'It's an upward battle:' Hamilton vets talk about struggle with PTSD

In late 2013, five former or current Canadian Forces soldiers took their own lives. All suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. CBC Hamilton spoke to four local veterans who live with the debilitating condition about how it has affected their lives.

Listen to 4 military vets talk about memories that haunt them and how they carry on

In late 2013, four families of current or former Canadian soldiers had to say goodbye to their loved ones.

When serving in the military, death can be a reality. But these deaths didn't come in an expected way. 

All four soldiers took their own lives. All four suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Just last week, the news broke of a fifth. The husband of retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern, who died in a head-on car crash on Christmas Day, released a statement saying her death was no accident ­ ­– he said she committed suicide.

Local retired veteran Brian Lintner knew MacEachern. They met when they were both posted in Nova Scotia in the late 1980s.

“When I heard of Leona’s passing, I felt a thud in my chest as well as a gut shot,” he said. “I read the press releases, Google-mapped the location, learned of the time of day of the accident. I thought to myself 'How sad, especially on Christmas Day.' "

MacEachern was the second ex-military policewoman Lintner knew who had committed suicide.

Lintner, who retired in 2003 as a military police officer, also suffers from PTSD. He meets bi-weekly with a support group of for veterans struggling with PTSD at a Hamilton east-end legion. 

CBC Hamilton spoke with Lintner and other former soldiers after the news of the string of suicides that raised questions about support and therapy available for veterans and current soldiers.

Meet four former soldiers, all who now live in Hamilton, all of  whom suffer from PTSD.

Their lives are "an upward battle," said Sean Maher, who served in Germany and on a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. "I make small, attainable goals so I'm not setting myself up to fail."

"Sometimes I'll be driving and I'll forget where I am," said Howie Johnson, 52, a 28-year veteran serving overseas in Cyprus. "I'll have pull over and fire up the GPS and say, 'why am I here?'"

I just want the younger guys that have done Afghanistan – for God’s sake, if you need help, ask anyone.—Howie Johnson, Canadian Armed Forces veteran

Martin Waters, 38, served in Haiti and Ethiopia, among other tours overseas. Prior to that, he was in the Navy – he was involved in the gruesome recovery mission for Swiss Air 111.

"It's been an incredible battle to get to this point. The thought of going back to school years ago was frightening," he said. "Not for the fact that I haven't done math in 20 years, it was the crowds. In that situation my brain doesn't function that well. I'd be sitting in class not listening, just as a bag of nerves."

While talking about their PTSD and the scenes that play out in their head can trigger tears, depression or anger, these men spoke about their lives for a greater message.

“I just want the younger guys that have done Afghanistan – for God’s sake, if you need help, ask anyone,” Johnson said. “Ask a cop on the street or someone you trust, [help] is out there, you just got to get to it.”

Despite memories that they might rather not have and how hard dealing with PTSD is on their families, without hesitation, when asked if they would do it again, each veteran said "yes."