Lest We Forget…Those Who Do Return

Prof. Westwood initiated the Veterans Transition Program, designed to help soldeirs transition back to civilian life - photo by Martin Dee
Prof. Westwood initiated the Veterans Transition Program, designed
to help soldeirs transition back to civilian life – photo
by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 54 | No. 11 | Nov.
6, 2008

By Marvin Westwood
Professor, Deptartment of Educational and Counselling Psychology
and Special Education

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Canadians
will pause for two minutes of silent tribute to remember
the thousands of men and women who lost their lives in wars
in Europe, Korea, and more recently in Afghanistan.

We should also take the time to remember and care for our
soldiers who do return from war. These are the soldiers that
carry the lifelong physical and mental scars of war. It is
estimated that 30 per cent of returning soldiers are traumatized
in active combat and experience symptoms such as nightmares,
sleeplessness, confusion, an inability to concentrate, isolation
and overuse of alcohol and drugs. Veteran soldiers are twice
as likely to commit suicide as non-veteran civilians. We
have a responsibility as members of a civil society to help
soldiers transition successfully back into civilian life.

How can we do we do this? Ten years ago, in my role as a
counselling psychologist at the Faculty of Education at UBC,
I brought together veterans from the Korean and Second World
Wars to talk to other soldiers about their experiences. These
older veterans reported benefits from sharing their experiences
with one another for the first time in their lives. They
recommended that similar programs needed to be offered soon
after veterans return from war.  This provided the impetus
for initiating the Veterans Transition Program (VTP), a group-based
program designed to assist former members of the Canadian
military in their transition back to civilian life. The program
is supported by funds from the Royal Canadian Legion and
has been running over the past nine years. More than 160
people have completed the program. This is the only program
of its kind in Canada.

The VTP groups are co-facilitated by professionally trained
group leaders who have extensive experience and understanding
working within a military context. In this supportive and
confidential group environment, the VTP provides information,
skill acquisition and counseling interventions to help participants
better understand their military experience and its impact
on their lives. It also provides participants with the opportunity
to re-enact critical events they experienced on the battlefield
as a way dealing with and letting go of the trauma reactions
they carry arising from their tours of duty and their readjustment
to civilian life. Soldiers refer to this process as “dropping
baggage’ so that they can get on with their lives more

I remember the case of a soldier who was able to tell the
group about his feelings of guilt after he had decided not
to go in the field because he had a bad hangover.  His
buddy covered for him. That day his buddy was killed in a
landmine explosion.  By expressing his intense feelings
of remorse and guilt he released the haunted memories and
regrets that followed him home from the former Yugoslavia.

My research demonstrates that participants in the VTP have
fewer trauma symptoms, gain personal confidence and have
improved relationships with spouses, partners, children and
families.  Additionally, they develop a close working
relationship with other soldiers in the group.  This
results in a strong and enduring sense of community and serves
as a network of support among the participants following
the program.

But you don’t have to be a counseling psychologist
to show support for these soldiers. There are three key ways
we can all do our part for these returning soldiers. First
of all, if you meet a soldier let him or her know that you
appreciate what he or she did for this country. Second, try
to be informed about the invisible wounds that occur, and
how they are manifested, in order to be sensitive to how
these returning veterans may be struggling. In particular,
support them if they are considering seeking professional
help by suggesting it is a normal part of recovery from the
exposure of serving in the war. Finally, lobby your member
of Parliament for more support and resources for those soldiers
who return from war.

As we take the time to remember the many lives that were
lost during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean
War, let us not forget our commitment to our modern day soldiers
who return traumatized by their hidden wounds. 

In March 2008, Prof. Marvin Westwood was awarded the Royal
Canadian Legion’s Highest Service Merit Award for a Civilian
for Development of the Canadian Military and Veterans’ Transition
Program. This is the highest recognition award given to a non-military
person. In June, the UBC Department of Counselling Psychology
and Special Education received an award from the Royal Canadian
Foundation in recognition of their support and contribution
towards veterans through Prof. Westwood’s Veteran’s
Transition Program.




Annual UBC Remembrance Day Ceremony Nov. 11

UBC’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony will be held
on Tuesday, November 11, in the War Memorial Gym. With doors
open at 10 a.m., all are welcome to attend to honour and
remember all those who served in times of war, military conflict
and peace. This year’s event will commemorate in particular
the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War and
the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human

The ceremony, which often draws more than 1,000 people,
will include music provided by the UBC School of Music, short
readings and remarks. UBC Vice President, External, Legal
and Community Relations, Stephen Owen, AMS  President,
Michael Duncan and Dr. John Blatherwick, former Chief Medical
Health Officer for the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority
and Honorary Colonel with the Canadian Forces Reserves, will
be among this year’s speakers.

For more information, visit the UBC
Ceremonies website