Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Military Suicides a Wake-Up Call for Ottawa

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Military Suicides a Wake-Up Call for Ottawa

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Military suicides a wake-up call for Ottawa

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An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Dec. 7:

The last of the nearly 40,000 Canadian troops who served in Afghanistan since 2001 will soon be home, but the cost of that long war lingers on. Four Afghan veterans have apparently killed themselves within a few days of each other. The spate of suicides has shocked the nation, and prompted some tough questions about whether we are failing our hurt soldiers.

The most recent, Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelièvre, from Quebec's famed Royal 22nd Regiment, the Van Doos, served in Bosnia and Afghanistan in a career that spanned decades. Friends say he was an "outstanding soldier," quick with a smile, generous to a fault. Some couldn't believe he had run out of hope.

In Parliament this past week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged the "very difficult, stressful situations" our military has had to endure, leaving many struggling to cope. And Gen. Tom Lawson, the chief of defence staff, has publicly urged troubled troops to "reach out" for help to family, friends and physicians.

Fine sentiments. But soldiers need to know there's something solid to grasp. That's not always the case.

Certainly, there's a lot of reaching out to do. The Canadian Forces report that 238 troops have committed suicide since 1995, averaging 10 a year until 2007, and 17 annually since then. The military has also been criticized for under-reporting suicides. We need more credible, transparent accounting. At the same time, fully one Afghan veteran in seven who served from 2001 to 2008 -- that's thousands of troops -- were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression linked to their tour.

That's a world of psychological pain, and the military needs a better battle plan to cope with it.

For a start, Canada should spend more on our soldiers' mental well-being. Of the $20-billion defence budget, just $50 million is earmarked for mental health. While that has grown 20 per cent in recent years and now compares with American spending on a per-capita basis, it's a minute fraction of the military outlay. Ottawa can do better.

Pierre Daigle, the Canadian Forces ombudsman, says the health service is "seriously overburdened." He's frustrated that plans to hire 76 more mental health experts have been stalled by hiring caps. …

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