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Roméo Dallaire ~ Standing Up for PEOPLE, SUFFERING from PTSD

Anna Maria Tremonti, our fav at The Current …

Ute Lawrence never went to war and never saw a conflict zone. But she did find herself on the wrong stretch of highway one September day 13 yrs ago. And that’s when everything changed. One of Canada’s most deadly highway pileups sent her on a lonely, uncharted journey through the world of PTSD. Today, we’re talking about identifying the traumas that will linger.

Civilian post-traumatic stress disorder

Catherine Galliford says she endured years of sexual harassment as an RCMP Officer and that the experience left her with post-traumatic stress disorder: PTSD. Since she went making her allegations public, at least three other women have emerged to say they too are suffering from PTSD … all as a result of prolonged sexual harassment in the workplace.

PTSD has a long history of being misunderstood and misdiagnosed. For decades, it was viewed with skepticism. And even now, it is often assumed to be something only a war-zone can produce. But people who work in the field say war-related cases of PTSD are just the tip of the iceberg.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about 1 in 10 Canadians experiences PTSD and the triggers vary widely, from a violent attack to being fired at work. In that way, the face of PTSD continues to change.

To get a better idea of how that’s happening, The Current’s Shannon Higgins went to visit one woman with PTSD at her home in Toronto. Because of the sensitive nature of her trauma, we have agreed to withhold her name.

Ute Lawrence knows how isolating PTSD can be. After she survived one of the most horrific highway accidents in Canadian history, she created the PTSD Association of Canada, the first PTSD organization in North America not focused on the military. Ute Lawrence is also the author ofThe Power of Trauma: Conquering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she was in London, Ontario. Ruth Lanius is the Director of the Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Research Unit at the University of Western Ontario. And Dr. Alain Brunet is a Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and the Director of the Psychosocial Research Division at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

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On the tenth anniversary of the date that UN peacekeepers landed in Rwanda, Random House Canada is proud to publish the unforgettable first-hand account of the genocide by the man who led the UN mission. Digging deep into shattering memories, General Dallaire has written a powerful story of betrayal, naïveté, racism and international politics. His message is simple and undeniable: “Never again.”

When Lt-Gen. Roméo Dallaire received the call to serve as force commander of the UN intervention in Rwanda in 1993, he thought he was heading off on a modest and straightforward peacekeeping mission. Thirteen months later he flew home from Africa, broken, disillusioned and suicidal, having witnessed the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in only a hundred days. In Shake Hands with the Devil, he takes the reader with him on a return voyage into the hell of Rwanda, vividly recreating the events the international community turned its back on. This book is an unsparing eyewitness account of the failure by humanity to stop the genocide, despite timely warnings.

Woven through the story of this disastrous mission is Dallaire’s own journey from confident Cold Warrior, to devastated UN commander, to retired general engaged in a painful struggle to find a measure of peace, reconciliation and hope. This book is General Dallaire’s personal account of his conversion from a man certain of his worth and secure in his assumptions to a man conscious of his own weaknesses and failures and critical of the institutions he’d relied on. It might not sit easily with standard ideas of military leadership, but understanding what happened to General Dallaire and his mission to Rwanda is crucial to understanding the moral minefields our peacekeepers are forced to negotiate when we ask them to step into the world’s dirty wars …

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Excerpt from Shake Hands with the Devil
My story is not a strictly military account nor a clinical, academic study of the breakdown of Rwanda. It is not a simplistic indictment of the many failures of the UN as a force for peace in the world. It is not a story of heroes and villains, although such a work could easily be written. This book is a cri de coeur for the slaughtered thousands, a tribute to the souls hacked apart by machetes because of their supposed difference from those who sought to hang on to power. . . . This book is the account of a few humans who were entrusted with the role of helping others taste the fruits of peace. Instead, we watched as the devil took control of paradise on earth and fed on the blood of the people we were supposed to protect.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by reliving a psychologically traumatic situation, long after any physical danger involved has passed, through flashbacks and nightmares.

