A made-in-B.C. transition program for veterans will soon be available to former soldiers across the country.
The BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion has been running a retreat program in conjunction with UBC for veterans for the past 15 years, helping them deal with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to finding a job in the civilian world. Next month the national Legion is expected to announce funding that will expand the program from coast to coast.
Tim Laidler is both a graduate of the program and its current executive director. He served in Afghanistan in 2008 and said after going through the 10-day retreat two years ago it helped him realize that the struggles he was having adapting to life outside of the military were normal. It also gave him the self-confidence to begin looking for work.
The program, including the travel, is free to veterans and takes place over three months. Initially a group of seven to nine soldiers take part in a four-day retreat facilitated by UBC psychologists and psychology students. The soldiers take part in group therapy, talking about anything that haunted them from their time in uniform to challenges they've faced readjusting to everyday life.
"Oftentimes people have things that are sticking with them that they haven't talked to their family and friends about for fear that they may not understand, this program recreates that military community and they're able to tell that story in the group and bring closure to it through telling and at some point even reenacting the story," Laidler said.
Participants learn new ways to communicate their experiences to the civilian world and how to deal with the range of emotions that bubble to the surface as they work through their issues.
Graduates of the program also play a big part in helping lead the discussions. Laidler said it sometimes takes hearing stories from others in order to get the incoming group to talk about their own stories.
After the initial four-day retreat, the participants return home and try to use what they've learned in their daily lives. A month later they reconvene for another four days where they're able to talk about what techniques worked, what didn't and what else they might want to try. A month after that the group gets together one last time for two days to debrief and discuss.
"It's over those three months that we find the most lasting changes take place," Laidler said.
Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 43 executive member John Scott is a big supporter of the program, calling it one of the best in Canada.
"Even if you are receiving official PTSD treatment provided by the military or your doctor, you can take this as well," he said. "It is so confidential it never appears on your record so even your own commanding officer doesn't know you're involved in the program."
Laidler said the transition program works well in conjunction with other treatments veterans with PTSD might be getting from psychiatrists or psychologists.
"This program can help make a jump in their treatment or help them make significant gains," he said.
The program has been through different formats over its 15-year history, but the current structure has been around since 2006.
Up until this year the program had been run twice a year, but this year it doubled to four times and that's expected to continue.
Most of the advertising for the program is word of mouth and Laidler said there's no shortage of graduates willing to spread the word.
"Once people graduate from the program they go back to their units or they go back to their communities and they say, 'this one worked guys, try it,' " he said. "They'll often bring their friends to the intake interview, almost kicking and screaming."
The transition program is one way the Legion has evolved over time to meet veterans needs. Scott said it dismisses the notion that the Legion is a solely a place where veterans just down their sorrows in alcohol. In fact, he said the organization takes proactive steps to help anyone if they see signs of alcoholism.