Serving in the Canadian Armed Forces took a heavy toll on the mind and body of Peachland veteran Bettina Fuchs.
“I’ll be fighting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for the rest of my life. It doesn’t go away,” said the Master Corporal.
Fuchs was in the army for 24 years. Her service required her to train in numerous bases across the country and serve three tours in countries that were on the brink of destabilization — Kuwait, Cambodia and Bosnia. Her duty with the Canadian military was to fulfill peacekeeping roles, and it made her a witness to the aftermath of sordid violence in countries dealing with unimaginable poverty where some human lives have no value.
She was first diagnosed with PTSD in 2006 but suspects the onslaught came many years earlier.
“When you’re in a big group of military people; living and working together every day, supporting each other – you don’t notice it so much because you’re all the same. You think how you are is the norm so it’s okay. But when you finally get plucked out of that and all of a sudden you’re by yourself and you don’t have that support anymore, that’s when things start to fall apart.”
The final tour that Fuchs’ completed was in Bosnian in 2003. And s he feels as though the endemic of PTSD among members of the military only began getting due attention during the War in Afghanistan which began in 2001.
“I remember returning from Cambodia. We all came in on the bus. There was the base commander, all smiles. They say here’s a month-long leave pass, see you in a few weeks. We all just left. Went on our merry way and did whatever. There was no checking in on us.”
The intensity of military action didn’t sink in until after she was home.
“You don’t actually think about what you’re doing until after it’s over. You go in and do what you’re trained to do.”
Today, the army gives much more care and attention to emotional vulnerability of its soldiers, but Fuchs says the medical world still has a long way to go in treating those with PTSD and mitigation for the professionals most likely to develop it. Debriefings are important, and “Guys need to educate themselves more; figure out better coping skills.”
When Fuchs first enlisted in 1985, she was looking for a career that would help her gain independence. She was recently divorced, private sector jobs were scarce in the midst of a recession, and she wanted a career that offered opportunities to advance.
“I figured the military would be a good option for me and it was.”
Despite the irreparable injuries she endured, Fuchs is glad to have offered her service.
“I believe everything happens for a reason. We all chose to go there for a reason. We made differences in some peoples lives over there.”
It was disappointing, however, when Fuchs learned that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would live to fight another day after the Gulf War, given that nearly a million Western troops had been mobilized.
“It was a big why question? What happened? Why did they stop? And we still don’t know.”
But she no longer gives much of her attention to the contentious issues unfolding around the world.
“If you dwell on it too much, it affects you—plus having PTSD too makes you paranoid. I watched Good Morning America last week and I couldn’t believe the news they were talking about. So I limit my access to the nitty gritty of what’s going on—my head’s already full.”
Fuchs hoped to continue her career after leaving the military and enrolled in a floristry program, but arthritis developed in the military and injuries to her back and limbs made her unable to work as a florist. She also tried driving a school bus, but rowdy kids and PTSD don’t bode.
Nonetheless Fuchs said she’s equipped with a psychological toolbox to look after herself.
“Day by day I do the best I can. And I try to help others too, which helps me.”
And attending the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, a sporting tournament for wounded veterans, was a very therapeutic experience for Fuchs.
For this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Saturday, Fuchs will be in Victoria laying a wreath on behalf of war brides at the Parliament Buildings.