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Veterans march to change stigma of PTSD

In 1992, Steve Hartwig and Scott MacFarlane were deployed in the former Yugoslavia. Upon returning home, both soldiers withdrew from family, friends and each other.
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War veterans, from left, Steve Hartwig, Scott MacFarlane and Jason McKenzie stopped in Sudbury July 29 as part of their Into No Man's Land PTSD Awareness March across Canada. Photo by Mallika Viegas.
In 1992, Steve Hartwig and Scott MacFarlane were deployed in the former Yugoslavia.

Upon returning home, both soldiers withdrew from family, friends and each other. Twenty-one years later, having come to terms with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Hartwig called upon and reunited with MacFarlane to join him on his campaign to spread awareness across the country.

MacFarlane and Hartwig, joined by fellow former Canadian Forces personnel, Jason McKenzie, are marching across the country from British Columbia to Newfoundland, to raise awareness and help break the stigma about the condition that affects men and women on the front line.

“My goal is to shine a spotlight onto the care men and women receive across out nation," said Hartwig. "PTSD is not a sickness or a disease. It is the result of being exposed to trauma, and we all need support.”

A longtime advocate for PTSD support and awareness, Hartwig started planning the march across the country two years ago in order to create a national dialogue about PTSD.

“We use the analogy of a broken leg — when people see a broken leg, they run over, they want to sign the cast, they want to hear the story. But when we say PTSD, people stop, it causes a retraction or detachment, because they don’t understand what it is. We want to bring to the public’s eye, a general understanding and awareness about what PTSD truly is."

Hartwig said acceptance is the one of the biggest obstacles in receiving care.

“When you’re working in a front-line job, you want to feel like you’re good enough to support, like you have the ability to have someone’s back, and after going through something like this, I question myself. That’s because of the stigma, and that’s because of the judgment I put on myself. Had I been able to process this and put it away, and heal like any other injury, I wouldn’t have those questions.”

The trio reached Sudbury on July 29, passing their halfway point in Batchawana Bay, near Sault Ste. Marie two days earlier. They plan on reaching St. John’s, Nfld., mid-September.

“My goal is to help broaden that awareness, open dialogue between individuals, organizations and the government, to make sure there is adequate care," Hartwig said. "There’s a lot of care that’s available, and individuals choose not to take it. That was my case. The care was there, it was in society, but I didn’t look for it. I didn’t want it, even though I knew there was an issue. Having people feel comfortable enough to realize they have something they need to work on, and it’s not stigmatized, not put down for it, not shamed, is my main objective. Then we can focus on more adequate care.”

The 10-week march can be followed on their website www.intonomansland.com and the team hopes to raise money along with awareness in order to continue to help those that suffer from PTSD.


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