‘That all builds up inside you’

Josh Pennell
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Young veterans share experiences with PTSD; Legion president hopes to help

The president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 50 in Conception Bay South is hoping recently returned veterans will spend some of their time at the Legion because, as he says, other young veterans need them.

Kevin Dunne (left) and Don Hookey stand next to the C.B.S. Monument of Honour. Both are young veterans who think
having people their own age involved in the Legion would be beneficial.
— Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

“We have to come up with something in our region to help them,” Robert Hillier says about young veterans returning home.

“A tremendous asset would be if recently returned veterans could be available to talk to others in the same situation,” a recent email from the Legion reads.

There are young veterans in C.B.S. who back up what Hillier says about needing people to talk to. They speak from an experience most people can only dream of having — except for the fact that most people would never want to.

Kevin Dunne, who was injured in 2008 and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), joined the military in 1989. He’s been to Bosnia and Afghanistan and has also offered his skills for civil duties throughout Canada. He wasn’t due to retire from the military until 2015, but was medically released in 2008 after an incident with an improvised explosive device (IED).

“We were coming into an area that we were going to set up for that evening and my vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb,” he says. It took the wheel off his armoured car and turned him on his side.

“Once that happened, what I felt at first was the shock wave and a heat blast and dirt and debris blowing up in my face.”

Dunne checked on his men, who were all OK.

“We all walked away,” he says. “We all came back with all our body parts, anyway.”

When Dunne got home later that year, some physical problems started to surface. He went back and forth to doctors and had surgery on his feet, which were crippled with pain.

He’s now back to 80 per cent, he says, but that took several years of recovery.

Physical injuries aside, he also came back with PTSD.

“It took me about nine months back in the country before I started sleeping on a regular basis,” Dunne says.

Night terrors and insomnia affected him at night. A quick temper and rage took hold of him at times during the day.

“My mother always tells me now, she goes ‘Yeah, the army made you an asshole. You’re not the same person as when you went away,’” says Dunne.

Rage and a quick temper were so common with Dunne’s soldier friends that his group referred to the condition as “Afghan angers”.

“The first time that you have to take another man’s life. That’s the first turmoil that you start to deal with,” he says.

Other times he would hear over his radio that somebody he knew had been killed in action. On active duty, there was no time grieve.

“That all builds up inside you, too,” he says. “The day that I lost my platoon commander. We worked on his body for an hour and half before he passed away.”

Dunne got help for his PTSD. At 43, he’s a fully functioning member of society. But it’s nice to have somebody to speak with who’s around his own age and who has had similar experiences. When he was in the military, he could speak to his comrades. The Legion is a bit different.

“I find it personally a little bit awkward, because most of the people are older,” he says.

He’d like to see more people there his age — people he could help and who could be there for him. Together they could be there for the older veterans.

Thirty-nine-year-old veteran Don Hookey feels similarly. He signed up when he was 18. He did a tour of Afghanistan in 2006. The wear and tear on his back as a career soldier took its toll until finally in 2006 he started to experience chronic issues. He’s been through physiotherapy, has seen chiropractors and has gone for X-rays.

Hookey also experienced PTSD, including road rage and anger at home.

“My wife actually pointed out to me that I should seek help, and after a bit of convincing I went,” he says.

Hookey used to spend more time at the Legion but had to take more time for himself.

“I wasn’t dealing with my issues,” he says.

He praises the work of the Legion, though.

“They’ve really been good to me.”

The people there put his name for an armed forces community covenant award that was presented to him at a local hockey game.

“That kind of brings your spirits up a bit,” he says.

There’s also a service officer from the Legion who checks in on him to see how he’s doing.

Hookey describes his own time at the Legion as giving him “personal satisfaction,” and he hopes to spend more time there in the future. He agrees having more people his age there to help each other out would be beneficial, and it would be good to spend time with the older veterans.

“They were all young men when they came back,” he says.

And had people their own age to speak with. Which is exactly what Hillier is hoping to do with Branch 50.



Geographic location: Afghanistan, C.B.S., Bosnia Canada

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Recent comments

  • Bill MacLeod
    February 05, 2014 - 13:38

    Very Good--should be sent to Legion Magazine They might or should publish letter