It might have been a different rehabilitation journey for Canadian war veteran Trevor Greene if his post-traumatic stress disorder had been treated well and he was joined by other vets during that process.
He now hopes a newly completed housing project in B.C., inspired by his experience after he sustained a life-threatening brain injury in Afghanistan, may prevent other vets from enduring the same.
Internally “they’re still at war,” he said of his armed forces colleagues returning from duty. “And I think if those guys could get into these housing units and get the psychological and mental treatment they need, it will save their lives.”
The Legion Veterans Village, a multipurpose housing development in Surrey, includes on-site clinics for veterans and first responders focusing on PTSD and mental health, as well as mixed medical and rehabilitative services.
Led by the BC/Yukon Command of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Whalley Legion Branch 229, the province of British Columbia and health care developer Lark Group, the building also consists of 91 affordable housing units, including 10 designed for accessibility, with priority given to former soldiers, first responders and legion members and their families. Another 171 units are used for market housing.
The project was conceived in 2015 after hundreds of veterans and first responders provided feedback to the legion about a lack of support in the health care system, said Rowena Rizzotti, project lead of the Legion Veterans Village.
“When the veterans and first responders told us what they needed and told us how desperate that lack of care was, leading to suicide, and leading to terrible outcomes, we said we have to do more,” she said in an interview.
“There has to be more than just a legion. They need housing, they need care and service. They need all the gaps closed, and they need a one-stop shop where we can navigate them from beginning to end.”
This project is the first of its kind in Canada, Ms. Rizzotti said. “Our goal is to change how veterans are treated across this country in every city with the clinical care.”
Ms. Rizzotti said the significance of the turnkey operation is that it reduces the requirement for veterans and first responders and their families to have to navigate a health care system that is already somewhat fractured.
“Sometimes mental health and physical health and rehabilitation and primary care, they’re all in different places, so when it’s all in one roof, and they can live here and be supported by the care and service, that makes it a very, very unique environment,” she said, adding the need for such housing is immense.
Cindy McCammon, a spokesperson for Infrastructure Canada, said there are nearly 617,800 Canadian veterans, as of March, 2021. According to recently reported data, approximately 2,000 retired soldiers access emergency shelters over a year.
As of March 31, 2022, there are over 33,500 veterans in receipt of disability benefits with a PTSD diagnosis, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.
Ken Fraser, executive director of Vancouver Resource Society Communities, a non-profit organization managing affordable housing in the 20-storey building, said there are so far about 60 applications for the units and he anticipated the building will be filled by the end of May.
He said his group is still in the process of finalizing rents for affordable housing as they are trying to acquire more subsidies from BC Housing.
Mr. Greene said such housing serves as “hope” for some veterans returning from war zones.
In 2006, while meeting with elders in an Afghan village on a peacekeeping mission, the retired Canadian Forces captain was hit by a male youth with an axe, and was left in a wheelchair back in Canada.
In 2015, Mr. Greene took first steps with assistance of an exoskeleton, a technology that’s also being deployed in the veterans village to help the mobility-challenged get around. Other facilities that have been set up in the rehabilitation room include a Lokomat machine and an exercise bike that uses a low amount of electrical current to activate deconditioned or paralyzed muscles.
The village’s Centre of Clinical Excellence, operated by Veterans and First Responders Health, will also provide services such as dental care, and brain health, mental-health, addiction and chronic pain care.