Fantino vows 'full investigation' into mishandling of personnel files linked to military suicide
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, right, has a phone conversation with Tom MacEachern, whose wife died of suicide after seeking treatment for PTSD. (CTV News)
Published Monday, February 3, 2014 7:09PM EST
Last Updated Monday, February 3, 2014 8:02PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada’s embattled Veterans Affairs minister has promised to “undertake a full investigation” into his department’s mishandling of personnel files linked to a horrific military suicide that happened on Christmas Day.
Julian Fantino made the commitment in a personal phone call with Tom MacEachern, whose wife Leona killed herself by driving her vehicle into an oncoming semi-truck on a Calgary highway on Dec 25, 2013. The 51-year-old Armed Forces veteran suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. Hours before her death, she left a suicide note to her family.
But the family’s anguish didn’t end with the suicide. Letters by Veterans Affairs just days before and after her death fuelled more grief and raised questions how the military treats its members suffering with mental illness.
Fantino says a team of at least three investigators are now assigned to review:
- Why MacEachern’s psychiatric files were found in a Calgary snowbank. A letter from Veterans Affairs dated December 20 -- just five days before she died -- apologized for the confidentiality breach, but offered no explanation what happened. Read the full letter here.
- Why Veterans Affairs wrote to the MacEachern family just days after the funeral, demanding a partial refund of $581.67 from her monthly disability cheque because she didn’t live the full month. Read the full letter here.
- Why Veterans Affairs dismissed her original claim for “Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder,” and why the appeals process was delayed.
Tom MacEachern told CTV News that “Minister Fantino offered a sincere condolence and personal apology. I accepted this and I responded that I do not hold any one person accountable for this tragedy, but rather this is a symptom of a badly managed bureaucracy that needs to fixed, not necessarily downsized. Further, that this is an opportunity for real leadership to step up and make that happen.”
MacEachern was also invited to appear before a future parliamentary committee studying how the military copes with mental health and returning soldiers suffering PTSD.
Fantino made the personal commitment on the same day thousands protested the closure of regional veterans offices across the country.
Opposition parties are calling for Fantino’s resignation , and accuse the Harper government of using the military as political props, but not delivering on the support they require in the aftermath of war.
In the last two months, at least eight members of the military have committed suicide. Many advocacy groups call it a “national crisis” that requires urgent attention.