11/09/2016 16:49 EST | Updated 11/10/2017 00:12 EST

Saskatoon legion branch adapting for survival, welcoming younger members

SASKATOON — While the future of many legions across Canada remains uncertain, one branch in Saskatoon is adapting for survival.

Nutana Legion is seeing its 700-strong membership grow by two or three people each week.

Branch president Janet Bennett, who is 63, tells radio station CKOM that's largely due to younger members.

Nuntana has appealed to them, hosting a Pokemon Go event in July that drew hundreds to the hall, and later this month the branch will host two burlesque nights.

Bennett admits that might not appeal to the legion's older membership, but says changes are necessary to keep it going.

In Saskatchewan, anyone 19 or older may join a legion – regardless of personal affiliation to the Armed Forces.

“Everyone has been affected in some way, shape or form because of war, because of what is happening with terrorism,” says Bennett.

“We have a lot of new Canadian citizens that have been through so many traumas in their lives in the countries they’ve come from – there’s no reason why you can’t be a member.”

Bennett served 32 years in the medical corp and went on three deployments to Germany, Egypt and up north to Alert, Nunavut.

She connects with fellow veterans by sharing her experience of living with an operational stress injury, but chooses not to detail what led to the diagnosis.

“When you start to share too openly, then it traumatizes the people you’re communicating with. And secondary trauma is a huge issue when it comes to PTSD.”

It’s knowledge she’s gained from her work outside the legion with the Department of National Defence as peer support coordinator for veterans with operational stress injuries.

While PTSD and major depressive disorders are gaining attention, Bennett notes conditions have always plagued soldiers.

“First World War, Second World War, you had battle fatigue, shell shock, nostalgia. And all of these were mental health conditions, nobody realized it,” she says.

“They just figured people were sad or they were angry or they just drank too much and they just carried on with life.”

Bennett credits legions with filling the support void by helping veterans connect with an understanding community.

“The legion is here to support the veterans and their families,” she says. “That’s why you’re sharing the wealth of knowledge, the wealth of veterans.”