Canada's top general to deliver new message, guidebook for troubled soldiers
Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014 10:10PM EDT
Ahead of Friday’s National Day of Honour commemorations, Canada’s top general will unveil a new guidebook and video aimed at helping troubled soldiers and their families.
Gen. Tom Lawson, Canada’s chief of defence staff, will issue his new message Wednesday.
In an interview with CTV’s Richard Madan, he said more needs to be done to address post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness among returning troops and veterans.
"I feel completely responsible for our men and women in uniform, not only when they are doing great things on behalf of Canadians and Canadian interests around the world but when they're ailing and having troubles,” he said.
“The problems with mental health and providing the very best services to those suffering from operational stress injuries are going to be with us for some time to come.”
The military has confirmed 13 suicides among its ranks last year alone, but it’s believed that many more have not been tracked. Since the Afghan war began in 2001, 121 Canadian soldiers have died by suicide.
Months ago, the military promised to hire more than 50 mental health care specialists to help soldiers in need, but not all of those jobs have been filled.
The last time Lawson addressed PTSD and military suicides with a video message, there was harsh criticism within the ranks. Some said Lawson’s message didn’t have the right tone -- or much impact.
Soldiers who suffer from PTSD say they hope Lawson’s new message includes veterans’ families, who are also under pressure to remain quiet about their ordeals.
“The veteran isn’t the only one fearful of coming forward,” retired Lt.-Col. Chris Linford told CTV News.
He said there is fear of judgment and stigmatization, and many soldiers are afraid of losing their careers if they speak out.
Lawson acknowledged that more needs to be done, but insisted that progress is being made.
“What we take heart in (is) seeing the number of people coming forward, putting their hands up, getting involved in the mental health services we’ve put in place,” he said.
The National Day of Honour will be observed on Friday with an elaborate ceremony in Ottawa and commemoration events across the country. The events will recognize Canadian soldiers’ service and sacrifices in Afghanistan.