You are not alone, and there is help out there.
That’s the message Afghanistan war veteran Jim Way of 140 Mile wants fellow military servicemen in the region to know.
Way, who was a Badger Armoured Engineer Vehicle specialty tank operator for the Canadian Armed Forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan over two tours in 2009, 2010 and 2011, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, massive depression disorder, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks and irritable bowel syndrome, among other symptoms.
“PTSD can take on 1,000 different faces,” the 40-year-old father of two boys said from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 Wednesday.
“Some guys can go right off the walls angry and pissed off and destructive and violent and some people can go into the hard depression side of things and become recluse, and that’s more where I go when I start having bad days and it can go on for a couple of weeks.
“I can’t get dressed, no motivation to do anything, no motivation to live, even. You just get up and go through the motions because you have to get up and go through the motions. I can get violent in my sleep, although I’m not a violent person.”
Way’s job as an armoured engineer regularly saw him and a crew lead in a combat team as the lead vehicle during operations.
“We were right in the heart of darkness,” he said. “We provided mobility on the battlefield. As we came across obstacles the enemy had placed, or just natural obstacles, we breached those obstacles to be able to push everyone through. They always say with the engineers we’re the first ones in and the last ones out. Every time I went out I was getting shot at and blown up. That was my job.”
On May 23, 2016, Way finished his service with the CAF. He moved to 140 Mile from Edmonton — where he had been stationed — in August with his wife, Heidi, so he could be closer to his two children, who live in Horsefly.
To combat his PTSD symptoms, Way is now required to take an assortment of approximately 30 pills a day.
“If I don’t take my medications things go drastically wrong,” he said. “There’s no leaving the house, nothing gets accomplished, I start puking and I’ll have problems with my bowels, things like that. I still have flashbacks, and I had episodes where I was blacking out for half an hour and my neighbour would find me in my driveway — good times like that.”
Way is now reaching out to others in the region who are suffering. He wants people to know there is help out there, despite there being a very limited support network in Williams Lake.
“It’s a massive problem for me,” he said.
“Williams Lake is a horrible hub for a veteran in need because we don’t have the service and support here to help us out. I know for a fact there are veterans out there having problems but due to anonymity people can’t tell me who’s here for me to go and help, so I want awareness to get out there so people understand there are people out there to help, and people can contact me.”
He points to a relatively new National Defence organization called Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS), Honour House in Vancouver (like a Ronald McDonald House for veterans) and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 in Williams Lake as places people could and should access for help.
“OSISS is one-on-one peer support,” he said. “They can help facilitate things and help people get the support they need. And the legion is a group to advocate on your behalf. They can speak on your behalf and they can push things in the right direction for you so it’s not the veteran who’s having to do all the legwork themselves, alone. If you think of the roots of the legion it’s a very good organization for what it was established to do and it’s kind of gone away from that because of the fact there isn’t a lot of younger veterans in need of help who have joined, but it’s important for people to know this organization is here and is capable of helping.”
Way, meanwhile, isn’t able to work, has yet to be assigned a doctor by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), has no psychotherapist due to lack of availability in Williams Lake and is still waiting to collect his pension, which he was eligible to receive in August.
He’s currently earning $2,000 a month through his VAC insurance.
“That’s got to support my family and me,” he said.
“It’s not that I’m retired, kicked back and loving life. I went from a sergeant in the Canadian forces, making good money and having a good quality of life to the other end of the spectrum where we’re just scraping by.”
He’s now waiting for an OSISS meeting in Vancouver on Nov. 25 where they will complete an initial assessment of where he is at in his recovery.
“That will be to start to do their end of the therapy and help bring me back,” he said.
“It will be over Telehealth or something like that because there is nobody in the area. But if we can get more people to know about new organizations like OSISS there’s nothing to say down the road they wouldn’t be able to put someone in this area. I put their information in at the legion for people to access and since then I’ve got a call from [OSISS] asking if they could give my phone number out to other veterans in this area, so there’s obviously been some.”
Way also has two dogs who are helping him heal: Tank, a nine-week old shepherd/pitbull cross, and Kane, a three-year-old Australian shepherd/corgi cross, the latter of which he’s currently training to be a PTSD dog through a company called Citadel Canine.
“I take him most places with me,” he said. “They called him Kane because he was a rescue dog, found at the Sugarcane reserve.
“Kane keeps away the close face talkers and the people who aren’t conscious of your social surroundings and what you need. He’ll take your mind off what you’re doing and put it on something else. It’s a life changer for a lot of people.”
Also helping him cope in his day-to-day life, the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 139 is essentially the equivalent of a veterans’ union, he said.
“There are other veterans here,” he said. “You are not alone. There are other people here and we all need help. We never had the capability of having a union but there is an advocacy group here in town that can help us tie all these pieces into place.
“Having members of the legion who can’t come in here because they’ve got so many problems with PTSD, mental anguish, things like that, this should be the place for them to have a safe area and get the help they need.”
Way invites anyone interested in contacting him for advice to phone the legion in Williams Lake at 250-392-4255.