News - All - 21 Feb 2019
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Miscellaneous: 21 Feb 2019
Legion serves today's Veterans
The Royal Canadian Legion serves today’s generation of Veterans - National Post Jan 30 2019
The Royal Canadian Legion has been such an important part of the lives of veterans for so long — especially those of the First and Second World Wars and even later conflicts like Korea and Bosnia — that it’s understandable today’s soldiers may feel left out. People who work inside the Legion will tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.
“A veteran is a veteran is a veteran,” said Ray McInnis, director of Veterans Services from the Legion’s headquarters in Ottawa. “As long as you’ve signed on the dotted line and you’ve served our country, we’re there to help you. It doesn’t matter when you served, whether you served during a conflict or spent the entire time in Canada.”
McInnis explained Veterans Services provides a wide range of support for Canada’s veterans, young and old, and for today’s veterans it starts with the day they are discharged. McInnis said that for some people leaving the military, heading back to civilian life can be disorienting, and his department is there to help them reintegrate into society.
“It’s important to know we are there for them and the Legion does care,” said McInnis. “It’s not something that you have to go it alone, especially as you transition from military to civilian life. It’s a huge change.”
McInnis said he sometimes sees soldiers who, after many years of serving in the armed forces, have to learn the life skills needed to live in a civilian community. He said the Legion has benevolent funding for those in financial need and the ability to help them obtain any government assistance to which they are entitled.
With the rise in operational stress injuries (OSI) suffered by armed forces personnel in places like Afghanistan and Bosnia, McInnis said that his office does a lot of work providing assistance to retiring soldiers who are making disability claims with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). Whether it be a first claim or someone who has applied on their own and needs help to navigate the bureaucracy of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board, McInnis said his department is well-versed in the entire process.
One soldier the Legion helped was Paul Valiquette, a retired radio operator who was deployed twice to Afghanistan.
“I came back from my last tour of Afghanistan in 2006 and was with the engineers,” he recalled. “I saw a lot of death and destruction. When I got back to Canada, I knew I wasn’t all right. I was having anxiety and triggers way above normal.”
While still serving, the Canadian Forces medical system diagnosed Valiquette with an OSI, and he was referred to a peer support group for mental health issues. He took an interest in helping others cope with their struggles and began volunteering with those support groups. Then he took social service courses when he left the military a few years later. He ended up in Regina where he began helping out at the Legion, and he now works for them as an assistant provincial service officer. With support from the Legion’s Poppy Fund he now helps teach mental health first aid for veterans’ communities across Saskatchewan.
“The Legion’s support has been tremendous,” said Valiquette, who says he is still in therapy for the experiences he had in Afghanistan. He also says he is proof that you can still function in the community even while living with an OSI.
“I tell people you can still be part of society. You don’t have to confine yourself to your house for the rest of your life. People are more understanding about it now,” he said, although he acknowledges the stigma about mental health that persists in the military.
“In the military, it’s ‘Suck it up buttercup. Put your boots on and go out,’” said Valiquette. “That’s changing, which is great, but it’s still there and it still has to be worked on. It’s going to take time, but people are coming out and are more open to get help. They know now that it’s not a death sentence to have an OSI. You can still function, like myself.”
Of course, there are plenty of soldiers who leave the military who don’t need assistance with disability claims or help integrating into society. They think they have no need for the Legion, but both Valiquette and McInnis acknowledged that the one thing they miss from their service days is the camaraderie of being with their fellow servicemen and women. They both said that the Legion is a place where ex-military people can come together to recapture some of that kinship.
“When you leave the military you lose that camaraderie,” said Valiquette. “In the Legion, they might not know where you went or what you experienced, but they have the same background as military or RCMP. It’s a place where you can develop more friendships, but it’s also a place to grow by helping others in the community.”
To encourage today’s soldiers to discover what the Legion can do for them, the national organization is offering a one-year free membership program to still-serving or retired Canadian Armed Forces or RCMP personnel who have not previously been members. Dion Edmonds, the Legion’s marketing manager, says more than 700 people have already signed up since the program began late last year and new applications are coming in daily.
For information on the Legion’s free one-year membership for veterans, visit www.legion.ca/welcome. For more information on the Royal Canadian Legion, visit www.legion.ca.
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