Delegates to The Royal Canadian Legion’s 46th Dominion Convention in St. John’s, N.L., created a new special section for members affected by operational stress injuries (OSIs). “We’ve made history, ladies and gentlemen,” said Dominion President Tom Eagles when the motion passed.
Special sections are not new to the Legion. When the Legion was formed in 1926, it brought together a number of diverse veterans organizations and regimental associations into one group. While most gave up their separate identities to be part of the new organization, two groups, the Imperial Veterans of Canada and the Tuberculous Veterans Association, felt they needed to have their own sections to deal with their particular issues.
In the end, these two groups were allowed to have their own autonomous divisions within the Legion, governed by their own bylaws, provided those bylaws did not conflict with the overall aims and objectives of the Legion. While the Imperial Veterans Section ceased operations in 2006, the Tuberculous Veterans Section continues to serve its members and support research into respiratory illnesses.
OSIs were not recognized in the 1920s but they have come to be part of the reality of serving in the military today. The Royal in Ottawa defines OSI as any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties performed while serving in the Canadian Armed Forces or as a member of the RCMP. Veterans Affairs Canada reports about one fifth of Canadian veterans experience a diagnosed mental health disorder at some point in their lives. The most common are depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders.
The new OSI special section is a national, member-driven, peer-support network. The section is open to Legion members who are veterans as defined by the Legion and are affected by an OSI. The members of the section will be involved in co-ordinating outreach activities in the community; help to identify and refer any veteran or their family member who needs help with an OSI issue to the Legion’s Service Bureau; promote mental health information and dispel the stigma of mental illness; and support advocacy issues and efforts by sharing information at branch, provincial command and dominion levels.
By looking to the past, the Legion has found a new way to help an identifiable group of veterans who, in the past, often languished with their injuries undiagnosed and untreated. It gives these veterans a venue for both seeking help and educating the general public. Forming this new section shows the Legion’s relevance to today’s veterans and to the members it serves.