The latest apparent suicide, the eighth in two months, occurred in a small community just outside of Ottawa. Lieut.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin, was deployed to Haiti in 1997 and to Bosnia in 1999. Officials did not acknowledge that the helicopter pilot died of suicide.
Earlier this month Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez died of an apparent suicide. Cpl Martinez was a 28 year old Afghan veteran. During the same week a husband of a retired 51 year old veteran, Cpl. Leona MacEachern, came forward to state that his wife, who had been killed in a traffic accident outside of Calgary had been suffering from PTSD and the accident was a suicide.
The string of suicides have both veterans groups and the opposition calling on the government to do more to detect and treat PTSD.
Along with several Veterans Facebook groups, including the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, Veterans have also set up a helpline for their brothers that are suffering from PTSD. The help line tells soldiers “if you need to talk, we are here to help.” The help line number is 1-855-373-8387.
Opposition Party Leader Thomas Mulcar, NDP, has written a letter to Prime Minister Harper calling the suicides distressful. He said, while steps have been taken to improve the situation, it is clear that they have not been sufficient.
“We have also seen successive reports by the Department, the Defence Ombudsman and the Veterans Ombudsman and there remain many recommendations the federal government has not yet implemented,” he said.
Mulcair urged Harper to make the issue “a personal priority.”
“… I am asking you on behalf of your government to honestly acknowledge the crisis, accept responsibility for the fact the status quo isn’t working, and commit to taking urgent action that properly addresses the mental health needs of the men and women who bravely serve this country,” he said.
Suicide rates are just as alarming in the US military. While it is being played down as not being an epidemic, it is certainly on the rise. Pentagon data shows that the number of suicides of active duty personnel was at 350. This rate has doubled since 2001. The Huffington Post reports that 8,000 US veterans die due to suicide each year.
While this is not necessarily an epidemic it is nevertheless troublesome and a problem that needs to be addressed. More has to be done to educate leaders, remove the stigma that prevents some veterans from reporting their issues and also educate soldiers that help is available. Not all suicides can be prevented, but we as a society must do everything we can to prevent is. That step starts with the government and the Department of Veterans Affairs.