By Senator Pamela Wallin
When you see the strength of character and the spirit of the ill or injured soldiers returning home from Afghanistan, you know they deserve our gratitude and respect.
But these young men and women also need our support to ready themselves for re-entry into a civilian world. And many will have to do so with life altering injuries such as a missing limb or post traumatic stress.
Petawawa, one of three major troop deployment bases in Canada, is also home to one of the eight newly minted one-stop service points for our returning soldiers and for their families.
Support Centres are now up and running in Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Shilo, Toronto, Valcartier, and Gagetown as well as Petawawa.
And for all those courageous young men and women who need more answers and less paperwork, thankfully, these units are making a difference for soldiers, several of whom I had a chance to meet.
Master Corporal Roger Furoy is a medic, who was attached to the famous Charlie Company during Operation Medusa, a major Canadian-led assault against the Taliban in 2006. A rocket-propelled grenade killed his platoon commander and left Furoy with a shoulder full of shrapnel though not enough, he thought, to keep him out of the intense firefight that ensued. MCpl Furoy survived, and was treated for the visible injuries. But once home in Canada, the real damage began to show itself. His knees and back gave out as multiple discs in his spine had been damaged by the rocket blast. Then the nightmares began. Soon he couldn’t sleep at all and for an entire month, he consumed a bottle of rye every night hoping a stupor would dull the painful images locked in his mind. It didn’t.
Fearful and angry he lashed out at Veterans Affairs officials. But he was so desperate that when their pamphlet arrived in the mail explaining the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) organization, he gave it a shot.
Today, he has stopped drinking and he is taking proper medication- albeit 28 pills a day-for both his physical and psychological injuries. He sleeps better, but not well. And he has been posted to the Integrated Personnel Support Centre (IPSC) at Petawawa as transition to a civilian role with OSISS - the organization that is helping him get his life back on track.
Of course, not all injuries occur in a war zone. Air Force Captain Catherine Wilson suffers from hearing loss and chronic tinnitus which is a constant ringing in the ears. An ill-fitted helmet left the tactical helicopter pilot unprotected from the chopper’s relentless noise.
She’d been flying for more than a decade before she realized there was a serious problem. Eventually, unable to even hear radio messages, she was grounded.
The hearing loss means she no longer meets the standard for what is termed “universality of service” – the ability to fulfill the basic soldiering functions required of all Canadian Forces members.
The ringing in her ears never stops. For most of us, just the thought of it sends you reeling.
She has learned to cope, she speaks well, understands by reading lips and is now gainfully employed at the IPSC in Petawawa, helping other injured military members. She is eligible for a pension and Veterans’ Affairs pays for any special equipment she needs.