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CVA: Helping Veterans Transition from Military to Civilian Life
At the time this
article was written there were 161 names on the reserves list for the 4th
battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment in Laval, Quebec. The numbers
fluctuate often, with more recruits joining and anywhere between 20 and 35
awaiting release. Reservists can be your friends, neighbours and even
Military service is something that is widely misunderstood by the public. While it is unlikely that being stationed for anywhere from six to 18 months or even two years wouldn’t change you, the effect on a soldier’s psyche is something that is often difficult to discuss. And when it comes to moving on after service, mental health issues can be even harder to talk about. Student veterans are 88 per cent more likely to drop out of school, 46 per cent suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and student veterans are seven times more likely to take their own lives.
Thankfully for men and women who are choosing to pursue a university education after the military or while on reserve, the Concordia Veteran’s Association—the only association of its kind at a Canadian university—exists to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.
The association was founded by Yves Leduc Butterworth, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. When he returned he fell into a slump that made it very difficult to continue his education. He almost failed out of school because of the troubles he experienced, including survivor’s guilt.
After he received help through therapy, he felt a need to aid other veterans who might be going through something similar, and after years in the making the CVA is now officially operating.
Nicolas Petitot, who joined the military in 2004, approached Leduc Butterworth wanting to get involved. “With what I have gone through and knowing how difficult it is to start an organisation, I was more than willing to help out my friend,” said Petitot, who is currently VP external and the strategic advisor for the association.
Petitot was in a training accident several years before in Northern Quebec. The injury left him with short term memory loss that lasted about a month and a half, though it took him almost two years to acknowledge the post traumatic stress he was suffering was the result from the incident. Petitot was diagnosed and put on medication, something that can be very difficult for anyone—especially soldiers—to admit.
“It’s not something that a lot of people tend to take well,” explained Petitot, who is studying linguistics at Concordia. “To say listen, I’m sick, I have a problem, and this medication is only temporary, instead of using alcohol as a crutch which I and I’m sure a lot of other veterans have.”
Not all mental health issues stem from combat, like for Leduc Butterworth, or from an accident, as with Petitot, however. For Anthony Alliot, VP marketing for the CVA, who was deployed in Afghanistan, the abrupt transition from military to school life deeply affected him. “After taking a year off of school I had a tough time dealing with my first semester,” explained Alliot. “I’ve always done fairly well in school but I found myself not getting the grades I used to, struggling to complete pretty easy papers and assignments. Self doubt set in and it was a bit of a downward spiral for me from that point on.”
To help veterans like themselves in the Concordia community, the CVA have three “pillars” inspired by initiatives in American universities: peer support, transition assistance and veteran’s advocacy.
A mentorship system for the CVA is the main focus of the peer support pillar, where veterans in similar programs take classes together to look out for one another. Leduc Butterworth describes the kind of depression that results from PTSD as a free fall: “You get a strong sense of isolation, you feel unable to reach out. Not that you’re necessarily unwilling, you’re actually kind of hoping to have someone come in and catch you, but it’s just beyond your physical capacity to reach out.” With the mentorship program, if you notice your partner didn’t come to class you can check in on them to make sure they’re okay.
Transition assistance will be provided through workshops in the fall and winter. The fall workshops will focus on the skills needed to adapt to student life like essay writing and talking to professors for help—something many veterans can find difficult.
Winter workshops will help veterans to transition into the workplace and introduce them to organisations that support and target veterans for hire. The CVA will also hold job fairs to show the veterans how to get the most of their degrees.
The most immediate concern for the CVA is veteran’s advocacy. Soldiers have a tendency to not ask for help. “We’re told to suck it up throughout our military career,” said Leduc Butterworth. “If you have a personal problem it’s expected you’re going to deal with that on your own,” he explained. It’s that mentality, coupled with mental health issues that can make it extra difficult for a veteran to come forward if they are having an academic problem. The CVA wants to be able to identify an issue like an exam deferral and speak on behalf of the veteran to the student’s professor, dean or ombudsmen when the veteran cannot.
Veteran’s advocacy speaks to a larger issue of mental health reform. “When you’re suffering from PTSD or you’re suffering from depression, you can’t get out of bed and eat, let alone go down to the doctor’s office and get a note saying ‘my mind’s hurting,’” said Leduc Butterworth. He hopes to see the system change to better benefit more students who are suffering from mental health issues.
For now, the CVA is functioning with eight members on a daily basis but has reached out to a larger demographic of up to 40 reservists. Their goal, however, is simple: “If it saves one person’s life then we’ve done our job,” said Petitot.
You can reach out to the CVA at www.conuvets.ca.
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