PTSD – The Loneliest Injury in Policing
I commenced an exciting career with the Ontario Provincial Police at Niagara Falls in 1970 as a young officer. After three years of highway patrol, I anxiously transferred to Bracebridge to gain a more rounded career of general policing. Unfortunately, on June 28th, 1977 my efforts in law enforcement would take a severe twist in my ability to control my fate. On that day, I shot and killed an escapee who was about to shoot a young officer desperately hiding on the floor of his cruiser from the double barreled shotgun the man was pointing towards him.
I immediately felt the horror at taking of a life, but satisfied that I had properly fulfilled my job. My fear of retaliation from the dead escapee’s family or fellow prisoners would be present for years.
Yes, as a retired Detective Inspector, I look back upon the many serious situations I’ve experienced. Unfortunately, for those years, I suffered extensively from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t know what was wrong and why I was reacting to situations in the manner that I did. Just as unfortunately, over the years, I have continuously been denied assistance to alleviate the devastating effects created by this medical problem for myself and my family.
Some of the matters, that I have been involved with which continue to haunt me are: 28 June 1977: I was forced to shoot and kill an escaped convict who was about to shoot a rookie using a double barrelled sawed-off shot gun. The young officer was trapped hiding under the dash inside his police cruiser;
05 Aug 78: Persons from a drug related investigation set my boat on fire putting it adrift to burn. It was difficult explaining to my crying seven year old daughter why someone did this!
12 Aug 80: I recovered the bodies of a small child and his father, known to our family who were drowning victims that I had located on a desolate lake. I had to row the child back to shore at my feet with his father towed behind the boat;
02 Jan 81: I found a fellow officer shot to death with three bullet holes in his head and tossed in a snowbank. I protected the scene for hours later assisting in his removal to the morgue;
19 Aug 81: An escaping peeping tom who had been looking in bedroom windows trapped me on his car door throwing me to the asphalt as I was attempting to place him under arrest. I was off duty for over one year. I have had five operations including a muscle transplant to control the pain as a direct result of this arrest. The latest operation being just three years ago;
16 Jan 92: A person attempted to gain knowledge about the fatal shooting of the escapee fourteen years later. I was extremely fearful for my life and that of my family and requested assistance from senior command to deal with it. No help was provided. The person turned out to be the deceased’s son who had not known his father and was simply searching for answers and closure. In my mind, I feared he wanted to kill me up until I finally met him.
I could go on with various incidents of shovelling body parts, removing many dead children from crime scenes, horrific accident, etc but these were just the “normal” tasks of a police officer. As young police officers, we were told to get use to the blood and guts. After I shot the escapee, my counselling consisted of a supervisor telling me not to brag about it. Within a couple of days I was immediately assigned to investigate a major theft. No time off was necessary!
At the commencement of a Force Counselling program years ago, I sought help only to be advised to keep it to myself or it may jeopardize my career for future positions or promotions if it became known that I was not handling stress well. This attitude prevailed until I retired and this is still the same mindset to this day. Most officers are terrified of being discovered that they suffer from mental stress or have been diagnosed with PTSD. It’s a fatal flaw in many officers’ minds.
Slowly and in a very insidious way, I developed all the major signs and symptoms of PTSD including severe depression, alcohol abuse, horrendous nightmares, relationship problems, night sweats and extreme anger. During the last years of my career, I was finally ordered to attend anger management. Unfortunately no one referred my file to mental health professionals such as a Force psychologist or psychiatrist who in all likelihood would have quickly realized with the symptoms that I presented and with a review of my career history, PTSD would probably been recognized. Of course attending the Anger Management simply made me… angrier.
I retired ten years ago believing that the nightmares, rage and other PTSD matters would eventually go away… the world would become a peaceful and fun place to be once again, however, this was not to be. Matters got far worse… but who would give a damn? No one within the Force did!
My mental state created severe difficulties for me. Imagine sitting in a house and going into extreme fear at the sight of a silhouette of a gunman entering the residence with a raised weapon only to discover it was your eleven year old grandson carrying a hockey stick back from the rink. Screaming, crying and jumping from bed became the norm. Raging nightmares were so horrible it was more satisfying to watch CNN news of war than what was transpiring in my mind at night. Realize the horrific problem of being unable to sit anyplace that my back is not protected by a wall including in my own home or at a show or restaurant. These fears are horrendous and very real to me but sadly some people interpret this to be a sign of cowardness.
Remember in the movie “Patton”, the General slapped a patient in a hospital tent and ordered the “coward” to get out of the presence of the truly sick heroes who were lying in the same tent injured with real wounds. This patient had actually been suffering from PTSD or as they called it then… “shell-shock”! General Romeo Dallaire, himself a recognized hero of modern warfare and a sufferer of PTSD has clearly stated… “PTSD is an injury, not a sickness!” Because of this common fear of being branded as such, many officers either refuse to accept the diagnosis or are shamed into hiding it. The greatest hero of the Second World War in the United States, Audie Murphy, struggled until his death with severe symptoms of PTSD.
For me, little to no assistance was available from the OPP, their Employee Assistance Program or OPP Association. It was finally through the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) at Trenton/Petawawa that I was able to gain significant information for help concerning a treatment centre. Within 24 hrs of asking via this program for help, I was contacted personally by an Armed Forces psychiatrist who guided my own doctor in regards to my admittance to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder program at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph were many of the soldiers are sent for treatment. I now continue to attend the OSISS monthly group support sessions since policing within Ontario offers no such essential program as this. I can’t speak more highly of OSISS!
It should be noted that legislation responsible for WSIB has deemed that anything causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must have occurred after an arbitrary date set for January 1989. Since most of my incidents occurred prior to this date, and the one in which I thought someone was going to kill me has been deemed not that traumatic, my WSIB claim was denied. I must pay all my costs for travel and for doctors services not covered by OHIP. My appeal continues in this matter for any financial help for my treatment. This year alone, I have spent thousands on medical assistance.
In view of all these matters, I have requested that the Ombudsman of Ontario undertake an investigation and hopefully will conduct a full public inquiry into the disgraceful manner that the Ontario government, police leadership and the various organizations including the Ontario Provincial Police have failed miserably to address this mental health issue amongst police officers in the Province.
I wish to stress that I was proud to have been a member of the Ontario Provincial Police just as my father was for his 34 years on the OPP. My own son wears his OPP uniform with the same honour and respect. I also continue to greatly admire the dedication of the thousands men and women of the OPP and those members of all Forces within Canada. I do not believe that the lack of assistance to me or others is out of malice by anyone. These problems faced by so many policing families, have resulted from the inaction of government and police leadership across Ontario.
They do not understand the seriousness and devastation created by PTSD but recognize that acceptance of PTSD diagnosis will cost police services millions of dollars.. All police and emergency workers within Ontario deserve proper treatment and respect for this type of workplace injury regardless of expenses. We should not be restrained nor prevented from all the support and help possible due to a lack of understanding or arbitrary legislative dates.
Much of my determination to seek help has been due to the valour of two gentlemen who I personally met. I owe much to people such as General Romeo Dallaire and former Lieutenant Governor, James K. Bartleman who had the courage to tell the public of their plight and yes… to say that something must be done to help others suffering from PTSD. I have also had the tremendous support of my own family and close friends. This has given me the courage and strength to face this unrelenting scourge and thus… to seek change. Change… that will circumvent the existing legislation and ignorance, but most importantly… attitudes of leadership. Change… that will create a new standard of care for this mental health issue.
Bruce C. Kruger, MB Detective Inspector (retired) Ontario Provincial Police
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