News / Ottawa

Ottawa war veterans begging for change 'not normal', says retired major

A former Canadian Armed Forces soldier is now living on the streets and doing one-armed pushups for change.

The 45-year-old is often spotted in the ByWard Market. He sometimes introduces himself as a former sergeant of the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and then offers to do 50 one-armed pushups for coins. Kevin – the name we are using because he wishes to remain anonymous – said a mix of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and drug addictions landed him and his wife on the street this summer.

“I’ve used everything. Now I just use pain medication, mostly,” he said, while taking a break from panhandling on King Edward St. on Remembrance Day.

Kevin said he enlisted in the military immediately after high school and served for 24 years, travelling to Somalia and Bosnia, among other places. He said he retired in 2009 after a psychiatrist deemed he was mentally unfit for combat.

Soldiers Helping Soldiers confirmed Kevin is ex-military, although the organization did not know the specifics of his past, including his medical records.

The former soldier was the subject of a speech at the University of Ottawa’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday.

Retired major Dave Blackburn said Kevin, who he met while out in the ByWard Market with friends, is an example of why mental health services are vital for veterans.

“Mental health should be a number one priority for DND and Veterans Affairs Canada,” said Blackburn, an uOttawa alumnus. “It is absolutely not normal, in our society, to meet Canadian veterans in our nation’s capital, to beg for a few coins in exchange for pushups.”

A group of Ottawa organizations is working on a new Veterans House, slated to be built at the old CFB Rockcliffe by 2016. There are about 140 veterans living on the streets in Ottawa, said Suzanne Le, the executive director of Multifaith Housing Initiative.

“When we talk about veterans, we’re really looking at a very different culture … because they respond a little differently,” she said. “They’re used to their unit mentality … They fought in units, they walked in units and the care was for the unit more over the self.”

Kevin said Remembrance Day is “half painful, half good” for him.

“Painful because you remember the people you lost … and good because a lot of the active guys come down and they help me and my wife,” he said. “They actually look for me and make sure I’m okay.”

More on Metronews.ca