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June 28, 2009

Bringing Afghanistan War to Canadians

Scott Stockdale

Scott StockdaleWarrant office Roger Perreault’s wife Fran remembers her husband’s departure date from CFB Petawawa to Afghanistan very clearly, because it changed their family life forever.  

“On August 1, I put one man on that bus. Nov. 3, a different man came home. He looked like my husband. He talked like my husband. But it wasn’t my husband. Part of him is still over there somewhere and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.”

 Ms. Perreault says she wakes up with black eyes and bruises on her neck and her husband Roger doesn’t even realize he’s done it.

 “I did get strangled one night,” Fran says “I woke up; I couldn’t breathe. I kneed him in the stomach. I had marks on my neck. I covered it up with turtlenecks and makeup. My closest friends understood. They’ve dealt with the same things.”

 The Perreault Family’s ordeal is the first of a three-part series by Toronto Star reporter David Bruser, bringing the deleterious effects of the Afghanistan War home to Canadians.

 As the result of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, Mr. Perreault’s body will never be same. After three surgeries in an Ottawa hospital to repair spinal damage, Perrault continues to suffer nerve pain; and in February he underwent further surgery to repair bone damage from the blast. However, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be the worst of his problems.

 Seeing one of his best friends die and having to help put comrades in body bags contributed to Mr. Perreault’s PTSD.  As well as being sleep deprived as a result of nightmares, flashbacks and other unexplained sleep interruptions, Mr. Perreault has trouble remembering things he’s been told just a few minutes ago.

 Because compensation for his other injuries is at the maximum allowable payment, Mr. Perrault gets nothing for his PDST. And his compensation was in a lump sum, not monthly instalements.

 Meanwhile, 26-year-old Private Matthew Charles Keddy is on trial in Saint John N.B. for violating a restraining order, the result of an alleged assault on his girlfriend. He is one of a growing number of Canadian Afghanistan veterans being charged and, if convicted, jailed for crimes committed, upon returning from the Afghanistan War.

 In Mr. Keddy’s case, Judge William McCarroll asks the prosecutor why no one from the military is in court to assist Mr. Keddy. The prosecutor replies that the military is aware that Mr. Keddy has psychological problems; that’s why it set up programs for him. But he’s not been attending and the prosecutor says they military is not in a position of a 24-hour babysitter.

 After serving their country in the horrid conditions of the Afghanistan War, where 119 Canadians have been killed and more than 400 seriously injured, often by undetected roadside bombs, these war veterans are bringing the violence home.

 Meanwhile, police, lawyers, judges and healthcare workers are faced with a new and dangerous class of offender that critics say they’re unprepared to deal with.

 A former soldier pleads guilty in a Winnipeg courtroom to assault for breaking 19 bones in his triplet sons.

 In Gatineau, Quebec, a drunken Afghan War veteran named Yuri Miljevic-LaRoche tries to give aid to a bicyclist he’s struck with his car.

 Richard Donald Malley is found guilty of assault for hitting a man hard and often in a Miramichi bar just days after Mr. Malley returned from Afghanistan.

 Travis Schouten, now living in Sarnia, awaits trial for rolling his car into a ditch, injuring one of his passengers, in Whitewater Township, Ontario.

 These examples are part of a growing list of crimes Canadian Afghanistan War veterans are being accused of, with devastating consequences, resulting in Canadians suffering, including the veterans themselves and their own families’ members.

 Retired Colonel Pat Stogran, who led the first group of Canadians in Afghanistan in 2002, said the Canadian military isn’t doing enough to prepare soldiers for the stress of war. His suggestions, including subjecting soldiers to virtual-reality representations of warlike conditions, that involve things like assisting someone who’s been badly mutilated and needs tourniquets, have been ignored.

 Mr. Stogan also wants the military to make soldiers prepare life plans to get them thinking about how to lead a productive life in Canadian society, after returning from a war zone.

 Along with the fatalities and physical injuries, including many disabilities, at least 1,000 of the 26,800 Canadian soldiers who’ve been deployed to Afghanistan have suffered severe psychological trauma. And because this is a condition that often goes undiagnosed, the numbers are probably much higher.

 Faced with Sergeant Ronald Anderson, a veteran of two Afghanistan tours and suffering from PTSD, awaiting trial for uttering a death threat, New Brunswick Judge Patricia Cumming shed light on the dilemma that court officials face.

 “More and more the courts are being asked to venture into areas with which they are not particularly well-equipped to deal,” she said. “What we’re dealing with is a situation everybody talks about – post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet no one here has an understanding of what that actually entails, what risks that puts to the defendant or to the others in his proximity or with whom he has a close relationship.”

 * Scott Stockdale is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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