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Master Warrant Officer Paul Watkins at home in Courtney, B.C., with his children, from left, Danny, 15, Kyle, 14, and Chelsea, 17. MWO Watkins’s oldest son, Scott, is currently in military training in Quebec. (CHAD HIPOLITO For The Globe and Mail)
Master Warrant Officer Paul Watkins at home in Courtney, B.C., with his children, from left, Danny, 15, Kyle, 14, and Chelsea, 17. MWO Watkins’s oldest son, Scott, is currently in military training in Quebec. (CHAD HIPOLITO For The Globe and Mail)

On military families: ‘If you stay together…, you become a lot stronger than you normally would’ Add to ...

- Erin Anderssen

‘I wasn’t just one person injured that day’

Mark Campbell is angry. Not just because he lost both his legs while serving in Afghanistan, or because he’s felt abandoned by the military since then, or even because he’s now suing the Canadian Forces, his employer.

All that pales beside another factor: his family, who are suffering the fallout of his injury as much as he is. His wife slid into a deep depression after trying to navigate the bureaucracy of a military system Major Campbell says was entirely unprepared to handle casualties. His kids’ performance in school has sunk. The family was forced to move, burning through an inheritance, and is guaranteed less income than if he hadn’t been injured – he and his wife Donna, a Warrant Officer, expect to be discharged by the military.

All told, the family’s home has become a powder keg.

“I wasn’t just one person injured that day,” Major Campbell says, sitting at the kitchen table of a home they built, north of Edmonton, to accommodate a wheelchair. “There were three other immediate members of my family who might as well have been in that blast with me, because it affected them just as much as it affected me.”

Major Campbell was injured by a roadside bomb in Zhari district of Kandahar province in 2008. His recovery took its toll from early on. At first, the family of four could spend time together only in hotels or in the garage, as their old home couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair.

Since the injury, Major Campbell says the old cliché held true – his biggest battles awaited him at home. He says they’ve been forced to claw for every benefit, and that the military has fought them along the way. In particular, he’s waged a battle against Canada’s New Veterans’ Charter, which – despite its rosy name – he says dramatically clawed back benefits for injured soldiers in the midst of the Afghan mission.

The injuries put a stress on the marriage, too, whether from Major Campbell’s nightmares (he still gets them nightly, thrashing and punching in his sleep) or his physical injuries, including a missing testicle and genital scarring (“which had impacts later on down the road with the family dynamic, as you can well imagine,” he says).

WO Campbell, a full-time reservist who, like her husband, is taking medication for her mental health, recalls watching a TV show shortly after his injury, featuring an injured soldier whose wife had left him.

“I said how could she leave him at the time he really needs help?” she says. “You know what? Then, over the years, I lived it and I can understand why, right now, somebody would bail. There are a lot of soldiers whose wives have left. Because Mark’s not the same guy he used to be.”

In some ways, they say, their marriage is stronger. But WO Campbell says she feels betrayed by the military. He’s quickly stirred to anger and profanity – calmed only by his wife gently touching his arm – over the treatment he has received since coming home.

“That’s just the basic idea,” he says. “If I’m going to give you a signed blank cheque up to and including my life, then you better have my family’s back when I come home in a box or chair. That’s the deal. Well, I went. I held up my end of the bargain. Then you get hurt and you find out that the institution that you’ve devoted your entire life and your loyalty to has turned around and stabbed you in the back.”

- Josh Wingrove

Military families by the numbers

45,106

Number of military families in the Canadian Forces

 

55,199

Number of children under 18 with a parent in the military

 

83

Percentage of military families who live off-base

 

59

Percentage of military members who are either married or living common-law

 

5

Percentage of military personnel who are divorced or separated

 

32

Percentage who are single

 

46

Percentage of military spouses who work full-time

 

13

Percentage of military spouses who are male

 

75

Percentage of military couples who have children

 

8

Percentage of military families who have one or more children with special needs

 

70

Percentage of military spouses who have experienced at least one deployment of their family

 

17

Percentage who have experienced at least five deployments

 

76

Percentage who have relocated at least once for a military posting

 

Statistics compiled by the Vanier Institute of the Family, as part of the Canadian Military Family Initiative

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