Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Advocacy Leadership Spotlight: Meet Daniel Drapeau- PTSD Awareness


IPHA News is proud to present one of Canada’s honored advocates for Post-Military life.  As a retired military professional, Mr. Dan Drapeau’s more recent initiatives include his volunteer work for the recent generations of retirees – including those suffering from PTSD. Mr. Drapeau also volunteered once a week as an interpreter at the Canadian War Museum. In 1974, he joined the Canadian Force Armoured Corps then enlisted in the UN Mission for serve some of the most underserved areas of the world.  

Our editors connected with Mr. Drapeau in this exclusive interview about post military injuries and his own journey with surviving the “voices and ghosts” of war.  “No matter what trade you are in, anyone suffering from PTSD… please get help!  Go and get some help because you, you owe it to your family and your friend and yourself. Go and get some help because you are living with a cancer- the kind that chews you up slowly. Uh, in my case, I had two strokes because of PTSD. I have a brain illness cause of PTSD and because it keeps your blood pressure up the roof. So please get help- your family deserves better knowing you can be a better you than the one you are under PTSD.”

Excerpts from an interview with Daniel Drapeau

There's a term they say "you leave as a boy, come back as a man".  War changes you – and you only have two choices; you cry and go underground and hide, or you [become] a man and fight.  That was a rule. You cannot be a coward. If you're a coward, they'll kick you out.  Staying in the military, you need to push everything inside and build walls so that nothing can bother you after a while.  Unfortunately, over time, your wall falls apart and [eventually] this leads to problems.

I found a saying in one of my tours: "VIOLENCE IS THE LAST RESORT FOR THE IMBECILE" written on a rock in No Man's land between Syria and Israel during the Yom Kippur War.  The message here was stating that it's much easier to do war than do peace.  Unfortunately, in today's world, it's more crazy [than ever with] violence and war than ever before – as if any excuse is good to start a war with your neighbor. It seems like there's no boundaries about how far stupidity can go.  We tend to react the wrong way instead of thinking twice before acting.

The problem with PTSD is how people receive help.  [In some cases, therapists] can make them talk about their issues right away and get it off their system.  But for so many others like me, it's [buried deep] in our system - and you will never get it out.  The older the wound, the more wouldn’t want to reopen it. It's more pain that way.  

As of now, the only organization I'm still attending is the United Nations Peacekeeper. Groups like this really want to help and they're trying to help their members as much as they can, but the problem is that they're running after ghosts. Sometimes, PTSD lock you in the room and you don't want to get out. And oftentimes, it's about many incidents- not just one. You can have many recurrences as soon as the wall drops, then you'll be getting more stuff coming at you.

One of my close friends (who unfortunately passed away) told me once, "PTSD used to be associated with veterans and it shouldn't be... it could be associated with police, ambulance drivers and all those who have to deal with situations.  Unlike war (where you get to come home), with an ambulance driver and all those guys, you don't get to get away from it- it's always there night after night in their work.

With so many, trauma is often suppressed.  You might get them laughing but inside, they may be crying. Or if their wall is up, they have no problem- then the next thing you know, you'll see one of your friends just go and kill himself and you won't know why. You’ll wonder why he always (seemed) so happy- then you realize that maybe inside he was not so happy after all.  Some people will have PTSD and thanks God for them to cope with it and live with it. Some other people have to deal with it differently. You can never understand what they are going through because we're all different and we all have to deal with different things. 

We have different triggers of what kicks up our PTSD. I can hear a gun shooting won't bother me. I can hear a big bang and it won't bother me… except if I hear that unique pitch that brings me back to when I lost six friends because of grenade explosion.  That the same pitch literally brings me back to hell.  My reaction from this is terrible-- I'm the type of person who won't back up. If you're doing that nasty noise and you don't stop, I cannot leave. I'll make you stop no matter what I do! 

One of the main things we try to do is “build a wall”- as a way to disassociate yourself.  Having seen enough death can do this- such that if you see anyone else die around you now, you wouldn’t care.  The same goes if you hit a dog or a fly or any animal - my wall is built.  Disassociation helps separate and survive from that initial pain again from witnessing friends dying in service.