Difficult situations are part of life. We all must cope with tough circumstances, such as bereavement or conflict in our personal and professional relationships, and learn to move on. But sometimes people experience an event which is so unexpected and so shattering that it continues to have a serious effect on them, long after any physical danger involved has passed. Individuals with this kind of experience may suffer flashbacks and nightmares, in which they relive the situation that caused them intense fear and horror. They may become emotionally numb. When this condition persists for over a month, it is diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of several conditions known as an anxiety disorder. This kind of medical disorder affects approximately 1 in 10 people. They are among the most common of mental health problems.

Children and adults can develop PTSD. The disorder can become so severe that that the individual finds it difficult to lead a normal life. Fortunately, treatments exist to help people with PTSD bring their lives back into balance.

Renowned mental health advocate Roméo Dallaire takes up post as Honourary Chair of Canadian organization for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder awareness and research

The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Association of Canada is pleased to announce that the Honourable Roméo Dallaire has accepted the position of the Association’s Honourary Chair effective immediately.

The Honourable Roméo Dallaire has had a distinguished career in the Canadian military achieving the rank of Lieutenant-General and Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources.  In 1994, General Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) and his experiences there, in the midst of a genocide that claimed 800,000 lives in 100 days, became the subject of his 2003 award-winning book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

Due to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) he suffered from the horrors of the genocide, General Dallaire was medically released from the military in 2000.  Called to the Senate of Canada 2005, Senator Dallaire has continued to work tirelessly as an author, lecturer and humanitarian to raise awareness of PTSD and to champion research into the causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of PTSD.

“As Honourary Chair, I look forward to assisting the PTSD Association in its efforts to further the public’s understanding of PTSD, particularly as it affects soldiers, veterans and their families,” Senator Dallaire said.  “The Association boasts an impressive roster of clinical advisors and researchers who have contributed greatly to our knowledge of PTSD and who will continue to make advances in this important field.”

“We are extremely grateful and fortunate that Senator Dallaire has accepted our invitation to be Honourary Chair,” said Ute Lawrence, the Association’s founder and CEO and author of The Power of Trauma: Conquering post-traumatic stress disorder.  “His personal commitment to raising awareness and advocating for those affected by PTSD is inspiring,” she said.  “We could not have identified a better public figure than Senator Dallaire to support the goals and mission of our organization.”

According to Dr. Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Chair of the clinical advisory board to the PTSD Association of Canada, the lifetime prevalence rate of PTSD in Canada is approximately 9%.  With this kind of statistic, Founder Ute Lawrence, herself a sufferer of PTSD following a horrific car crash in 1999, saw the tremendous need for education and resources into the disorder.  She created the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Association to educate the public and professionals about the nature of, responses to, and curative measures for PTSD, and to share information and resources with the public and persons suffering with PTSD.

Additional biographical information—Lieutenant General the Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire, O.C., C.M.M., G.O.Q, M.S.C., C.D., (Retired), Senator

The Honourable Roméo Dallaire had a distinguished career in the Canadian military, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-General and Assistant Deputy Minister of Human Resources. In 1994, General Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR). His experiences there became the subject of the book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, which was awarded the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction in 2004 and was the basis of a full-length feature film released in 2007. Medically released in 2000, due to PTSD, Senator Dallaire has worked as an author, lecturer and humanitarian, conducting research on conflict resolution and child soldiers at the Kennedy School at Harvard. He is now continuing his research on child soldiers and is about to publish a second book on this subject. General Dallaire helped reform the assistance provided to the new generation of veterans particularly affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. General Dallaire was appointed to the Senate effective March 24, 2005, and is the Vice-Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence. He was appointed with Bishop Desmond Tutu to the United Nations Secretary General’s Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention in the spring of 2006 and is a Fellow at the Montreal Institute of Genocide Studies, Concordia University. He is an officer in the Order of Canada since 2002, a recipient of the Pearson Peace Medal in 2005, a Grand Officer of the Order of Québec in 2006.

