Tim Laidler, Executive Director of the Veterans Transition Network.
Credits: ANDRE FORGET/QMI AGENCY
OTTAWA — Being a tough guy doesn't serve you well when you get home from war.
That's the message Tim Laidler, an Afghan vet and the executive director of the Veterans Transition Network at the University of British Columbia, has for soldiers struggling to reintegrate into civilian life after serving overseas.
The peer therapy program for vets, now only available in B.C., will soon be rolled out across Canada.
On Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney announced $600,000 over four years to expand the program, which he says has a record of "tremendous success."
Laidler, 27, said it helped him get over trauma he'd experienced serving in Afghanistan in 2008.
The young soldier's unit was responsible for guarding the supply convoys between Kandahar airfield and forward operating bases as well as the airfield's front gate, where Afghan casualties would sometimes be brought for treatment at the military hospital.
One day, an ambulance pulled up carrying a 14-year-old girl who had set herself on fire to avoid an arranged marriage.
"In that moment I remember seeing her, smelling the smell, seeing the horror in front of me and not being prepared for it in the slightest," he said.
"I felt myself die inside — I couldn't deal with the emotions that were flooding into me. I just had to jettison them all away. And that served me well in Afghanistan. It's something our fighting men and women have to do. But coming home without those emotions so readily available makes for a very, very difficult transition."
The program has so far helped 275 soldiers, including Laidler. The goal is to have another 5,000 treated across the country.
On Friday, the Royal Canadian Legion will also announce more money for the program.
"The need right now, it's really there," said Scott Ferris, a director with the Royal Canadian Legion.
"These folks are falling through the cracks."
Ferris wouldn't specify the amount but said it's more than what the federal government offered.
Blaney also announced a series of initiatives Tuesday that are part of an action plan to cut red tape and improve access to programs offered by Veterans Affairs Canada.
Last week, the auditor general released a critical audit of the department that highlighted how the bureaucracy hampers access for ill and injured soldiers and veterans.