There are so many ways to honour our Canadian veterans, the soldiers who have made immense sacrifices to serve our country, not just on Remembrance Day, but every single day. That said, caring for them as they come home and adjust to their new surroundings could be one of the most ideal ways of doing this. After all, whether they served in active combat or not, military service members come back home with a lifetime of repercussions. This includes several physical and/or mental injuries, including living with chronic pain, disability, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or other service-related mental and physical illnesses.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common injuries veterans tend to suffer from, as well as the care services available through Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC).
Common combat injuries
There are a number of injuries that veterans can suffer from, this also includes injuries that happen years after their time in service. These injuries can occur when they are in the middle of combat, or even while in training. Injuries that stem from such intense situations can present themselves in various forms. In order to properly care for the vet in your life, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the kind of injuries they could suffer from. Here are a few common ones:
Traumatic Brain Injuries
As the name suggests, traumatic brain injuries – also known as TBI – are one of the most serious injuries a veteran can experience. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes it as, “A disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.” Those in the military are at risk of suffering from a traumatic brain injury due to violent blows or jolts to the body and/or head caused by explosions or other intense physical collisions.
Traumatic brain injuries could either be mild or severe in nature. However, in either form, they could have a range of not just physical, but psychological effects as well. In addition to this, it must be noted that signs or symptoms of such injuries might not appear immediately – they could present themselves over a period of time.
Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries could be physical and include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, drowsiness, speech problems, and dizziness. They could also consist of sensory symptoms such as blurred vision and sensitivity to light and sound. Lastly, cognitive symptoms feature mood swings, losing consciousness for a few seconds, being confused, or disoriented, sleeping more than usual or even difficulty sleeping.
Moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries also have physical symptoms such as convulsions, seizures, loss of coordination, dilated eye pupils, clear fluids escaping from the nose and/or ears, as well as chronic headaches. Cognitive symptoms include profound confusion, falling into a coma, agitation, and unusual behaviour.
If you notice any of these symptoms, please seek immediate medical attention.
Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
Hearing loss and tinnitus are common illnesses that veterans – as well as active soldiers – tend to suffer from. After all, serving in the military is a hazard for occupational hearing impairment, due to prolonged exposure to noise. Causes for hearing loss and tinnitus for active soldiers and veterans include working in a ship’s engine room, explosions, or even continuous exposure to firearms being used. In fact, ear disorders, mostly noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus, were the most common Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) disability benefit diagnoses among veterans with service in the Second World War and Korean War.
In terms of diagnoses, sensorineural hearing loss is extremely common – it makes sounds and noises seem muffled or muzzled. This indicates that there has been damage to the soldier’s or veteran’s inner ear or nerve pathways. Tinnitus on the other hand, presents itself as a ringing or buzzing in the ears, which at times, can become troublesome for the victim.
Military personnel on active duty are required to carry out a significant amount of rigorous physical work that puts their bodies under extreme stress. For instance, their uniforms and body armour can weigh several pounds. They might also be required to carry heavy equipment or ride in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Intense rigour such as this can cause injuries such as sprained or torn ligaments that could often result in the development of conditions such as arthritis. What’s more, military personnel are prone to developing long-lasting conditions such as arthritis at a young age – at a rate much higher than civilians.
Common forms of arthritis experienced by veterans include Osteoarthritis (OA) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The senior vet in your life may be suffering from OA if they experience body pain and stiffness, or even swollen hands, knees, and shoulders. On the other hand, RA is an autoimmune disease wherein the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. It is considered a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes damage to the skin, eyes, and even blood vessels, the heart, and lungs.
Muscle Injuries from Gunshot and Shrapnel Wounds
Those in active combat are at a high risk of sustaining gunshot or shrapnel wounds. Injuries caused by gunshots and shrapnel can range from mild to severe, depending on a variety of factors such as the location of the shot and the severity of the wound. That said, gunshot and shrapnel wounds can cause substantial damage to the body such as lingering issues in the bones, muscles, and even organs. However out of these, chronic pain from muscle damage is an extremely common long-lasting after-effect of such injuries that trouble veterans even years after their time in the service.
