hope for the future. At least I’d like to believe that there is. One of my mantras is a saying by Maya Angelou: “We do the best we can with what we know at the time. When we know better; we do better.” Let’s hope we continue to do better for those with PTSD, regardless of how they got it.

  3. Very valuable message here, Christine. A friend of mine here in Manitoba suffers from PTSD and has made it her mission to educate people about the condition and her ongoing challenges. It is good that professional writers like you are helping get the word out about the life challenges our military experiences long after they have returned home from the battlefield.

    1. Thank you, Doreen. Education is the key and the more people with PTSD who share their stories to help others, the better things will get. It was an honour to write this story and I hope it does raise some awareness of this very tragic situation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.