For long stretches during her childhood, Kayla Wiens would go without seeing her dad. He was a cook in the military, deploying on sea tours and to war-battered Bosnia, Croatia and the Persian Gulf.
Over time, the father of three started having trouble with his mental health. He’d get worked up over silly things, lose his temper and then shut down. After retiring from the Canadian Forces in 2015 – a year after he was on a warship when its engine room erupted in fire – Dwight Wiens was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But he had to battle to get the help he needed.
Watching her father struggle for medical assistance made Ms. Wiens feel like her whole family was being cast aside. But a new scholarship program for children of military parents coping with PTSD shows them that they matter, she said.
“Growing up in a military family is not the easiest thing in the world,” said the 17-year-old college student from Sooke, B.C. “You don’t see your dad for months on end. You never know if he’s going to come home.”
The Wounded Warriors Canada scholarship fund, created this year, is the first in the country to focus solely on helping the children of military members affected by PTSD or other mental illnesses linked to their service. Ms. Wiens is one of eight students chosen to receive $5,000 for the school year. The award has greatly eased her financial stress as she begins paying for a four-year athletic and exercise therapy program at Camosun College in Victoria.
For her father, the scholarship represents recognition. Most other forms of military education aid are for children of the deceased.
“They honour the people who have died, but have forgotten about the people at home,” he said, choking back tears. “There are lots of people out there that are hurt, that need the help, that aren’t being recognized.”
The Wounded Warriors scholarship is also available to children who lost a military parent to suicide. When The Globe and Mail surveyed 22 private and government education-assistance programs available to children of deceased veterans in the spring, it found that only two – Canada Company and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology’s Fallen Heroes Scholarship – did not extend to deaths by suicide.
Since then, both Canada Company and NAIT have changed their rules. Canada Company, a charity created during the country’s involvement in the Afghanistan war, expanded its scholarship program to include suicide in June. NAIT revealed to The Globe last weekSept. 8 that it will start in January accepting scholarship applications from students whose parent died by suicide and whose death was linked to service in the military, police, firefighting or paramedic work.
“We review programs on a regular basis, and recognize scholarship criteria can evolve,” Mike Meldrum, associate vice-president of advancement at the Edmonton-based school, said in a statement. “We’re pleased to acknowledge the needs of all immediate family members of fallen heroes, including those lives lost to suicide.”
Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell said the organization wants to keep growing its scholarship fund, valued at $40,000, to help as many children and their families as possible. He said the applicants’ stories were heart-wrenching. Many are “walking on eggshells, not sure what mom or dad [they’re] going to wake up to the next day.”
Scholarship recipient Calissa Daly’s father joined the military when he was 17 – the same age she is now, in her first year at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Her father deployed to Cyprus, three times to Bosnia and twice to Afghanistan, where he was part of the Canadian military’s intelligence team. He was medically released from the Forces in 2014 and has been diagnosed with PTSD.
He and his wife, a nurse, have tried to shield their three children from his recurring nightmares and temper flare-ups.
“He is my favourite person in the world,” Ms. Daly said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I think I appreciate him more because of this. I just realized how strong he was, dealing with [PTSD] and still coming to all my curling games, all my rugby games. Still being present and being a family guy.”Report Typo/Error