Father of Afghan war hero details son's struggles with PTSD and family's legal battles
Collin Fitzgerald, one of Canada's most decorated soldiers, was awarded for his valour and bravery but since returning from Afghanistan has run into trouble with the law on multiple occasions.
Now, his father is facing legal troubles as well.
His father, Bryan Fitzgerald, was in Ontario provincial court on Nov. 10 facing charges of obstruction of justice. The charges stem from an incident last year when Fitzgerald was accused of trying to stop officers from arresting his son, who allegedly breached his bail conditions.
Fitzgerald tells As it Happens host Carol Off that the charges are "bogus" and "nothing but lies." He says all he did was ask the officers why his son was being arrested.
For the Fitzgerald family, it has been one thing after another since Collin Fitzgerald returned from Afghanistan.
Suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, Fitzgerald has had multiple run-ins with the law including charges of assault, drunk driving and weapons offences. He also attempted suicide a few years ago.
Do not give up on them no matter what anyone says.- Bryan Fitzgerald, father of decorated Canadian soldier Collin Fitzgerald
"He eventually lost his job with the military because of the PTSD," Bryan Fitzgerald says. "He was drinking a lot. He did have problems with alcohol which he has now overcome. He has been going to therapy. He has three or four doctors that he sees regularly."
Fitzgerald says his son hasn't told him much about what happened in Afghanistan.
"The one thing I do know about, that he did tell me, is when he was driving … and he had an interpreter sitting in the passenger seat with him and a missile or whatever came through the passenger side and took the interpreter's legs off right there in front of him."
In 2007, Collin Fitzgerald was awarded the Medal of Military Valour. The year before Fitzgerald saved his fellow soldiers by driving a burning vehicle off the road.
"They were under attack and it was an ambush. They were pinned in," says his father. "He saved all the people he was with."
Bryan Fitzgerald says his son is "getting a hold" of his PTSD. However, since Collin's breach of bail charge last year, he was forced to move out from his parent's home in Morrisburg, Ont. Now, he can only visit the town when he's accompanied by his surety.
Fitzgerald says he still sees his son at least once a week. He has some advice for other parents who have children suffering with mental illness: "The message that I have is: give them all the help that they need. They, as far as I'm concerned, are the most important thing in your life. Do not give up on them no matter what anyone says."
From the book In Their Own Words: Canadian Stories of Valour and Bravery from Afghanistan, 2001-2007, here's the citation regarding Collin Fitzgerald's award:
"Master Corporal Collin Ryan Fitzgerald Medal of Military Valour 24 May 2006 Master Corporal Fitzgerald deployed with 5 Platoon, B Company, 1 PPCLI Battle Group in Afghanistan. He is recognized for outstanding selfless and valiant actions carried out on MAY 24, 2006, during an ongoing enemy ambush involving intense, accurate enemy fire. Master Corporal Fitzgerald repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by entering and re-entering a burning platoon vehicle and successfully driving it off the roadway, permitting the remaining vehicles trapped in the enemy zone to break free. Master Corporal Fitzgerald's courageous and completely selfless actions were instrumental to his platoon's successful egress and undoubtedly contributed to saving the lives of his fellow platoon members."