Caring for our disabled war heroes | Daily News

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Abhimansala 2

Caring for our disabled war heroes

The army rehabilitation centre, Abhimansala 2, in Kamburupitiya.  Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
The army rehabilitation centre, Abhimansala 2, in Kamburupitiya. Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

Sergeant Major B. Sugadhadhasa (55) can neither walk nor talk properly. He was one of the victims of the attack on the Army Headquarters on April 25, 2006. His head was badly injured during the attack, resulting in his losing his memory. Today, he lives under the care of the Army rehabilitation centre, Abhimansala 2, in Kamburupitiya.

There are few people Sugadhadhasa recognises; one of them is Officer in Charge of Rehabilitation at Abhimansala 2, Major Sampath Palliaguru. When Major Palliaguru speaks to Sugadhadhasa, he immediately identifies him and says ‘hello’ in return. According to Major Palliaguru, much has changed in Sugadhadhasa. He is not the same as he used to be, but with continuous medication and care given by the medical unit, he can now identify people and recall some events.

War and terrorist attacks were the most unfortunate events ever to have taken place in Sri Lanka. And it was the soldiers at the front who sacrificed their lives, eyes and limbs to safeguard the freedom and security of the country. If not for them, the country would still be facing terrorism.

In the aftermath of the war, what remains of them is fragments of what they used to be. Termed as “disabled war heroes,” they are only remembered either for political gain, or once a year, as the country commemorates the end of the war. On the days which are not so significant, they live out their lives in centres like Abhimansala Wellness Resort, established by the Sri Lanka Army to provide lifelong care for those who need it the most.

Commandant of Abhimansala, Lieutenant Colonel Aruna Wijekoon said the focus of Abhimansala was not only to give the disabled soldiers medical and physical support, but to also provide them support to lead a normal life, as much as possible.

Chief Ward Master Aravinda Eranganath added that this place gave war heroes strength to regain their confidence and uplift their spirits.

“Not only do we give them medical treatment, but we also help them to physically, mentally, socially and spiritually reform themselves,” he said.

Facilities at Abhimansala

Abhimansala was initiated by one-time Sri Lanka Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya and established under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in November 2012. All expenses of the facility were covered by the Sri Lanka Army and the villas and cottages were donated by well-wishers and corporates.

The primary motive was rehabilitation of disabled army personnel in every possible way.

Major Palliaguru explained that this was the second Abhimansala to be established; the first is in Anuradhapura, and the third, in Kurunegala. There is also Ranaviru Sevana in Ragama and Minhindu Seth Medura in Attidiya.

Lt. Colonel Wijekoon added that some of the disabled soldiers hardly had a choice when it came to returning to their families and lives before the war, and many would spend the rest of their lives in Abhimansala.

Strengthening their minds and changing their attitudes to think positively is the primary focus, he explained.

The entrance to Abhimansala looks more like a resort than a rehabilitation centre. It overlooks a lakefront and a chilling breeze envelopes cottages, villas and a swimming pool. The complex includes a reception, medical unit, gym, conference hall, basketball court, library with internet facilities, cafeteria and a swimming pool.

Major Palliaguru said that at present, Abhimansala 2 is home to 43 disabled soldiers.

Soldiers who are disabled but are still mobile have been given rooms in villas. There are five villas and each has two double rooms, where a total of four inmates live with a caretaker.

According to Lt. Colonel Wijekoon, Abhimansala has included unique aspects like allowing the families of the soldiers to come and stay over for a few days. There are fully-equipped cottages to accommodate the visitors.

Major Palliaguru said that a soldier has only to inform the administration of his family’s visit and they would be provided all facilities, including free food.

Chief Ward Master Eranganath added that Abhimansala functioned not only as a caring centre, but also as a fully-equipped hospital, where medical treatment was provided, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy and hydrotherapy.

“Many inmates still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and need full-time care and attention,” he said.

Mental strength initiatives

Inmates have received different types of injuries - from gunshots, motor blasts, explosions and artillery. There are 20 inmates in the medical ward who require 24-hour attention and the rest of the inmates live in the villas. There are 17 inmates who have no legs, four who have no hands, six who are blind and the rest suffer from memory loss or epilepsy.

