Military Suicides: What is the Canadian government doing about it?

Don't wait until you break.  Help is available.

Don’t wait until you break. Help is available.

Canada has been burdened with a string of suicides over the past two months of members of the Canadian Forces and veterans. The majority of these suicides, if not all, can be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Why do these soldiers fall through the cracks?

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.

Veterans Help Line 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.

Source: CTV

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.

About the Author

Karl Gotthardt - Politisite Managing Editor Maj. Gotthardt is a Retired Military Officer with 35 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent most of his time in the Military in Infantry Battalions. Karl took part in training for Afghanistan as an Operator Analyst with the Canadian Maneouvre Training Centre. Karl is a qualified military parachutist and military free fall parachutist. He earned his U.S. Master Jump Wings in Fort Benning, Georgia. Karl enjoys working with horses for the last 24 year. He owns six. He has experience in breeding, training and of course riding.Karl was born in Germany and is fluent in both English and German and he speaks enough French to "get in trouble". Karl has written or writes at NowPublic, All Voices, Tek Journalism and many others.

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1 Comment

  1. The following is a reply on the post from Laurie Hawn, Member of Parliament for Edmonton Centre, Conservative Party of Canada. Laurie Hawn is also a Veteran with 30 years service:

    agree with the honourable intent of your post, but have some
    observations on the detail. The rate of suicide in the CAF is just
    about the same as in the rest of society, and mostly for the same
    reasons. The majority of suicides in the CAF are NOT the result of PTSD
    and deployment, but are, in fact, the result of situations that are
    prevalent in society-at-large – financial difficulties, marriage
    break-up, pre-existing mental illness, etc. Last year, the CAF was on
    track for a record low year for suicides, until the four near the end of
    the year brought it back up close to the average year. I believe that
    the majority of those four suicides were probably not attributable
    primarily to PTSD / deployment, but Boards of Inquiry would have to
    confirm that. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association,
    suicides normally spike at times of year like Christmas. They also
    point out that publicity about suicides will also trigger more suicides
    among those who may be on the edge. So, while we obviously have to continue
    to deal with the situation aggressively, we have to be careful about
    how we talk about that. The key is still to get people into the help
    that they need (and it is available), either by self-identification or
    through the assistance of family, friends or peers. Stories of military
    suicides naturally attract a lot of attention; but the real story is
    rarely what comes out in the media. DND is constrained by privacy
    regulations from clearing the record. The VAC Committee will be
    travelling to some locations this year, as part of our review of the New
    Veterans Charter. This will include the situation for reservists,
    which has some question marks for me, personally. The Defence Committee
    has just finished a study on the Care of Ill and Injured Soldiers, with
    results forthcoming later this Spring. In both of those areas, we need
    to take the emotion and politics out of the process; and that is nigh
    on impossible. I will try to keep my head on straight, which will mean
    being rational; maintaining perspective; and being honest (sometimes
    brutally) in the face of emotion.

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