Veterans with PTSD bond over military vehicles

‘Misfits all getting together:’ Veterans with PTSD bond over military vehicles

A loud whir is followed by a deep rumbling roar as the engine of a decommissioned Canadian Forces armoured recovery vehicle comes to life.

A big cloud of black smoke belches out of the rear exhaust port.

“You see that?” asks John Senior, thumping his chest. “That’s why people are here. When that starts up you should see the smile on the guys’ faces and their glow. Their aura just amplifies.

“We veterans are keeping that running and it is keeping us running. You see that connection. The happiness. The joy.”

Senior is the leader of the Ghost Squadron at The Military Museums in Calgary. He works for the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada as an operational stress injury social support co-ordinator.

The Ghost Squadron consists of volunteers who keep decommissioned military vehicles running. Between nine and 20 of them get together every week to do some mechanical work but, more importantly, to bond in some informal group therapy.

Most of the participants are suffering from occupational stress injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

David, who suffers from PTSD and didn’t want his last name used, started coming a year ago after leaving the military filled with anger and resentment.

“A lot of us when we got out of the army … didn’t want to have anything to do with the army. I didn’t want to see stuff on TV. I still don’t watch war movies,” he said.

“It’s done me a world of good. These guys, they’ve seen the vulnerability and they still treat me like I never said a thing.”

David said everyone has had difficulties reintegrating into civilian life.

“This group, it reminds me of how … the legions started — misfits all getting together and going, ‘Hey, no one gets it but us,’ and that’s what this group has become,” he said.

“This drags guys out of the basement who are drinking themselves to death and has given them a purpose.”

Senior said that, in his day job, he has a list of about 200 veterans he has reached out to in southern Alberta. Most have all their limbs but struggle with mental health. He said the success of the informal therapy comes down to shared experience.

“You’re there with people who have the same mission mindset, same feelings.”

Scott Vanderveer and his wife, Heather, served in the military and both were diagnosed with occupational stress injuries.

Vanderveer, a former corporal, said his problems came gradually. They started with anxiety and unexplained anger. He still only sleeps an hour or two a night.

Connecting with fellow veterans has made a world of difference.

“When any one of us are having a bad day, the other guys are there. You know your brothers care for you when they’re razzing the hell out of you.”

Heather Vanderveer, who was also a corporal, said she left the Canadian Forces because of constant harassment from co-workers and superiors.

“I kind of tease everybody that I’m the president of the angry corporals club. That’s what we call it in our house,” she said. “I wanted to fulfil my duty as a soldier and my trade. I feel that was taken from me so the minute I left I was angry.

“I knew, for me, something wasn’t right. I suffered from anxiety, lack of self-esteem, nightmares.”

She doesn’t tinker with engines but said she’s included in all group activities.

Brian McGregor retired as a corporal 24 years ago and nobody has to pretend.

“My wife laughs at me because I’ll be cranky and miserable when I leave, because I’m job hunting and nobody’s talking to me. I will come back from one of these nights — greasy and dirty and smelling remarkably like I stood in a diesel fire — with a big smile on my face.”

Senior makes sure he keeps his day job and his volunteer gig separate but has noticed the benefits, especially for veterans who have retreated from society and haven’t sought help.

“I’ve seen that just a little bit of contact here goes a long way,” he said.

“From here I can say, ‘Hey, you might want to look at getting some outside source help.’”

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

STORY, PHOTOS & VIDEO: Brand new wrestling mats on display at Charles Hays

Team no longer has to grapple with hard surfacing and soreness thanks to generous donations

Immediate deal to reinstate AMHS in Prince Rupert not out of the question: Mayor Brain

B.C., Alaska officials fail to sign ferry deal in Juneau to reinstate service from Ketchikan

B.C., Alaska officials fail to reach ferry deal

Alaska Marine Highway System ferry service to Prince Rupert is scheduled to end Sept. 30

‘It affects everybody:’ Trudeau’s brownface photos worry Wet’suwet’en chief

Skeena-Bulkley Valley Liberal candidate declines to comment on prime minister’s indiscretion

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Legislature gifts, clothing, travel need better control, B.C. auditor says

Audit follows suspensions of managers by Speaker Darryl Plecas

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

‘He’s trying to kill me’: Victoria police commandeer boats to reach screaming woman

No charges laid and civilians to be awarded honours after incident on Gorge Waterway

VIDEO: B.C. man accused of assaulting sex worker loses temper in interrogation

Defence lawyer says statements made by accused Curtis Sagmoen should be deemed inadmissible

John Horgan promises action after fatal mid-Island bus crash

Premier cites students, local Indigneous community as reason to repair the road

Teens charged in stabbing death of B.C. man in strip mall parking lot

Two youths, aged 15 and 16, charged in Aug. 16 killing of South Surrey’s Paul Prestbakmo

Forestry watchdog warned B.C. government about Bamfield Road in 2008

Ombusman’s specific concerns re-surface in wake of bus crash that killed two students

Photos surface of Conservative candidate at B.C. event with people in blackface

The controversial “Black Peter” character has been a feature at Sinterklaas celebrations

Most Read