News / Vancouver

‘We’re working to try to understand what military families need’: health experts

Retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire among speakers at next week’s Military and Veteran Health Research Forum in Vancouver.

Retired Lt. Gen. and Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this 2014 file photo.


Retired Lt. Gen. and Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this 2014 file photo.

He’s considered a Canadian hero who saved countless lives in Rwanda in the 1990s.

But when retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire speaks before a conference of researchers and policy-makers in Vancouver next week, he’ll be talking about a subject much closer to his heart: the “internal battlefield” of mental health he’s grappled with in the years since.

The Canadian senator and recent author of Waiting for First Light — a memoir of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder — is just one of the keynote speakers at a conference hosted by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research.

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“His experience as a (Canadian Forces) member became an inside battlefield — to struggle against all the ghosts and memories,” said the institute’s co-founder and scientific director, Dr. Stephanie Belanger, an instructor at the Royal Military College of Canada. “He’s been at our forum every year.

"He believes that research will make a better world through better-informed policies and practices. He’s been a great supporter.”

The event, in its seventh year, will bring to together an estimated 600 experts, including academics, politicians, military personnel and senior officials.

The hope is to offer the most up-to-date expertise on health issues affecting currently serving personnel, veterans, and their families.

“It’s a great opportunity for knowledge to be readily accessible, and to make an impact right away,” Belanger, who is herself a reservist, said in a phone interview. “It allows them to make better decisions after you can show them tools to make those decisions. That’s why this forum is magical: there’s a bit of synergy going on.”

Fellow co-scientific director Dr. Heidi Cramm specializes in Canadian military families and the unique health challenges they face, as well as the barriers to access many face because of frequent moves across provincial boundaries.

She said the event is a rare chance to bring together front-line workers — who serve veterans and Canadian Forces members directly — with those who help shape services and policies available.

“That’s part of the magic,” she told Metro, “because that’s where you can get at some of these messy problems.

“None of these issues can be solved or understood by any single individual or agency. They require a lot of different players at table, who are willing to engage and collaborate.”

The seventh annual Military and Veteran Health Research Forum will take place at Vancouver’s Westin Bayshore Hotel from Monday to Wednesday.

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