Local man fights for proper veteran support
By Jalyce Thompson on July 6, 2021.
Dennis Becker, of Medicine Hat, says he is fighting for change within the Veterans Affairs Canada system after developing PTSD and being released from the military with inappropriate compensation or recognition.
Becker joined the military at the age of 18 in 1973. He was an honors student, joining the military in May of his graduation year. He served in the Southern Alberta Light Horse for three years where he spent the summers in Germany. He studied integral systems in Ontario, which trained him in flight computers and instrumentation, then worked across Canada as his family grew at home.
âI’m not doing this to try to put my name in the spotlight, but rather to point out that VAC’s overall bureaucracy was bad,â Becker says. âWhat I want to see is that we take care of the veterans. That is why I have drawn attention to this point.
Becker was recommended to see an ear and nose specialist for sleep apnea in March 1999. He accepted a military doctor’s recommendation and underwent septoplasty, where cartilage was removed from his nose, between other.
It was during this procedure that Becker says he felt an awareness of the anesthesia – feeling the labor as it happened but unable to move his body or make any sound – and, by the way following, developed PTSD.
After the surgery, military medics wrote symptoms that resembled PTSD on Becker’s medical records, such as poor sleep, nightmares about the surgery, fatigue, depression, sleep problems, and anxiety – some up to two years later. These symptoms were on his medical record, but at the time, he had not been officially diagnosed with the disease.
But when he was released from the military in 2006, rather than being released for PTSD, Becker says he was released as “indeployable,” which made it difficult for him to access the proper pension.
âIf I had been released from the military for post-traumatic stress disorder, I would have received the pension instantly at the time,â says Becker.
Becker traveled from Cold Lake to Edmonton to attend treatments, group meetings and appointments with his psychologist. He says he was forced to cover the costs involved in treating the very symptoms that he says were initially noticed by military medics.
âI ended up paying all that money out of my pocket to travel and stuff,â Becker says. âIt cost me dearly.
Over the years, Becker lived with his illness, writing several letters to officials asking them to acknowledge PTSD.
He wrote that it “presented me with challenges which have been and continue to be a significant decrease in my quality of life.” He mentions in the letter that his family was also affected.
In 2015, Becker demonstrated outside the office of then-MP LaVar Payne. Seeing Becker’s protest, Payne invited him inside to hear his story.
Listening to the account, Payne says he noticed the man needed help. He wrote a letter to the Minister of VAC on behalf of Becker, then suggested that Becker contact the ombudsman.
âAfter that, there wasn’t much. I don’t think he got any help from anyone, âPayne says. âIf they (the veterans) don’t do anything, as an MP you don’t have the capacity to do much more.
Payne says Canada’s veterans should be taken care of, which is why he was eager to help Becker.
âThey serve us, they put their lives at risk for us – for all Canadians – and they deserve to be looked after if they have any medical or health problems,â says Payne.
Neither Becker nor Payne got many responses from Veterans Affairs.
A response letter signed by then Veterans Affairs Minister Erin O’Toole thanked Becker for his correspondence regarding his claim for disability benefits for PTSD. He then reassured that VAC “is committed to providing veterans and their families with all the benefits and services to which they are entitled.”
O’Toole’s letter then said, âI should mention that this quasi-judicial tribunal is separate and independent from the Minister and Veterans Affairs Canada,â and suggests that Becker write to the Chairman of the Board to express his concerns.
However, Becker says he doesn’t believe veterans are being properly cared for, and there are others who would agree with his accusation that VAC’s priority is not to respond to. needs of veterans.
âVeterans shouldn’t have to kill themselves and I won’t do it to get the attention they need,â Becker said in a letter to LaVar Payne.
Current Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner MP Glen Motz declined to comment for the story, while the offices of Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and O’Toole did not respond to requests for comment.
Becker says he is fighting to change the VAC system so that veterans can live with some kind of normalcy with the support they receive.
âThis change would see me as the government getting rid of bureaucracy. They give money to big business, and they give money to people, and they don’t take care of their veterans, âsays Becker.
Becker received his basic training in Nova Scotia and then completed a three-month practice-oriented electronics training course, which provided him with basic electronics training. From there he went to Ontario to take a trades course, which trained him on integrated systems, such as flight computers and instrumentation.
He was posted to Edmonton for five years in 1975, working for an aircraft maintenance squadron in the field, while Edmonton still had an Air Force base. Here, he was the first Air Force ground technician to be accelerated and promoted to the rank of corporal, meaning he was above Private First Class and below Sergeant. When the Air Force base in Edmonton was looking to close in 1980, Becker was invited to go to Burbank, California.
In the meantime, he got married.
After 18 months, Becker returned to Nova Scotia to bring back the Aurora plane. They had developed training lesson plans and aircraft manuals in their particular field.
âWhen I got to Greenwood, Nova Scotia, I found out early on that I had been promoted to master corporal,â he says. âI spent about five years in Greenwood and that’s where my sons were born.
He taught complex computer systems on the Aurora aircraft, and while there he was promoted to sergeant. Becker was then posted to Cold Lake, where his commanding officer presented him with warrant officer status.
âIt blew everyone away, because now I was one of the youngest warrant officers in our trade,â he says.
After various assignments between Winnipeg and Cold Lake, while being a single father, Becker moved to Cold Lake with his family, where he trained as a warrant officer in charge of automatic tests and IFCs.
Over time, his children attended and graduated from high school, and Becker was invited to visit Bosnia.
âI went to Bosnia with my commander and we researched what the conditions were for our people, then later that year I went to Bosnia and I was the chief warrant officer looking after our people. Â», Explains Becker.
Becker underwent surgery in 1999. While living in the barracks, someone panicked to his room.
âI reported it and he said all he heard was a bunch of screaming and yelling in my room,â Becker said. “It was because I was having nightmares from my operation.”
The year was 2003.