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'No better namesake': Veteran support program honours James Smith victim

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A new mental health support program for veterans is honouring the life of a Sask. man killed during the mass stabbings on the James Smith Cree Nation.

'The Burnsway’ is named after 66-year-old veteran Earl Burns.

Burns spent several years with Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in the 1970s.

He was killed on Sept. 4, 2022 protecting the lives of several small children from the attacks on his home community.

“We could think of no better namesake,” said CEO John MacBeth of TryCycle Data, the company who invented the program.

The virtual support program will connect veterans to peers anonymously.

The online chat room will use the same system as similar app Talking Stick, which connects Indigenous people to similar supports.

MacBeth said this creates a safe, judgement-free space for military members to talk about anything.

“It’s absolutely critical we provide veterans the ability to start that journey at their own pace,” he said. “We have to be able to provide them that lived experience, where they can speak to someone they relate to.”

Earl’s wife, Joyce said the new program embodies the person he was.

“[Earl] was always there,” she told CTV News. “It didn’t matter who.”

‘Burnsway,’ a new mental health support for veterans is honouring the life of Earl Burns. (Donovan Maess / CTV News)

Joyce added Earl would often help others before helping himself in any situation.

“[This] is going to be a good thing,” she said. “There’s a lot of veterans that go unnoticed.”

Joyce’s brother, Victor Sanderson, followed in his brother footsteps, spending about six and a half years with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as an engineer.

He said Earl was someone who looked after him when he returned from service.

“I had PTSD,” Sanderson said. “[Earl] always looked out for my best interest.”

“He understood I was never the same.”

According to the CAF, one in every five veterans will be diagnosed with a mental disorder, like PTSD, at some point in their life.

MacBeth said those numbers don’t tell the full story.

“There’s an anonymous majority,” he said. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

It is MacBeth’s hope Burnsway can remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues among soldiers.

“The strength and the fortitude [taught by the army] is sometimes inconsistent with asking for help,” he explained. “What we want to do is make it as easy as possible to remove any sort of shame from those conversations.”

As an advisor to the program, Sanderson has brought his lived experience to improving support for other veterans.

“What the public needs to know is, veterans need help,” he emphasized. “When they see that, we can fill our ranks again.”

Joyce believes her husband would be proud of the program. She thinks helping even just one solider would be a success.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Joyce said. “Anybody can help them.”

TryCycle Data is planning Burnsway’s launch in the coming weeks.

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