BURLINGTON — When we think about the casualties of war, it is often the physical injuries that come to mind.
“But what about the injuries between the ears?” retired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire asked a crowd of more than 100 people gathered at the Art Gallery of Burlington Sunday afternoon.
The author and humanitarian was speaking about his new memoir “Waiting for First Light,” which takes a look at his life since the Rwandan genocide in which roughly 500,000 people were killed.
Soldiers returning from overseas can experience operational stress injuries, like post-traumatic stress disorder, from the “moral, ethical and legal dilemmas” they encounter in conflict zones, he said.
It is how those injuries are handled that matters, said Dallaire, who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We create the injury, but we don’t find ways to resolve it,” he said.
Dallaire, 70, has seen both a psychiatrist and a psychologist for the past 14 years, he said.
Attending therapy, taking proper medication and having a goal in life are all part of building a “prosthesis” to help live with the “honorable injury.”
“But it won’t go away, and it’s deeper and deeper the longer you take to control it,” he noted.
It is important families whose loved ones are engaged in these missions are supported as well, Dallaire said.
As technology has advanced, family members are often more connected to troops while they’re overseas through programs like Skype. That can make them feel like they’re almost living the mission through them, he said.
Dallaire said recognition of PTSD has come a long way since 1993 when he was appointed force commander for the United Nations Mission for Rwanda.
But there is still progress to be made when it comes to recognizing the trauma suffered by the “walking wounded,” including first responders, he said.
Dallaire’s talk was the inaugural event acknowledging a new partnership between the Art Gallery of Burlington, Burlington Public Library, and A Different Drummer Books, said Michelle Fex, events coordinator at the library.
Nancy Douglas, chair of the Burlington Public Library board, noted that Dallaire’s talk fell between World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10 and Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
“It is especially fitting today that we are here to meet one exceptional man who stands at the intersection of these two observances,” she told the crowd.
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