"ONCE YOU'RE IN THAT HOLE IT CAN BE VERY HARD TO CLIMB OUT. THAT'S WHERE WE COME IN."
KELOWNA – A local lawyer has made it his mission to help marginalized B.C. veterans transition to civilian life.
Matthew Canzer is a Kelowna lawyer who recently started the B.C. chapter of the Veterans Emergency Transition Services. VETS is a group of volunteers dedicated to linking veterans of the military and police with government and local aid resources.
“When I worked with the Department of Justice in Vancouver I worked with the RCMP, Department of National Defence and correctional facilities and I got to know the front line officers that are putting themselves at risk day in, day out to serve their country,” he says. “It just struck a chord with me. I looked around for a volunteer opportunity to see what I can do to give back and I found this organization.”
Canzer, 33, says the Okanagan is not as prepared as many parts of the country to deal with the unique challenges veterans face when coming home or retiring. He'd like that to change.
“It’s a huge shock to move from the highly structured environment of military to civilian life where support from the community isn’t necessarily there to help them transition. You combine that with pain from various injuries they suffered, either physical or psychological, and that pain can lead to self-medicating with either alcohol or other drugs and that leads to addiction. Once you’re in that hole it can be very hard to climb out. That’s where we come in.”
Canzer already has roughly a dozen volunteers spread around the province, although none are in the Okanagan.
“I’m it in the Okanagan right now,” he says. “We know there is a need for it (here) but we need volunteers to go out and make those connections.”
Canzer says although so far he has only heard from one local veteran in need of assistance, he is certain there are many more who have fallen between the cracks. Services he can provide include crisis intervention, warm food or clothes, short term access to housing, grocery gift cards as well as help navigating access to government resources.
“What we do for them depends on their needs. Sometimes they need help putting together a budget, sometimes they need advocacy working with Veterans Affairs, sometimes they need help negotiating with a landlord. It’s really case by case,” he says.
Canzer plans to continue his role as provincial team leader for as long as the need is there. Although not a veteran himself, he says the responsibility of caring for soldiers when they return home falls to everyone.
“There’s a disconnect between the military community and the civilian community,” he says. “I don’t think it’s government’s responsibility alone to support veterans when they come back from operations that they’re undertaking on our behalf.”
Those who want to help can call 1-888-228-3871 ext. 135 or visit the VETS website.
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