A decorated Afghanistan war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder says the only help he got from military counsellors was he was given a rock to squeeze when he wasn't feeling well.
Morrisburg, Ont., resident Collin Fitzgerald, 35, was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and awarded the Medal of Military Valour the next year for saving the lives of members of his platoon.
After he returned to Canada, he said his life has been “an absolute hell.” He said he was beaten up in a bar fight, attempted suicide, and has been arrested several times on charges of assault, weapons offences and drunk driving.
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In an exclusive interview with CBC News, Fitzgerald said the military hasn’t given him the psychological help he needs.
"The counsellor that brought me into her office handed me a rock and told me when I was feeling bad to squeeze the rock and try to think about something else, and sent me on my merry little way," he said.
Plans to move if cleared of latest charge
Most recently, Fitzgerald was arrested outside his hometown OPP station the day after three RCMP officers were gunned down in Moncton, N.B. He was charged with intimidating a police officer.
He said police were nervous about him being around because of his past.
"The last time I checked I don't need papers to walk around in this country to show police that I'm not doing anything wrong,” he said. “All I was simply doing [was] standing there having a smoke."
Fitzgerald said he’s now on medication and seeing a psychologist, paid for by Veterans Affairs, who he said understands his demons.
He was in court in Brockville, Ont., to face the intimidation charge and said if he isn’t found guilty, he plans on moving out of the country.
While Veterans Affairs cannot comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, the department said in an emailed statement that veterans may have access to services and benefits for PTSD.
More than 4,000 mental-health providers are registered to deliver services to veterans, and there are 17 mental-health clinics between Veterans Affairs and National Defence, the department added. In September 2011, Veterans Affairs increased the number of mental health therapy sessions per year from 12 to 25, and sessions in excess of the 25 can be paid for when needed.
Any veteran who feels he or she may have an operational stress injury should contact Veterans Affairs Canada.
Information on accessing operational stress injury clinics and other benefits can be obtained by calling 1-866-522-2122.
The Veterans Affairs Canada Assistance Service at 1-800-268-7708 provides free counselling to veterans and their family members, and can be accessed 24 hours a day. Confidential peer support (peer, family and bereavement support) is available at 1-800-883-6094.