Poppies will be available beginning Friday, October 26, and one veteran is telling his own story to encourage citizens to donate and implore his fellow veterans who are suffering to seek help.

Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Tom Manley served 13 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, 13 years in the army reserves, and six years with the Calgary Police Service.

“Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a soldier,” explained Manley. “It’s all I ever really wanted to do.”

During his deployment in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s, Manley witnessed atrocities that have stayed with him to the present day.

“In Yugoslavia in 1994, we had a soldier killed. A situation that I still feel responsible for and struggle with. We had (another) incident that was fairly horrific. A young girl was killed right in front of our camp and I think the stress of trying to deal with trying to evacuate her and save her was difficult for a lot of people who were on the scene at that time.”

“Those kind of things they accumulate over time and they start to wear (you) down.”

With the encouragement of a close friend who also served and also suffers from PTSD, the 54-year-old sought assistance for his post-traumatic stress disorder earlier this year through an avenue few veterans realize is at their disposal.

“I ended up going to the Royal Canadian Legion,” said Manley. “It was the Legion that started a series of interventions that ended up making a significant improvement in my life and I’m incredibly grateful for the Legion for everything that they did for me.”  

Case workers enrolled the veteran in a stabilization program that met once a week for 10 weeks.

“It was an awesome program at the occupational stress injury clinic that is funded by Veteran’s Affairs and essentially what it does is just help people understand the side effects of stress, understanding sleep, understanding nightmares, understanding how to manage through some of those things.”

“I’m still going through trauma treatment now but they also offered me treatment for other physical ailments. I have issues with my hips and knees from being a paratrooper so I get physiotherapy for that. All of this was really predicated by walking in the door of the Legion some months ago and having them grab on to my case file and pushing it through Veteran’s Affairs and motivating the system to work on my behalf.”

“The difference where I am today and where I was, even a year ago, is night and day.”

Manley says the support he received was made possible by donations to the Poppy Fund. “Wearing the poppy is a wonderful symbol of support but, at the end of the day, the support that the Legion provides to the veterans is invaluable and they can only do that with the money that they get from the Poppy Fund,” said Manley. “The help that I received was paid for directly by Canadians and Calgarians who, every year, put a dollar or two dollars in the poppy box.”

“The Legion lives and breathes on that poppy money and we need to support that.”

The retired Lieutenant Colonel encourages all of his fellow veterans to seek help for their ailments.

“So many veterans feel like they’re not worthy of the help, that they don’t deserve the help, that their trauma isn’t significant enough. Don’t wait until things get really bad. If you feel that you need support, if you feel that you need help, contact the Legion, that’s what they’re there for.”

For additional information regarding the Poppy campaign, including how to donate, visit Legion –Poppy Fund.

With files from CTV's Bill Macfarlane