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Battling PTSD after the war is over

Veterans Canada estimates that up to 10% of war zone veterans suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Statistics Canada reported in 2016 that 33% of veterans suffering from a mental disorder had a difficult transition to civilian life.

However, for those who have lived through the horrors of battle, these numbers don’t tell the full story.

Phil Badanai, speaking at an event at the Oakville Museum honouring Canadian peacekeepers, described his experience serving in Croatia. Badanai was slowly driving an Iltis through a crowd of around 25 Serbian soldiers when he was attacked:

“As I’m driving through the crowd, they slowly parted ways,” said Badanai. “But as we’re in the middle of the crowd, somebody yelled something in Serbian. Next thing you know, 25 people cocked their weapons and opened up.”

The Iltis which Badanai was occupying with fellow peacekeeper John Tescione was riddled with bullet holes and is on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. While he managed to survive, he suffered PTSD and had a hard time dealing with it.

The Iltis that Phil Badanai and John Tescione were driving when they were shot at. (Utility Truck, CWM 19950050-001, Canadian War Museum)

The genesis of Badanai’s recovery was being invited to Canada’s team for the 2017 Invictus Games, an annual event which sees wounded, injured, or sick war veterans competing against each other in a variety of sports. Badanai’s recovery was so inspirational, he was chosen to be Canada’s flag bearer in Toronto.

PTSD can come in many forms, and it never fully goes away. There are Canadian peacekeepers who were deployed in Rwanda in 1994 that still suffer from PTSD today.

Peacekeepers invited to Oakville Museum event honouring Canadian peacekeepers (L to R: Percy Purpura, Phil Badanai, Eva Martinez, Mike O’Brien, Greg Munz).

And it isn’t just those who carried rifles that suffer.

Percy Purpura served in Yugoslavia and Pakistan as a medic and recalled a flashback shortly after he returned home from Yugoslavia:

“I was with my family in Ottawa on July 1st. Someone closed the garbage bin lid too loud, and I went through the roof,” said Purpura. “Where I was, a loud bang killed you.”

Percy Purpura standing next to his uniform he wore while serving in Yugoslavia and Pakistan.

Although none of the above veterans suggested they did not get the help they needed, there are reports of Canadian soldiers in desperate need of assistance, including being placed on a three-month waiting list.

The Canadian Forces Members Assistance Program (CFMAP) is a 24/7 confidential service that provides support to regular force members, reserve members and their immediate families. Their website states they only offer “short term counselling to assist with resolving many of today’s stresses at home and in the work place. The CFMAP should not be regarded as treatment for mental illness or addictions”.

The Liberal government allocated $78 million over five years to help deal with the increasing number of veterans requiring support, but veterans say more needs to be done.

As Purpura summed it up:

“It’s very easy to start a war; very difficult to end a war.”

Percy Purpura, Former Canadian Peacekeeper

Editor’s Note: This story has been modified since its original publication to remove a quote from Mike O’Brien that the reporter did not have permission to use as it was taken from a private conversation.

Tejas Dhir
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Tejas Dhir
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1 comment
  • I am the initiator and co-curator of the exhibition and the Peacekeepers’ Night. What you say echoes everything that veterans have told me.
    A very-well written article, touching on a problem that has been insufficiently dealt with by the government. Many soldiers fear that reporting PTSD means a swift medical discharge from the Forces, which has proved to be the case all too often.

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