Military survivors of PTSD debuting new film project

Military survivors of PTSD debuting new film project
From left are Friends of Vets president and vice-president Denis Labbe and Steve Forest.

CORNWALL, Ontario – Denis Labbe can still remember the sound of the explosion – but the sight of wounded army cadets is something he has tried for 40 years to forget.

Then a 26-year-old corporal in the Canadian army, Labbe was witness to a training accident at CFB Valcartier cadet camp when a live grenade exploded, killing six teenagers and wounding another 54.

Labbe, a Cornwall man, has carried with him a lifetime of horror from that July day in 1974 when his life would be changed forever.

“Up until four years ago I felt like killing myself,” he said in an interview with Seaway News for a local promotional tour to drum up awareness for Veterans Breaking the Silence, a locally-produced documentary that examines cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among military veterans.

The movie premiers May 22 at the Port Theatre (7:30 p.m.). A powerful trailer for the film can be found here.

“We want people to break the silence,” said Labbe, adding there are dozens of Canadian soldiers who were veterans of the war in Afghanistan who are known to have killed themselves because they were unable to grapple with the stresses of combat. “I was told to shut up. But I say it’s enough. I won’t shut up.”

Through the help of a psychologist, Labbe now knows that on the day of the explosion at Valcartier he carried at least two of the dead bodies through the base hospital, which is located north of Quebec City.

Fourteen-year-old Eric Lloyde, a cadet at the ill-fated training session, had unknowingly set off a live grenade that had been mixed in with a box of dummy grenades. He was killed instantly upon detonation of the bomb.

Other media outlets have reported there was no attempt to deal with the effects of trauma on the survivors. They were isolated from other cadets and, worse, made to feel the accident had been their fault.

“We want people with PTSD to talk about it,” said Labbe. “We don’t want them to keep it inside.”

This month’s premier of Veterans Breaking the Silence includes a number of interviews with Canadian forces veterans who speak candidly about their experience with trauma in the military and the impact it has had on their lives.

The film’s subjects include, among others, a 93-year-old aircraft gunner still haunted by the deaths of his friends during the Second World War, an Afghan reservist suffering from PTSD and an aircraft technician constantly affected by the sex assault that forced her out of the military decades ago.

“You’re told not to speak,” said Steve Forrest, vice-president of the local group Friends of Vets. “That’s when you start having issues with people.

“Anybody who watches the movie should be able to identify with people who suffer from PTSD. It’s all there.”

Cornwall filmmaker Vince Pilon directed the feature-length documentary.

A reception at the RCAFA building will follow the May 22 screening of Veterans Breaking the Silence.

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