Eranganath explained that priority is given to their medical requirements. In their spare time, they get involved in various activities such as music, art, crafts and meditation.

Major Palliaguru further said the challenge at times was to treat their mental health issues rather than their physical problems, as the several traumatic experiences they have undergone have left permanent mental scars.

Therefore, they are given counselling every month. Apart from that, special programmes are conducted to support them. They are also given vocational training to uplift their lives. “There are very young soldiers who are in their late 20s. We give them all the support we can, so that even if they leave Abhimansala, they would know a skill to make a living with,” said Lt. Colonel Wijekoon.

In the meantime, he said that the vocational training courses are held at outside locations and the soldiers are not very comfortable going out of Abhimansala, because those places are not equipped to meet the needs of the disabled.

The inmates are given holidays every 22 days to visit their homes. The administration also provides them with transportation.

Major Palliaguru said that there was an inmate who had packed his bags to go home, but he could not be sent home due to his physical condition.

“We need to deal with such issues as well. The family members do not have enough facilities to treat and take care of them. And they are not used to their mood swings as well. Sometimes, they get very angry and we need to deal with them carefully,” he said. Eranganath added that they never ever raise their voice to the inmates and take good care of them.

Major Palliaguru explained that recovery of these soldiers involved many aspects and added that each one of them carried some kind of personal issue that they have to deal with, along with their physical disability. “We always try to help them through therapy and counselling and try to give them hope and strength to lead a happy life.”

Lt. Colonel Wijekoon said that once the inmates feel that they could manage to lead a normal life with their families, they could go back to their homes and it is their choice to make a decision that best suits them.

Major Palliaguru said that some of the soldiers got married last year, but they were still with Abhimansala.

“They can stay here until they fully recover. They can stay here and begin a new life with their families. We have trained them for that. Each soldier is taught to make a living,” he said.

Every month, music, art or similar events are held at Abhimansala to lift their spirits. According to Lt. Colonel Wijekoon, many of them were talented and could sing, dance, make handicrafts and draw.

Major Palliaguru said that these activities keep them busy and help them forget their traumatic experiences. He said that they had a very experienced art teacher, but he passed away a few weeks back.

“The soldiers really liked him. They got attached to him and produced a lot of art, under his tutelage. It is not easy to work with the inmates, but he did a good job,” he said.

Major Palliaguru further said that they have requested the zonal education department to provide them with a new art teacher.

the disabled soldiers speak

Most of the injured war heroes are in their prime, but with disabilities that make them dependent on others. The majority of them are wheelchair-bound or bed-ridden, while others have impaired mobility, hearing, vision or speech defects. They need specialised nursing care and other assistance, which may not be possible in their own homes, as many hail from poor and rural backgrounds. The country, at present, has over 300 soldiers who are permanently disabled with multiple injuries.

Warrant Officer Sugath Ranjana who was injured a few days before the war ended, is now married and has two children. His second child is just three months old.

“I talk to my wife and children over the phone and visit home whenever possible. I am very happy here,” he said.

Corporal Tharindu Chamara (31) of the Vijayabahu Regiment was injured in a motor blast in May 2009. He was in Ranaviru Sevana prior to Abhimansala. He was injured just three months after he joined the Army.

Corporal Sandaruwan of the Gajaba Regiment was also injured in a motor blast, and both his lower limbs have been amputated. Today, although wheelchair-bound, he plays badminton. “I have been undergoing physiotherapy, and I do not feel much pain now. Initially, it was very hard for me. Now I am at a much better place. I feel that even my legs have improved. So hopefully, in the future, I will get much better,” he said.

Corporal Ruwan Madusanka (27) of the Gemunu Regiment was injured by a gunshot in Pudhukudiyiruppu in March 2009. He said it has been four years since he came to Abhimansala. With the help of the administration, Corporal Madusanka is making paper crafts and has been doing it for the last one-and-a-half years. “There is some hope for us. We get enough moral support to do these activities,” he said.

The majority of the soldiers residing in Abhimansala 2 were injured during the last phase of the war. Many carry the hope that they would one day recover and once again lead normal lives with their families. 


 

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