VANCOUVER – When Tim Laidler came back to Canada after serving eight months in Afghanistan in 2010, he felt numb.
He said he tried to get back to life as usual, going back to school to finish his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, and didn’t think he had any problems.
“People were saying I had this great perspective on the world now,” Laidler explained. “But, I almost had too much perspective because I went from a place where I was close to death every day, to school where you are trying to study for a midterm.”
“I definitely picked up some baggage over there,” he said. “There were things I saw that were pretty horrific and they definitely came home with me… and they were having an impact on my life.”
That baggage included seeing a young girl setting herself on fire and almost shooting a young boy he thought was a Taliban militant.
It wasn’t just the traumatic feelings that he bottled up, it was also positive emotions that he had trouble dealing with.
“When I went over to Afghanistan I shut down any emotion, so I could survive in such a stressful environment and a war zone.”
He never considered that he may need to speak with anyone, on a therapeutic basis, to discuss what he experienced and how to move forward.
It was his good friend, James Alexander, who pointed him in the direction of the Veterans Transition Program – a research program at UBC aimed at helping troops with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Alexander told Laidler how he had benefited from taking part in the program.
“I said to him a couple of times, casually…’This is a really good thing for people and it worked well for me.. .Tim you might want to give it a go.”
Alexander said it took him about a year to get Laidler to give it a go. They were taking part in a NATO exercise in southeast Kazakhstan when Laidler started to see the need to address what he went through and learn how to deal with it.
He thought it would just be a bunch of guys sharing their feelings, but it was much more than that.
The program not only helped Laidler open up, it put him on a career path that would help hundreds of other Canadian soldiers.
He’s now paying forward the advice that Alexander gave him four years ago.
“It gave me life purpose again and something to be passionate about,” he told Global News.
He became so passionate about the program that he eventually took the job of executive director at what is now the Veterans Transition Network (VTN).
He helped roll out the program nationally and actively campaigns for funds. What started with just 12 soldiers back in 1999, has now grown to 400 people. The goal is to have 25 programs across the country by 2015, being able to assist 150 veterans a year.
Two of the co-founders of the program said Laidler’s heart and “genuine” personality is what makes the difference, helping soldiers accept peer support.
“He’s integral to the program,” Dr. Tim Black said. “He’s really the only reason why we are at this point now, moving it out nationally.”
“He’s very good at offering support in a way the people can accept it. It’s not syrupy. It’s not the sort of typical counsellor speak that maybe you see in movies sometimes. It’s just honest, straightforward [and] person-to-person.”
Black said Laidler is a big advocate for veterans and making sure they get help. He said people people really respond to Laidler because they can see how much he cares.
“Tim is a very good example of a returning veteran,” co-founder Marv Westwood said. “He’s totally committed to having a program to make sure other veterans like him get the same benefit that he did [from the program].”
“The things he [Laidler] has done have been heroic in nature,” said Alexander, who has also become a clinician after going though the Transitions program. “He’s helped enough people now… things would have been different without him.”
As the program grows, Laidler said he would like to see it go beyond just helping solders, possibly helping professional hockey players transition after they’ve been sidelined with injuries.
Laidler doesn’t need any special recognition for his work, but he said it’s now his purpose in life.
“I’m doing really good work and I’m happy with that,” he said. “It’s been an honour to work with [VTN].”
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