Remembrance events can trigger intense emotions and it’s the battles on home soil that can be the toughest even the bravest of military personnel face, said Valley resident and retired soldier Tim Elliott.
“The stigma is so bad both in the Forces and in the public, they’re concerned about what their family and friends will think and they hide away and won’t come forward,” said Elliott.
Elliott is one of two peer support co-ordinators at the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) unit at CFB Greenwood and was the guest speaker at the Berwick Legion’s dinner on Nov. 11.
Since 2009, Elliott has facilitated support to serving and retired members of the Canadian Forces with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. The OSISS program is run jointly by DND and Veterans Affairs and offers one-on-one support and informal group meetings.
“If they’re serving, we want them to stay in the uniform and keep serving,” he said. “We don’t want the family to break up, we don’t want them thinking suicide is the option . . . there is light at the end of their tunnel.”
Elliott said he met Afghanistan veteran Lionel Desmond once before Desmond shot his mother, wife and daughter before turning a gun on himself in January 2017.
“He was a really nice guy. What he did was so out of character for him.”
But that’s the problem with PTSD, he said.
“A lot of people don’t understand the cycle and the timing of it. The public think it’s ‘trendy’ to have PTSD, but we’re trying to dispel that myth by giving people the actual facts about those who have it and their injuries,” he said.
When tragedies occur, he said it brings the topic of PTSD up, but doesn’t always convince those who need help to come out of the shadows.
“There are lots of suicides that raise it, but then it disappears again,” he said. “All I can do is keep trying to get the message out that hopefully will give them the motivation to seek the help they need.”
An important part of that message is that no one is alone. In his travels from Yarmouth to Sydney, Elliott estimates he’s counselled more than 350 retired and serving members in the Valley region. These days he regularly meets with about 60 to help them regain their health and wellbeing.
“We’re just old soldiers helping old soldiers,” he said.
At the age of 53, Elliott’s 25 years of service took him to Cyprus, Somalia and Croatia, first serving in the country’s elite Canadian Airborne Regiment.
After the scandalous Somalia Affair in 1993, which documented a teen’s death at the hands of fellow soldiers, Elliott said he survived another year with his battalion after the incident (that eventually got the regiment disbanded) before transferring to The Royal Canadian Regiment.
By the summer of 2003, Elliott watched his fellow soldiers prepare for Afghanistan without him, which was also tough emotionally.
“By that time, I was already too broken to be deployed,” said Elliott, who was discharged in 2006. Within three years, he turned himself around and was compelled to help others with their invisible wounds – disrupted sleep, mood swings, isolation, anxiety and depression – injuries that can become very visible if left untreated.
“It’s important that the people listening are people who have been there and understand the situation,” he said. “And if you get help, you will get better.”
While doctors can take care of the head and the medications, Elliott says he aims at healing hearts and souls.
“We discourage the negative ways of coping, such as alcohol and drugs, and encourage them to get back to their old hobbies. It might be photography, painting, woodworking, anything positive they like to do.”
Once they start enjoying life again, day by day, they’ll start to feel better and heal faster, he said.
“That may be what then prompts them to seek the help they need from health services.”