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Student Darrell Knight, during his military days.
photo courtesy Darrell Knight

Student battles Canada

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This week, as we remembered those who fought and died for Canada, one U of C student is not singing the praises of the Canadian Armed Forces. Darrell Knight, a former member of the Canadian Army Reserves turned U of C English major, grieves the loss of Canada's fallen soldiers, yet he stands, feet firmly planted, with his back turned on our country's military bureaucracy.

Knight, who was injured in a jeep accident while serving on Calgary's Sarcee Training Reserve some 25 years ago, has waged a war of his own ever since in a battle for compensation--or at least an apology.

In 1977, Knight was a passenger in a military jeep driven by an officer from the 14th Service Battalion that overturned during a training exercise. The then 20 year-old soldier was strapped into the wreck, landing on his head.

"I watched the driver, officer cadet Scott, leave the vehicle as it inverted, rolling on top of her," said Knight about the crash. "I fell on my head shortly after."

Knight was treated for his injuries by a military medic, while the driver of the vehicle was treated in hospital.

"They put me on light duty for a few weeks," said Knight, disappointed by the lack of medical attention he received. "They didn't bother to do any testing for head injuries and there was no follow-up."

Since the accident, Knight claims to have undergone personality changes, which were also noticed by people who knew him prior to the accident. In 1985 he was diagnosed with paranoid personality disorder, a condition he believes to be directly related to the jeep accident and the injuries he sustained.

"I always knew that something wasn't right in my mind, but I could never figure out what it was," revealed Knight. "It was as if I was trapped in a room and couldn't find the door."

In the years following his injury, Knight struggled with the daily stresses and responsibilities of life. Until 1994 he drifted from Central America to Israel, the United States and Northern Canada, finding himself increasingly unable to deal with such authorities as government agencies and the police. According to Dr. Aubrey Levin, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Calgary, Knight's problems are very much a reality.

"[Knight's] work record has been sporadic and he finds it very difficult to work with other people," Levin wrote following a series of consultations with Knight. "He is excessively defensive. He feels threatened even by what appears to be innocent interactions. He is over-vigilant, cautious and suspicious [and is] incapable of working on the open labour market."

In 2000, Dr. Levin filed a medical report citing a possible connection between Knight's condition and the 1977 incident.

Convinced that his injuries are the result of the military accident, Knight filed a claim for compensation with Veterans Affairs Canada, which was, in turn, denied by the Veterans Review and Appeal Board. Multiple appeals have failed to provide him with the compensation he feels he deserves.

"Regrettably, the board could not render a favourable decision," wrote the board in August of this year, following Knight's latest appeal.

The board, unwilling to compensate Knight for his injuries, referred to questions about the credibility of Dr. Levin's report as their reason for denying the appeal.

"The board is unable to accept as credible, the medical opinion of Dr. Levin and consequently the board is unable to find that the claimed condition of paranoid personality disorder arose out of, or was directly connected with, [Mr. Knight's] service in the Reserves and for this reason must deny pension entitlement."

Knight, who continues to battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs, believes that students should be aware of the way he was treated by the military following his accident.

"Don't let this happen to you," he said. "If you are injured in the Canadian Forces, you face the possibility of losing everything in your life. This isn't what your parents wanted for you."

As of several weeks ago, Knight was granted five per cent of the full pension by the Department of Veterans Affairs for an unrelated incident, which left him hearing impaired. His attempts at compensation for the jeep accident continue to be denied.

"I'll never give up when dealing with this department or this government," said Knight. "I think they're finally beginning to understand that."

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