09/30/2013 12:58 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

Breaking the Silence Around PTSD in the Military

No one would question a cancer diagnosis, or any other medicial condition, except when it comes to PTSD. Suddenly, everyone is a mental health expert. Nobody would dare question cancer, but PTSD? Fair game. In fact, it would be unthinkable to even not question it. The military culture demands it.

It's been a busy few months for Kevin Berry. He is one of the six veterans suing the federal government over the New Veterans' Charter and the lump-sum payments. He's fighting his own PTSD demons, a product of his service in the Forces. Right now, Kevin is manning an RV support vehicle for Kate McEachern on her Long Way Home charity walk. Last week, a New Brunswick gym was exposed for its no-service-animals policy after they denied access to Kevin's PTSD dog, Tommy. On top of all over that, Kevin is working with Military Minds, a group which offers help and support to veterans suffering from PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is heavily stigmatized in the military/police/veterans community. First, any form of mental illness is often seen as a sign of weakness -- a cardinal sin in those organizations. Second, there is a pervasive belief that anyone claiming PTSD is faking it in order to receive medical benefits. It is often held that the only people 'entitled' to have PTSD are those who saw combat, witnessed genocide, etc, and that anyone else is a faker.

That is exactly the attitude Kevin Berry encountered when he heard from an old comrade...


I received a piece of hate mail last night. It came from someone who had been a close friend, 11 years ago in Battle School. He's still serving, and I, clearly, am not. I haven't seen or spoken to him since the fall of 2004. Then, after 9 years of no contact, and a geographic distance of 4388 km, he took 3 hours out of his Friday night to launch a vicious assault on my character, my honour, and my disability. It was cutting at first, but as I unwrapped the layers of his argument, I was left with nothing but a sense of pride. Pride that I am doing the right thing.

My 'friend' said: "I'm calling you out, you fucking faker!!!!!!"

It was an attack predicated on our tour in 2003-2004. He denied that I, or anyone from that tour, could have developed PTSD from it. No amount of reasoning or evidence could change his mind. Not the assessments of 3 physicians. Not the fact that my first Veterans Affairs meeting, I was told to quit my well-paying job because of how messed up I was. No. I was a fraud to this man, because, well, he was there: "We didn't see shit. You are a faker!!!"

It got me to thinking. What if we replaced PTSD with cancer, how would it sound? I haven't seen you in 9 years. I live over 4000 km away. I tell you I have cancer from an incident around the time we knew each other. What's your first reaction? Do you call bullshit? Do you question the doctors? The oncologists? The technicians taking the X-rays and biopsies? No. You generally say "I'm so sorry to hear" and thank God you don't have cancer too.

Not PTSD though. That's not possible; everyone is a mental health expert all of a sudden. Nobody would dare question cancer, but PTSD? Fair game. In fact, it would be unthinkable to even not question it. The military culture demands it.

The reality is that the military culture is a small sliver of this society of ours. When you retire, release, get discharged, whatever, there is a culture shock. A huge one. Suddenly saying fuck as every other word gets you noticed -- and for all the wrong reasons. Suddenly you're expected to be personable, polite, and 'normal'.

That can be a tall order for many.

Sure some guys handle it better than others, but there are reasons that you get classes before they let you go. It's not a waste of time, and they aren't doing it to cover their six. They're tired of finding guys living out in the woods on their own. They're tired of reading about another veteran suicide.

I'm tired of it.

We're a vicious bunch, us veterans. We eat our own. Particularly when someone is making light of a situation that hits a little close to home. Normal people don't spend their Friday night engaged in a conversation with someone they profess to hate. Normal people hear a disability, say "I'm sorry, thank you for your service" and move on. Vets don't want to hear that so-and-so is homeless, or so-and-so is addicted to heroin, or so-and-so tried to kill themself. It's raw, it's horrid, and we're failing our brethren.

We don't have to. We've had a number of veterans contact us over the past years, thanking us for what we're doing. Guys who served on my tour, and they're guys with PTSD. I've known a couple from that tour who have taken their own lives. Did they have PTSD, or were they faking too? At what point do we stop throwing around blame, shame, and fear, and actually start helping those who ask for it? At what point do we make it ok to ask for help? The answer is: now.

Military Mindswill help you. We will talk to you, treat you with dignity, and move you in the direction of resources that can help you. We will not judge you. We will not turn our backs on you. We will not abandon you. We know what loyalty, honour, and brotherhood actually mean. We're an ear along the way, a voice of experience at your side, and a hand on your back. We've been there ourselves and we've got you.

My name is Kevin Berry, and I have PTSD.

Break the silence.