I retired officially in 1995. One of my last tours was in Cyprus for seven months.  I spent about three weeks in Israel at the Golan Heights. At that time, there was still friction between both and being stationed on land, you have a chance to see stuff that nobody gets to see- where at that time, anything could happen. We didn't have the internet to hear about it right away.  You, you could be sitting somewhere and one plane would flying overhead and another comes out of the blue just to shoot it down without any warning.  It’s the kind of surprise that happens when.  

Another example is a friend of mine was on the post in Cyprus and he would see a shepherd coming every day with his sheep. And he was a very nice guy. One morning, about half an hour later, they hear a big bang. The sheep and his dog came back alone. The poor guy stepped on a mine and was killed instantly.  In wartime, they put mines all over the place and they don't remove them after the war. And the only way you can find out where the land mines are is by stepping on it.  

I built a wall around seeing these things in order to deal with the job. You're in 18 and half and you're in Cyprus, driving in a mine field in No Man’s land with an armored vehicle.  I was conditioned not to care- I wasn't scared. When you're young, nothing bothers you. You're superman. Later on they'll ask you if you would do it again-- and you WILL do it again. Because for me, as long as they didn't kill each other, that's what mattered. That for me was success. 

When you deal with people from different countries at war, know that there's good people on both sides. Outside of the battlefield, they are all really nice people. One thing I keep doing is I speak to the children in classrooms. I say, “listen, you have choices here in Canada. You want to go to school, you go to school. And the only one stopping you for become something is yourself. You want to be a doctor? Be a doctor. Be the best you can. Like me. I joined the army and after that, I became a policeman. Then I became a firefighter because I wanted to try those. If I lived to 200, I probably would've tried to be a doctor. 


1) Veterans Affairs Canada: Daniel Drapeau (Ottawa, Ontario):

2) CPAC-TV: LIVE: Veteran Daniel Drapeau speaks with reporters in Ottawa

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In 1981-1994, Mr. Dan Drapeau (L-image) enlisted in the Canadian Military Police, continuing a career in public service.  Dan shared details on how law enforcement professionals were exposed to varying cases of psychological distress- some leading to depression, alcoholism and suicide.  "Military police is the same as civilian police. It's a highly stressful job and you have to find a way to cope with it because every day is different and you never know in what shape you'll come back from work." 

Here, he described the challenges of experiencing on-the-job trauma without the release valve of a department psychologist or therapist to offer any mental health support. "The way it is nowadays, psychiatric HELP was accessible so you can talk about any disturbing experiences on the job. Your boss would encourage you to get help, which is a big difference from my generation- where this did not exist at all". Dan concluded the interview about specific challenges to one's psyche while in uniform. "As a policeman, you have to deal with death- and that's not easy. If it's an old person,  it's easy to put up a wall against it. If it's a young person, it's much harder- especially young children. Especially when you enter a scene of a suicide... these kinds of cases just stay with you!"

Our publishers give special thanks to Mr. Daniel Drapeau for this exclusive interview and his contributions included in this story. Additional thanks go to Prof. Joseph J. Toy for his generous time and effort that helped bring Mr. Drapeau and his achievements to our attention – both without whose kind generosity this feature would not have been made possible.

Mr. Daniel Drapeau introduces his long-time friend and colleague in the world of PTSD post-service support-- Prof. Joseph J. Toy, neurostimulation specialist and seasoned caregiver of countless cases of military associated PTSD.

High risk professions like law enforcement, military service, healthcare and emergency response are known to have exposure to some of the most extreme levels of trauma - both physically and psychologically. They range in effects from manageable symptoms to crippling disorders. Over time, most people overcome disturbing or traumatic experiences and continue to work and live their lives. But others who get affected by traumatic experiences may trigger a reaction that can last for months or even years. This is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Proportionately, studies have shown a lower percentage of retirees from such challenging careers acquire PTSD (from 15-20%) while an estimated 30-40% who suffer from PTSD associated symptoms go undetected or do not register as full cases. (See full article)

The BRAIN HEALTH COLLABORATIVE, a branch of the Integrative Pain Healers Alliance (IPHA) awards Prof. Joseph J. Toy with a prestigious academic position with the clinical advisory board for his work on PTSD management.  His long-standing program to address neurological and psychological injuries from military service with various countries has gained him significant recognition for his advanced work in the research and clinical applications of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field therapy. (see videos and complete article)

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