Nfld. & Labrador

Helping battle PTSD priority of Royal Canadian Legion president from N.L.

The top legionnaire at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Friday will be Newfoundlander David Flannigan.

'Canadians do care and show you care by wearing a poppy:' David Flannigan

People place poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa following the Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 2015. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The top legionnaire at the National War Memorial in Ottawa for Remembrance Day ceremonies Friday will be a Newfoundlander, who's helping to wage a fight for the treatment of post-traumatic stress.

David Flannigan officially took over as dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion during it's national conference in June in St. John's.

He said the "stars aligned" to put him in the top job during the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's 1916 battle at Beaumont-Hamel in northern France.

David Flannigan of Labrador City took over the post of dominion president of the Royal Canadian Legion back in June during the organization's national convention in St. John's. (Royal Canadian Legion)

"The thrill of laying the wreaths at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1st was just astounding and just the biggest honour that can be bestowed on a Canadian, let alone a Newfoundlander," Flannigan told CBC's Here and Now.

"There is not a prouder Canadian to be standing on Parliament Hill tomorrow representing all Canadian soldiers and veterans. It's a feeling that I've been getting cold shivers for months."

Flannigan's connection to the Legion goes back a long time.

Originally from Lawn on the Burin Peninsula, he first joined the Labrador City branch in 1976, shortly after being medically discharged from the armed forces after serving just a couple of months.

"I felt I had to give something back, so I decided the best way to do that was to honour our veterans and to join the legion," he said.

Battling PTSD

In June, the legion sanctioned a new section to help young veterans who deal with operational stress injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research shows that at least 10 per cent of military veterans — war service veterans and peacekeeping forces — will go on to experience PTSD. Others experience depression and other mental health disorders.

We are here to help our soldiers. We are here to help our veterans.- Legion president David Flannigan

Flannigan said soldiers today face different challenges in the theatre of operations than those of the past.

"My priority is to get the word out. We need to market the Royal Canadian Legion to let Canadians know that we are here. We are here to help our soldiers. We are here to help our veterans."

The Royal Canadian Legion donated $1 million to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre for a new PET-MRI machine to help map mental health disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder. (Royal Canadian Legion)

Part of that help includes $1 million from the poppy fund the legion gave to the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre last year.

The money was used to create a brain imaging center with a state-of-the-art PET-MRI (Positron Emission Tomography–Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine.

"They are developing a special machine which can measure the level of PTSD in the brain which will be phenomenal helping our veterans. We are making all the moves we can to cure and be able to monitor this deadly disease," he said.

Flannigan said the biggest thing Canadians can do to help the mission of the legion and the country's soldiers and veterans is to donate to the poppy fund and wear a poppy.

"Wearing a poppy means you care about our veterans and this year … for the fourth year straight, we have exceeded our distribution of poppies. Last year it was 21 million and right now today we have exceeded that amount. Canadians do care."

With files from Here and Now