The Scoop: Alternative News & Views

Essex County could be the model for veterans' healing

John Tomlinson

01 May 2016 in Politics

One of the most interesting experiments in the United States with veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD, is a program to introduce them to rural living, and farming.

Some of the ideas about this 'movement' were first seen in the award-winning documentary 'Ground Operations: Battlefields to Farmfields', the award-winning documentary released back in 2013. Filmmakers Dulanie Ellis and Raymond Singer based the film primarily on the work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, begun eight years ago.

In it, agriculture is seen as a path for a new relationship.

Not that farming is easy... But, nature has a power for healing that we fail to recognize.

"It's real, it's difficult, it's physical and mental, and it protects and serves a community of people."

- Michael O'Gorman

While this program is seen as a success in the United States, there is nothing like it in Canada. Drugging up our recent veterans has not been particularly successful, in treating their anxieties and memories of the battlefield.

In fact, the number of suicides continues to shock those who are aware of the cost to our military families, and supporters.

Several young Afghan veterans from Windsor and Essex County have taken their lives, because of their Afghan experience. We owe them, and their comrades, a better solution to demons that won't go away.

Part of the 'therapy' is to replace the concentration on the past, which haunts those with PTSD, with thoughts of the future.

In farming, it is necessary to focus on the future, of course. "What do we need to do tomorrow or next month in the field?"

As well, the 'crew' you are used to be part of in the military can be replaced with the help of farmers, who have the same goals, challenges, or common problems.

For some, there is, even, a religious element. Christians might remember the prophet Isaiah's vision of transforming weapons into tools for nourishing a community. To replace the past, a different vision of life takes shape.

Veterans Farm, where the growers are disabled vets, produces "Red, White and Blueberries" much sought after in Florida.

Further, to assist Veterans Farm, the University of Florida is co-operating in a plan to offer accredited training to veterans and to connect graduates with land and farmer mentors. Other examples of innovative programs exist in California.

In Canada, as in the U.S., the declining ranks of farmers make this an appealing initiative. Maybe this is the time to act.

Veterans who have faced many obstacles, and destruction, can find peace on the land. Essex County may be that place.

We might find that a sense of completion for veterans can rest with growing, and sustaining life. The alternatives for those with PTSD are not good, as we know too well.

All that is needed is political will. In the end, government must become a leader. The community must take ownership.

Long-term rewards are there, should we decide to become involved.

The Windsor/Essex area is very supportive of veterans, and veterans' issues have been raised at city and county Legions and in meetings, with groups being formed to lobby the federal government, and hold the government to account. Some of the executives, locally, are linked to national veterans' organizations, and, at least, one is a vice-president of a national veterans' association.

Local Members of Parliament have been pro-active in dealing with veterans' concerns.

Delta Company has provided leadership in the business community for liason with returning veterans, and assisted in providing kits for the Essex and Kent Scottish. This group has, recently, brought in non-profit, and charitable, organizations for promotion of a transition program, to provide for a smooth integration of returning veterans into society, where possible.

The Garrison (Windsor Garrison Officers' Mess), which meets at the Major F.A. Tilston, VC. Armoury, has hosted 'business luncheons'—meetings with guest speakers, to bring senior business leaders into the conversation about the military, and the need for liason with returning veterans, especially from the Afghanistan conflict. The WGOM often has displays, and offers an opportunity for business to be more aware and understanding of military traditions. Then, it is possible to be more comfortable with veterans, meeting personnel who are still serving, often having just returned from active duty in various theatres.

Not only is this area known for having family events for the military families, with functions such as fun runs, but there are many fund-raisers with groups such as the North Wall Riders Association hosting benefit dinners several times a year, with proceeds to veterans. This group has members who have served in both the Canadian and American armed forces. Some Canadians who joined the American military are members.

Perhaps the veterans' community here is somewhat unique, with the relationship of our Windsor and area veterans to our American counterparts. There are frequent exchanges with veterans from both sides joining in events. The International Armed Forces Night, for example, alternates between Canadian and United States venues, with senior officers attending. This year's event will be held at the Fogolar Furlan.