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‘You’re going from 100 miles per hour to full stop’: it’s tough to transition from military to civilian life

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Ever watch trapeze artists at the circus? Yes, and they scare me too ;)

‘You’re going from 100 miles per hour to full stop’: it’s tough to transition from military to civilian life​

Throw in PTSD, other mental health problems or physical injuries, and transitioning to civilian life can be a major challenge.​


Ever watch trapeze artists at the circus?

One minute, they’re secure on their trapeze, swinging merrily along; the next, they’re hurtling through the air toward another trapeze, attempting to make the transfer look smooth, even as they hang on for dear life.

That is how it feels for veterans when they leave military life. One day, it’s uniforms, salutes and 0700 hours; the next, it’s jeans and T-shirts, handshakes and 7 a.m., with no comrades, no common goal and no idea how to fit into this other world with its sometimes unfamiliar rules and customs. Throw in some post-traumatic stress disorder, other mental health problems or physical injuries, and transitioning to civilian life can be a major challenge.

Oliver Thorne is the executive director of Veterans Transition Network, an organization that helps military personnel nationwide come to terms with the trauma they have experienced and forge new paths. He has seen the challenges these men and women face in making the transition.

“Think about a military veteran who joined at 18 and has had a 20-year career,” said Thorne. “This is where they spent their formative years. They built a value set, formed a support system, and developed a career and a vocation. Moving from that to the relative chaos and disorder of the civilian world can be really challenging.”

When retirement from the military is prompted by a diagnosis of complex PTSD, the transition is doubly challenging, as Lt.-Col. Christian Lillington can attest. Lillington, a veteran in his 40s, retired in 2019 after 26 years in the army. A native of Cape Breton who now lives in Wasaga Beach, Ont., Lillington joined the military right after high school. He was searching for a position with a larger purpose than earning a living.

“I wanted something that was not just a job,” Lillington said. “The military was a complete career with a greater purpose of serving others, my country and my community.”

Intelligent, skilled and ambitious, Lillington moved through the ranks and had diverse opportunities. He served domestically, as well as in the Canadian Arctic and with the UN in Eritrea. He did two tours in Afghanistan and participated in military exercises worldwide. Lillington retired as commandant of the 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in Meaford, Ont. It was his diagnosis of complex PTSD that pushed his decision to retire.

 
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