Merritt resident Danica Vere served with the military police in Canada’s Armed Forces for 21 years before hanging up the boots, so to speak, in 2011. Her distinguished career in uniform included postings and trips throughout Canada, the U.S. and overseas, and three separate tours of duty in war-torn Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Despite moving on to civilian life and her current occupation as an employment adviser at the Merritt branch of WorkBC, the 42-year-old Vere continues to be intimately involved in the lives and well-being of her former comrades-in-arms.

On her own time, Vere is a site administrator with the Facebook page called Military Minds — the brainchild of another Afghanistan veteran, Chris Dupee from Barrie, Ontario. It is a resource site originally set up to help military veterans who may be struggling.

Today, it services and assists all kinds of frontline personnel — be they law enforcement, first responders, firefighters, nurses — who are in need of assistance or someone just to listen.

“I’m one of five Canadian ‘admins’ connected with Military Minds,” explained Vere. “All told, there are 12 active administrators representing five different nations. We deal exclusively with the Facebook side of things (there is a website, too) — keeping the site up to date, keeping the posts current with thread topics, making referrals and inciting positive images to the faces of conflict. Our inbox is constantly full.”

The Military Minds site was born in 2011 — ­ the result of an impromptu, gritty, five-minute personal video by Dupee in which he spoke candidly about his own problems with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder; see page 3 for more details) and the difficulties that he was encountering following a tour of duty in Afghanistan. A friend posted the video on YouTube. It seemed to strike a chord with other soldiers, and received over 1,000 hits in a single day.

“It changed my life,” Dupee told CTV reporter Angela Mulholland back in August of 2013. “I couldn’t believe that people were listening to me… I thought that I was the only one having these thoughts. It was a comfort to realize I am not alone. It lifts a whole burden off the shoulders.”

Since then, Military Minds has become a community of over 89,000 persons who are multi-dimensional in their needs and support.

“There is an array of services out there, but they don’t necessarily work well with each other,” Vere said. “There are also a lot of different groups out there for veteran support and veteran help; however, many of them are border-specific — groups for the Americans, groups for the U.K., for the Canadians, for the Aussies. Chris wanted something that was a platform without barriers. There are no borders associated with [Military Minds].”

Recently, the Globe and Mail reported that one in four Afghanistan vets are experiencing some form of mental illness. Vere added that as of September of this year, the number of post-war deaths of Afghanistan veterans — due to suicide, substance abuse, etc. — has exceeded the 158 Canadian fatalities in the Afghan war itself.

“Anybody coming back from a war-torn conflict is going to come back with something,” Vere said. “It’s their ability to cope and to re-integrate where the struggle really takes place.”

PTSD is not something new, Vere said, adding that in the past, it simply went by other names like ‘shell shock’. Nor is it unique or specific to the theatre of operation.

“There’s a common bond between those who have served in conflict ­— whether it be in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Vietnam, Korea, the Falklands or the World Wars.”

That said, Vere also acknowledged that PTSD is a very individual thing that manifests itself differently in each person.

“You don’t have to have bullets whistling past your head. There are different triggers for different people. That’s what makes PTSD so difficult to deal with.”

Vere told the story of a friend of hers who committed suicide 18 months ago.

“She was stuck on the 12th floor of operations HQ. She viewed all the pictures of the mass graves in Bosnia, and read the stories associated with each picture. She struggled for years with that and, unfortunately, lost the battle.”

Vere acknowledged that for many years, a code of silence existed in the military with regard to the hardships and emotional difficulties following combat — an attitude of “Suck it up, buttercup.”

“You’re expected to be strong of mind and body, and if one of those components isn’t there, then your ability to be a soldier is questioned,” Vere said. “Far more resources have become available in recent years, but you’ll always have that barrier and stigma there.”

“At Military Minds, we listen,” Vere said. “Sometimes, listening is the most important thing. Speaking to a peer can be helpful, and act as a stepping-stone to further help and intervention.

“As admins, we make it clear that we are not medical practitioners, and we don’t give medical advice, but we do steer people to specialists that can help.”

Vere said that she and the other admins listen carefully for ‘triggers’ — key words that may provide important insight into the person’s physical condition or state of mind.

“I’ve actually pulled over on the side of the road to deal with a situation,” Vere said. “The terminology coming across on the post was not where someone needed to be.”

While Vere enjoyed her time in the military, and looks back with positive memories, she does concede that many veterans see what they did in the military as being negative.

“At Military Minds, we try to focus on building from the past, and not letting the past be an anchor that’s holding them back. We want them to move forward. We want to turn possible negative images into positive ones.”

Vere said that her current job as a facilitator with WorkBC complements her efforts with Military Minds.

“It’s working with people who are experiencing hard times. You’re helping them to move forward and find success.”

About PTSD

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood. Most survivors of trauma return to normal given a little time. However, some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time. These individuals may develop PTSD. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged, and these symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair
the person’s daily life.

People with PTSD experience three different kinds of symptoms. The first set of symptoms involves reliving the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when confronted with a traumatic reminder or thinking about the trauma when you are trying to do something else. The second set of symptoms involves either staying away from places or people that remind you of the trauma, isolating from other people, or feeling numb. The third set of symptoms includes things such as feeling on guard, irritable, or startling easily.

PTSD is marked by clear biological changes as well as psychological symptoms. PTSD is complicated by the fact that people with PTSD often may develop additional disorders such as depression, substance abuse, problems of memory and cognition, and other problems of physical and mental health. The disorder is also associated with impairment of the person’s ability to function in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.

PTSD can be treated with psychotherapy (‘talk’ therapy) and medicines such as antidepressants. Early treatment is important and may help reduce long-term symptoms. Unfortunately, many people do not know that they have PTSD or do not seek treatment. This fact sheet will help you to better understand PTSD
and the how it can be treated.