Canadian Forces veteran now helping others afflicted with PTSD
PHOTO BY TARA FITZGERALD
Former Canadian Forces soldier Collin Fitzgerald (right) is presented with the Sacrifice Medal by Canadian Army General Walter Natynczyk at the Sainte-Anne’s Veterans’ Hospital Saturday, September 9, while sister Kerri Tadeau (left) and daughter Peyton Fitzgerald look on.
Collin Fitzgerald, who was awarded the Sacrifice Medal during a special ceremony that honoured Canada’s indigenous veterans as part of the nation’s 150th birthday celebrations at Ste. Anne’s Veterans Hospital in Ste. Anne de Bellevue on Saturday, September 9, said he is now active in helping other veterans deal with their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The Sacrifice Medal was presented to the retired Canadian Forces master corporal because of the concussions he received from several hostile engagements during a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006. Fitzgerald was also the first of four soldiers who received the Medal of Valour when it was first presented that year.
The awards ceremony followed an event honouring Indigenous World War II and Korean War veterans. There was also a symbolic 1.58 kilometre walk as a tribute to the 158 souls lost during the Afghan conflict with 79 veterans pushing 79 of their wheelchair-bound comrades on the grounds of the Ste. Anne’s facility.
Fitzgerald said his horrific experiences in Afghanistan and their aftermath seriously altered his psyche and eventually led his severe PTSD diagnosis.
“It was tough. I spent nine months exchanging gun fire with opposing forces and coming back to essentially what seemed like a war at home. It was difficult to adjust. I didn’t want to talk to anybody about the issues I was having,” Fitzgerald told Your Local Journal during a telephone interview from Ottawa on September 12.
“I was knocked out from the numerous concussions I received from different explosions that were going off at the time,” said Fitzgerald. “Just the memories of people that I served with getting hurt, it was terrible. It was a really big factor on my mind and I had a real hard time adjusting.”
Road to recovery
The road to recovery was a years-long, painstaking ordeal for Fitzgerald as he tried to regain a sense of stability in his life. He credits Veterans Affairs Canada, the medical personnel who helped him and the specialized treatment he received from his psychiatric nurse who provided the support he needed that enabled him to recover.
“She really helped me to recover by showing me how to take my pain and turn it into a purpose by finding something good to do in this world. This helped me to get outside my own head,” said Fitzgerald. He now helps other veterans afflicted with PTSD.
Giving to others to help yourself
He admits the process for coming to terms with mental illness is very challenging, but despite the hardships veterans may face, they also have to take an active role in their individual recovery. “The government can only do so much and I don’t think it should fall entirely on the shoulders of Veterans Affairs. It’s up to each individual to try to find purpose in life again,” said Fitzgerald.
“PTSD isn’t something that has to destroy your life. You can go through the motions of breathing every day, sitting in your house and wallowing in your self-pity. Or you can get up and do something about it by leading by example, like adopting a portion of the Highway of Heroes in Ontario and cleaning it twice a year,” Fitzgerald said.
The Sacrifice Medal was created to recognize the sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Forces who have been wounded or killed under honourable circumstances as a direct result of a hostile action or action intended for a hostile force.