Care services for veterans
Senior veterans can avail a number of care services to manage injuries – both mental and physical – caused by their time in the military. Such services include:
Physical therapy can help senior veterans reduce pain caused by wartime injuries, as well as help restore mobility in order for them lead more active lives. This ends the need for extensive surgery, and thereby the use of prescription medication for extended periods of time, which could result in other conditions such as substance abuse. There also exist physical therapists who have served in the military and are hence aware of the chronic conditions that vets face, in addition to being familiar with how to treat them.
Physical therapists can help the senior vet in your life develop a plan for pain management, and recommend techniques to promote mobility, restore function, and prevent disability. Seeing a physical therapist can also help with fall prevention by improving balance and strengthening muscles and joints.
Support Groups and Psychological Therapists
Often, veterans suffer from not just physical wounds caused by their time in combat, but mental ones as well. Veterans can suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety even years after active military service. Many a time, vets silently suffer from such mental impairment as they are ashamed of sharing their feelings with their loved ones due to the social stigma around mental health. This could lead to severe issues such as substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. Here is where support groups or therapists come into play.
Senior vets sometimes refrain from sharing their experiences and feelings with their loved ones out of fear of burdening them with concerning information, or because they believe their emotions are unrelatable. In such cases, support groups – which is also a free mental health service – can be of immense help as they consist of other individuals who have shared similar wartime experiences. By sharing their thoughts and feelings with likeminded individuals, senior veterans can find a source of comfort and ease their mind, as well as feel less isolated.
In case veterans are not comfortable sharing their emotions with multiple people at support groups and would prefer to keep their thoughts confidential, therapists are a great option. Therapists can help senior veterans privately navigate through their mental health issues, recognize, and understand their triggers, as well as provide them with coping strategies. Additionally, if needed, senior veterans can also see psychiatrists in case they are facing severe mental health challenges and require medication to cope with them.
Government Support for Veteran Care
The Government of Canada also provides a number of services to support veterans and even members of the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. These services are widespread and include financial and rehabilitative support. Here’s a closer look at what is offered:
Physical health and wellness
This includes support for knee, back or other physical injuries, which is provided in the form of –
- Compensation for Illness or Injuries
- Medical Costs
- Help at Home
- Rehabilitation Services
- Long-Term care for those who require constant personal and nursing care
- Services and compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus
Mental health and wellness
This comprises counselling and compensation for mental health needs, including PTSD and depression. It includes:
- A 24/7 support helpline. Veterans can call 1-800-268-7708 to speak to a mental health professional whenever needed. They can also use the online chat tool to set up an appointment.
- Assessment and treatment of mental health conditions such as operational stress injury, also known as OSI.
- Rehabilitation services that provide treatment and therapies to cope with service-related trauma.
- Medical costs for services and expenses related to veterans’ mental illnesses that covers expenses for group health insurance, prescriptions, devices, and health-related travel.
The Government of Canada also provides other financial programs and services for veterans in the form of income support, emergency funds, as well as compensation for eligible prisoners of war. More information on the Canadian government’s offerings for veterans and their caregivers can be found by visiting www.veterans.gc.ca.
What is a Veterans Affairs Canada Authorized Provider?
Veteran Affairs Canada (VAC) Authorized Providers are healthcare organizations/ professionals who are able to deliver the support and services by VAC to eligible individuals. VAC pays for the cost of health care benefits and other services provided to these individuals by such organizations/ professionals only if they are registered with VAC
This is important as it ensures that service providers have the right credentials and training needed to provide safe and effective care and are able to meet professional standards of conduct and competence in practice.
Therefore, before trying to avail the government’s support through a healthcare provider, it is extremely important to ensure that they are a VAC Authorized Provider for the service being sought out. You can gather more information by clicking here.
Neighbourhood Care is a VAC authorized provider
Neighbourhood Care is registered with Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) as an authorized provider of home care for Canadian Veterans under the Veterans Independence Program (VIP). This program supplies limited financial aid to eligible veterans to help them remain independent and self-sufficient not only in their own homes, but in their communities as well, for as long as possible.
To learn more, call 905-330-1353, or send us a message. Our home care team keeps a thorough and up-to-date understanding of the process and can answer any questions you may have.
Understanding how to care for aging veterans can go a long way in supporting their physical and mental health. After all, our veterans have cared for us by protecting our country, and so, it only makes sense for us to show our gratitude to caring for them and protecting their overall wellbeing.