Laurie Patrick Nelson is feeling better. The former member of Canadian Armed Forces received some unexpected support on Friday from VETS Canada. The inter-provincial network of volunteers – who reach out and help veterans who have failed to successfully make the transitions from their military careers to healthy civilian lives – has pledged to assist Nelson in whatever manner they can.
‘I don’t feel alone,’ Nelson said.’I feel like they’re my brothers.’ VETS Canada met up with Nelson on Friday during a walkabout in the downtown. One of the organization’s priorities is assisting those living on the streets and others who may be suicidal. Nelson, 39, said he’s not a homeless veteran but falls in the low-income category because he can’t hold a job. To supplement his income, he sells his artwork on the streets of downtown Fredericton.
Nelson said is receiving half benefits from the military and is in the process of applying for full disability. If he receives full benefits, Nelson said, he can use the money until he’s able to rejoin either the workforce or sign up again with the military. He left the Forces about 10 years ago after sustaining a serious head injury.
JAMES WEST/THE DAILY GLEANER
Helping hands: Members of VETS Canada and the Fredericton Police Force walked the streets of Fredericton on Friday afternoon in search for homeless veterans and retired police. Above, Rick DeGruyl, left, and Wayne O’Toole, right, talk with low-income veteran Laurie Patrick Nelson on the steps of the Wilmot United Church.
Nelson said he had never heard of VETS Canada until Friday but is confident they can assist him. ‘They’ve been through it,’ he said. ‘They are older and experienced.’ Matthew Kane, the executive director for VETS Canada in New Brunswick, said an initial walkabout was carried out on Wednesday as part of an effort to identify homeless veterans, both military and RCMP.
While a number of homeless veterans have been recorded across Canada, at least one has been found in Fredericton. ‘With one coming up so rapidly, it’s not something that we expected,’ Kane said.’It may actually be a larger problem than we initially anticipated.’ In Toronto, he said, 16 per cent of homeless people have been identified as being military or RCMP veterans.
‘I think a lot of it has to do with mental health issues,’ Kane said. ‘Myself, I am a veteran; I was diagnosed with PTSD after I returned from operations in the Middle East. If it hadn’t have been for the interventions of friends and family, I was literally weeks away from being homeless. Not knowing how or … being too proud to go out and seek this help is a large part of the issue.’ Katherine Greer-Hulme, a retired military sergeant and media liaison for the organization, said her group volunteered at the Fredericton Community Kitchen this week and were able to show people they were veterans out to help veterans.
‘We’re hoping with this walkabout, more people are going to see us, start asking questions and know that we are here to help,’ she said. ‘We’re trying to get the word out and we have just started the chapter here in New Brunswick.’ Help can take the form of just having someone available to talk to a veteran, bring him or her a coffee, a sleeping bag, get them into the care they need, or help them find housing.
Const. Dave Beck of the Fredericton Police Force’s neighbourhood action team said officers see people on the streets daily. He said he accompanied the group Friday on its walk-around to show them areas where street people hang about. Beck said if police find someone who falls with the category the organization has targeted, they will let VETS Canada know. ‘It’s a wonderful idea,’ Beck said.
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