Canadian war veteran Trevor Greene knows what it’s like to navigate treatment after a life-threatening injury, combined with post-traumatic stress, prompting his decision to take on an advising role at the Legion Veterans Village Centre for Excellence in Surrey, B.C.
The non-profit centre set to open next winter will host clinical research studies into rehabilitation and brain health, including post-traumatic stress disorder and other neurological conditions that impact veterans, police officers, paramedics and firefighters.
Led by the BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Whalley Legion Branch 229 and Lark Group, it will also provide affordable housing, market housing and legion facilities.
Greene, who survived being struck in the head with an axe during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in 2006, says his experience will help provide the framework for veterans to receive the care and support they need to recover, something he says was missing from his treatment plan over the past 16 years.
“PTSD is exhausting physically, psychologically and mentally,” he says. “I’m giving the benefit of my experience and my perspective.”
When he returned home, Greene says he received great support and treatment from Veterans Affairs Canada, but still felt emotionally isolated because other veterans weren’t part of his rehabilitation team.
“People would sympathize, of course, but they couldn’t get it. We tend to be more comfortable around other veterans (because) you don’t need to explain yourself to them, especially when talking about PTSD,” he says. “This (project) is critical because the models we currently have are outdated and not specific to the veteran community.”
Rowena Rizzotti, project lead of the Legion Veterans Village, says Greene’s story inspired the $312-million complex, which was conceptualized in 2015 and broke ground in 2019.
She says its goal is to address challenges first responders and veterans face and provide all necessary health care in one location.
“There are great services out there and there are clinical providers that are doing amazing work, but there isn’t always a continuum of care or network of integrated services,” she says.
The high rates of mental health disorders and suicide among the first responder and veteran populations drove them to want to make a difference, Rizzotti says.
The project also aims to address veteran homelessness with 91 affordable housing units and another 495 condominiums to be sold at market value.
Dr. Venu Karapareddy, a psychiatrist and founder of Actum Health in Vancouver who specializes in PTSD, mental health and addictions, says he expects this care model will soon serve as a template for veteran and first responder care centres across Canada.
He says it’s a unique opportunity to use the latest technology and innovation to positively impact clinical care for first responders and the veteran population.
The mental and physical health systems often work in silos, but this centre would bring all those services together, he said.
Rizzotti says the centre is needed more now than it was when it was conceptualized six years ago, citing the ongoing opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic as the drivers for more mental health supports for first responders.
“We intend to be a single place where veterans and first responders can go and where we can support them on their journey. We plan to link with other partners locally, provincially and nationally (because) we want to bring this entire community together,” Rizzotti says.
“We want to be a nucleus that helps to catalyze how we can transform the care and provide better service for this population.”
Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press