Seven military Veterans living with chronic pain from across Canada completed the first-ever Military Veterans Alpine Challenge (Alpine Challenge) – a seven-kilometre hike accessed by helicopter that took place in Whistler, British Columbia on Saturday, August 27. The event was organized by the Chronic Pain Centre of Excellence for Canadian Veterans (CPCoE) to bring awareness to Veteran chronic pain and help participating Veterans set goals while managing their chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a condition affecting roughly 20 per cent of Canadians. It involves a complex set of physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and environmental factors. Recent Government of Canada research found that Veterans are twice as likely to suffer from chronic pain compared to others in the Canadian population. Furthermore, 50 per cent of female Veterans suffer from chronic pain and 63 per cent of Veterans diagnosed with chronic pain have associated mental health conditions.
“Chronic pain can be highly debilitating, particularly for Veterans whose pain is often compounded by a myriad of factors like mental and emotional health after service. For some Veterans, a better understanding of how chronic pain impacts their life will allow them to make changes to improve their well-being and to use their treatment benefits to better manage their pain. For other Veterans, a higher level of care is required,” comments Tom Hoppe, Military Veteran and Chair of the Centre of Excellence Advisory Council For Veterans. “Our work at the CPCoE, is about coming alongside Veterans living with chronic pain and offering resources and education, but also community and encouragement to keep persevering. It was this mission that guided us in developing and planning the Alpine Challenge.”
The event focuses on the ideas of hope, comradeship, achievement, and challenge. These themes resonate with Veterans and help create parallels between life during and after service, ultimately providing a strategy for living life with a renewed sense of purpose. One of the main reasons Veterans face chronic pain at higher rates is the identity and culture that comes with being a Veteran. The idea of “mission first, self last” greatly impacts their mindset and outlook on life after leaving the military. The Alpine Challenge specifically aims to help Veterans cultivate the characteristics and strengths they developed from the military and implement strategies for applying then to new challenges and experiences.“
The Alpine Challenge provided individual participants with a goal to work for and a reason to challenge themselves,” explains Paul Roos, Veteran and Director of Operations for the CPCoE. “The highlight, along with my experience, was the renewed sense of camaraderie among everyone who participated.”
Additional participants who work in chronic pain management-related fields joined the hike to learn about the experiences of the Veterans and provide their knowledge on chronic pain, safe movement, nutrition, and other topics to help improve their quality of life.
The CPCoE has plans to make the Alpine Challenge an annual event and plans to expand the resources and programs that future participants will have access to, including education and preparation sessions leading up to the hike. The Alpine Challenge is just one aspect of the work that the CPCoE does to support Veterans across Canada, with other aspects including a research mandate to improve the understanding of Veteran-specific chronic pain and mobilizing findings and recommendations to help Veterans and their families manage their pain and reconnect with life.