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Former Canadian soldier wants to be a reservist despite PTSD

Joshua Dorais developed post-traumatic stress disorder while serving as a Canadian soldier in Croatia in the early 1990s but he says that should not disqualify him from re-enlisting as a reservist.

Paul Swanson/The Globe and Mail

Joshua Dorais developed post-traumatic stress disorder while serving as a Canadian soldier in Croatia in the early 1990s but he says that should not disqualify him from re-enlisting as a reservist.

Mr. Dorais, 43, has filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission alleging that the Canadian Armed Forces is discriminating against him on the basis of a disability by refusing to allow him to return to the reserves.

The military says his PTSD prevents him from being deployed anywhere at any time – the universality of service rule that sees many permanently disabled soldiers handed their discharge papers. But Mr. Dorais says that is not true, that he has the condition under control and that his PTSD would not impede his performance as a nursing officer.

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It's a contentious issue, not just for the military and for people who want to enlist, but also for active soldiers who are suffering from a mental-health condition but refuse to step forward for fear that it will mean the end of their careers.

"The record needs to be set straight for serving and former members who have gone through this process, because I think we're all being punished for no supported reason," Mr. Dorais said in a recent telephone interview. "I think my situation really demonstrated the blatant discrimination."

Mr. Dorais joined the reserves in 1993 and, a year later, was sent to the former Yugoslavia as a medic with the United Nations Protection Force. The images of two fellow soldiers who were killed on that tour still play through his mind and he returned a changed man at the age of 21, behaving in ways that caused him to lose important relationships.

A few years later, when he was part of the regular Forces, a psychologist and a psychiatrist said they believed he had PTSD.

It was a diagnosis Mr. Dorais did not accept until after he had left the military and, in 2003, tried to take his own life with an overdose of drugs. That pushed him into treatment and, with the help of medication, he says he has learned how to control the symptoms of the disorder and lead a productive and stable life.

"I am a better person today, I think, than I've ever been. That came with reaching out," said Mr. Dorais, who worked for nearly 10 years as a nurse in a correctional institution.

Now, he would like to return to the reserves and help guide the next generation of soldiers. But, although he sailed through his interview with the Canadian Forces, and passed both an aptitude test and a physical-fitness test, his medical condition proved to be a stumbling block.

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"As soon as I got into that office, the sergeant who was doing the exam said, 'I am just going to be honest with you. I can't support your enrolment. The Forces are kicking members with PTSD out. Why would they let people with PTSD in?'" Mr. Dorais said.

A few weeks later, he received a form letter from a recruitment medical evaluator confirming that he was being rejected as a result of the rules around universality of service. Because of his medical history, Mr. Dorais was told that he remains "at increased risk for a recurrence of symptoms, especially if again subject to the stress of a military environment."

So, last week, Mr. Dorais appealed to the Human Rights Commission, saying that the Forces can no more predict the behaviour risk associated with his mental-health history than it can predict that a soldier will be maimed or mortally wounded during military service.

A Canadian Armed Forces spokeswoman said in an e-mail Monday that the military is aware of the complaint filed by Mr. Dorais and that it is being "dealt with appropriately" but that she could offer no additional comment due to privacy and confidentiality issues.

It is unknown how long it will take the Human Rights Commission to respond to Mr. Dorais's allegations. An intake officer will determine whether the complaint meets some basic requirements. If it does, it will be handed to an inspector and then possibly given to the commissioners for resolution.

"I can perform and I do perform in my activities of daily life and I have already proven to the military that I have actually performed in those roles," Mr. Dorais said.

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"The universality of service says you must be fit to fight at any time and any place. Well, I am saying to them, 'Tell me where I can't perform in that capacity.'"

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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