‘Ruthless’ cuts putting veterans, families at risk, Dallaire says

Decorated Canadian general Sen. Romeo Dallaire says “ruthless” federal government cuts to Veterans Affairs and National Defence are putting mentally injured war veterans and their families at risk.

“We invested tens of millions of dollars for them to do the job overseas so we’d better be prepared to do what’s needed to take care of them and their families,” said Dallaire, Canada’s first public face of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Veterans Affairs should have been exempt and funded according to the increasing demand, but it didn’t get that pass.”

Early next year, Veterans Affairs will close nine regional offices and it is cutting about 300 jobs and at least $226 million from its budget.

Dallaire, who was medically released from the armed forces in 2000 after being diagnosed with PTSD, says DND has been “chipping away” at programs created to care for casualties because its priorities are elsewhere.

“And when people tell me at Veterans Affairs that the programs won’t be affected because they’ve done studies, it’s nothing more than double talk and camouflage for the fact that they’re cutting.”

After a harrowing, well-documented assignment during the Rwandan genocide, Dallaire returned to Canada in 1994 and became assistant deputy minister for human resources at DND, where he was instrumental in building a system for ill and injured troops.

“There was absolutely nothing for my family or for me in 1994 when I came back,” he said, adding that two of his children eventually needed counselling related to his PTSD. “It took us damn near 15 years to be able say we have something capable of meeting requirements.”

That system includes an internal structure to care for physically and mentally injured serving troops, a series of Operational Stress Injury Clinics across the country to treat veterans with PTSD, and a virtual affiliation with Canadian researchers called the Canadian Institute for Military & Veteran Health Research, a joint venture of the Royal Military College and Queen’s University.

“It all came about because of casualties among those coming back post-mission — suicides, family breakups and the catastrophic failure of people with PTSD turning into drugs addicts, boozing and being thrown in jail,” said Dallaire.

“It was a terrible apprenticeship and we now have an exemplary system, but this is a game of 100 per cent because every human being counts. The system has to meet requirements of all the people, not just the majority.”

The government is using the end of Canada’s fighting mission in Afghanistan as justification for chipping away at services for ill and injured troops at home, said Dallaire.

“Well the war for the casualties is ongoing, if it’s not getting worse,” he said. “At Veterans Affairs, where they once thought they were going out of business because the old vets were dying, they got surprised by the massive escalation of a new generation of veterans with complex and demanding injuries. They responded to it as best they could but then they got hit like everybody else. There’s no value crapping on the system. The political side lost its credibility.”

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Don’t neglect soldiers who suffer from PTSD, warns Dallaire

Some would call it cathartic venting. Others a lesson in long-term survival.

Either way, the message given by retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire to first responders in Edmonton Tuesday was clear: post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t go away.

“It can be terminal,” said Dallaire, now a member of the Canadian senate. “We have too many who are ending up dead.”

Using examples from his own traumatic experiences during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and his subsequent four attempts at suicide, he told a conference of police, paramedics and various other first responders that the crippling depression from PTSD can last decades after the event is over.

In fact, it goes beyond the person who witnesses the event to their family as well.

“We’re seeing their teenage children committing suicide,” said Dallaire, who said the 30 suicides of Canadian soldiers since the beginning of the Afghanistan war should be added to the total casualties.

“Is the number 158? Or is the number 188 and counting? I believe these names have got to be included.”

He later criticized the habit governments have of pulling out funding to support the military once a war has ended, leaving veterans without the ability to find help for themselves or their families.

In a scene he has painted many times since his retirement, Dallaire described a Canadian soldier in a Rwanda rife with civil war.

The soldier watched as children with automatic rifles used other children as shields and advanced on the unarmed civilians he was trying to move to a safer area.

Those memories, Dallaire said, never leave a person and are often triggered by the slightest thing like a smell or a sight, leaving the person incapacitated 10 or more years later.

In the past, soldiers would depend on alcohol abuse and their fellow soldiers to deal with the stress, crutches Dallaire remembers his own father turning to.

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