By Laura Stovel
Martin Spriggs is on an epic journey – cycling coast to coast across Canada from Victoria to Saint John’s, Newfoundland. Yet as he cycled through Revelstoke on June 14 and headed up the long stretch to Roger’s Pass and the toward the Rockies he thought about the bigger hurdles that many military veterans face daily as they cope with the trauma of war.
Spriggs wrote on his Facebook page on June 16, “As I face my mountain today, there are many veterans facing mountains and challenges of mental health issues every day. These veterans have fallen through cracks in the public health system and are outside the reach of other government resources.”
As a 15-year army veteran himself, serving in Croatia and Bosnia, Spriggs knows about these hurdles. He lost two army friends to suicide last year.
“The tragedy is that the resources are there now. They weren’t available when I came out in the ’90s.”
“It’s also a culture,” he added. “When I served, it was very difficult to show any vulnerability. I understand that the forces have made efforts to change that culture.”
The challenge now is to get veterans to access the resources that are available. “Governments can’t do everything,” he said. “Health care begins in the community” and non-profits have a role to play outside the government system. “Military guys might be more likely to access services” provided by non-profits.
That’s why Spriggs is cycling to raise awareness and money for Your Life Counts, an Ontario-based non-profit that works across Canada to help prevent suicides. The organization has an on-line lifeline that is open 24/7 to anyone needing help. “Volunteers are composed of people who have somehow been exposed to suicide in their lives” so they know what they are talking about, Spriggs said.
Your Life Counts is currently setting up a military directorate specifically to help veterans in need.
This journey is Spriggs’ latest attempt to make a difference in the world. After he broke his back in a parachute accident in 1995, he retired from the forces and retrained to become an emergency medical technician. He worked as a nurse in Alberta and Nunavut, including at Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet. This past year he worked in refugee camps in Southern Sudan – work that he finds extremely satisfying.
On this trip, Spriggs has been impressed with the level of sensitivity of veteran’s challenges when returning from war. “Everyone I meet has that awareness” – in contrast to a decade or two ago – “and that’s a good thing,” he said.
For more information on Your Life Counts go to http://www.yourlifecounts.org/about-ylc/events/coast-2-coast-because-your-life-counts-1. To follow Spriggs’ journey on Facebook or to donate to Your Life Counts military directorate go to: https://www.facebook.com/coast2coastbecauseyourlifecounts.