Veterans find solace through weekend retreat
By Darren Lum
Published July 24, 2018
The rugged beauty of Highlands East is going to be the backdrop for healing for a dozen veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, this coming September.
Entering its fourth year, the VetIIVet weekend offers a safe place for up to 12 veterans to relax and make connections with older veterans, who have already endured similar issues.
Both parties benefit by being given the opportunity to share memories and feelings.
The weekend also gives the visiting veterans’ caregivers and loved ones a chance to share and take a break from their support roles.
Accommodations, food, fishing equipment, boats and even professional nurses are provided.
In the past, it has started with a meet and greet and a dinner on Friday. Saturday includes lunch and fishing on a lake while caregivers are left on shore to receive some pampering and connect with one another. That is then followed by an afternoon event (in the past it’s been a mineral tour or rock hounding at a local mine or a horse-drawn wagon ride), free time and dinner. Sunday is a day to sleep in with brunch provided and lunch to take for the trip home.
Participants have come from all over Ontario and as far away as Nova Scotia.
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 624 Wilberforce is welcoming others to keep this event going.
Originally called the Corporal Geoffrey Cook Vet to Vet Weekend, the event started with a local Afghanistan veteran with PTSD and his family.
The man’s wife saw an improvement in her husband’s PTSD symptoms and another veteran after their social interaction. She thought of how other veterans and their caregivers could benefit from a larger scale version.
The VetIIVet organizing committee was formed to figure out the logistics.
Sean Cook, who now lives in Bancroft, was the president of the Wilberforce Legion when this event was started in 2015.
The retired firefighter with 26 years of experience from Thunder Bay lives with PTSD. He knows first-hand about the struggle and how this event can help.
“When you haven’t been out of your house in a year, you finally end up sitting around the fire with a bunch of guys, who are in the same boat, you start talking,” he said. “It all comes out. There’s a lot of hugging and a lot of tears.”
When asked why the public should know about it, he said it’s about giving back.
“Care about your vets. What we have here now is because of them,” he said.
In an email following the first year, one participant from Nova Scotia talked about the bonds made.
“The true benefits of this weekend will be long lasting friendships. These friendships and contacts will help us to start a similar venue here on the East Coast with a feeling that they are not alone in their struggles. The stories might differ but the scars are so similar that we’re allowed to bond and talk about ourselves,” the email reads.
Another participant described how the weekend brought purpose, self worth and dignity, and allowed that person to “be proud of the sacrifices that I have made.”
This past year Legions from Fenelon Falls, Bancroft, Cardiff, Moore Falls and Haliburton have representatives on the VetIIVet committee. Cook hopes VetIIVet could grow to include other sites.
He said getting more Legions involved will help spread the work that has taxed everyone involved since the beginning.
One hope is to have more events during the year in other communities where Legions are based.
There is no cost to the participants so donations, including in-kind, artwork for a fundraising raffle, and assistance are always welcome. Volunteers and community support make everything happen, from donating the use of boats to providing food. The budget is in the tens of thousands, which is often met through fundraising events, donations from people or businesses in the community.
Contact Legion Branch 181 at 613-332-3250 or email Bryan Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any veteran interested in participating in the three-day event is encouraged to email email@example.com or Brenda Boomhouer at Granny.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cook said this event is only a small part to help those affected by PTSD.
“This event has helped a lot of them through some rough times. We’re just a cog in a wheel. A lot of them have turned their lives around after this,” he said.