DND cuts may affect care for soldiers with PTSD: critics
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012 9:58PM EDT
Opposition MPs say job cuts at the Department of National Defence will make it harder for soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder to get help, but the Conservatives say they're working to boost the number of front-line health personnel.
NDP MP Jack Harris criticized the government during question period on Thursday, focusing on the proposed closure of a mental health facility in Ottawa on July 1.
Referencing a report on mental health services for the Armed Forces, Harris accused the government of not caring about the mental well-being of Canadian soldiers.
"Soldiers should not have to fight for services or wait in the desert of their minds, hoping help will come soon," said Harris. "Will this government reverse this plan and give our forces the help and services they deserve?"
Adam Cyr, a 33-year-old, lost his leg in combat but now feels like the federal government does not do enough to support veterans.
In fact, he said it's already difficult to get treatment for mental health services.
"When you can see somebody, it's generally pretty good but getting in to see somebody is the hardest part," Cyr said.
Steve Stoesz, who served in Afghanistan, agrees that there is a major problem for veterans.
While he suffered several injuries during combat, it's the emotional and mental toll of combat that plagues him most days.
He said that others have simply given up.
"This is totally unacceptable," said Stoesz, referring to the cuts.
"I had a pretty positive outlook on life and other guys don't have that. I'm wondering how many guys gave up, how many guys have committed suicide because of this?"
Defence Minister Peter MacKay asserted that the mental health clinic in question was being relocated to Petawawa, Ont., to be closer to soldiers and their families -- not because of budgetary constraints.
"The member of Opposition is simply wrong," said MacKay.
MacKay also stated that the government has been working on doubling the number of mental health care professionals working in the Armed Forces since taking office in 2006, and that compared to other NATO countries, Canada has the greatest ratio of mental health professionals to soldiers.
Earlier on Thursday, the union representing military medical professionals said the cuts will mean closing the Deployment Health Unit, a unit charged with monitoring the mental health of soldiers.
Also on the chopping block are a host of civilian jobs, including cooks, secretaries, weapons technicians and mechanics.
But it is the cuts in the departments responsible for soldiers' mental health that are the most risky, said Gary Corbett, President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) one of the unions affected by the cuts.
"At a time when there is increasing awareness of mental health problems among our veterans returning from conflict and concerns that PTSD, depression and suicide are serious issues for the Canadian Forces, the government's decision to withdraw from this area of work is quite simply irresponsible," said Corbett.
"On behalf of all Canadians, we are calling on Minister MacKay to reverse this decision.
According to the union, the cuts include:
- the closing of DND's Deployment Health Unit, eliminating four jobs including those of suicide prevention specialists -- one of whom is the co-chair of the Canadian Forces Expert Panel on Suicide Prevention
- 15 of 25 jobs in the unit overseeing the issues of soldier suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder
- the closure of a trial injury surveillance program at CFB Valcartier
- 8 of 18 DND epidemiology experts, including the experts who analyze soldiers' mental health issues
In a report released Monday, the Defence Department acknowledged that soldier suicides were up in 2011, with 19 soldiers taking their own lives compared with 12 the year before.
For Sen. Romeo Dallaire -- the former lieutenant general who led United Nations peacekeepers during the Rwandan genocide -- the problem is bad and likely to only get worse.
Dallaire said that all the recent missions Canadian soldiers have been involved in are certain to have long-lasting effects.
Some of those soldiers, he said, have seen action in eight or nine tours over the last 15 years.
In an interview on CTV's Power Play, Dallaire -- who has admitted to trying to take his own life four different times after returning from Rwanda -- said cuts to mental health services "to save a couple of bucks" might mean risking standards of care for future generations of soldiers.
It has taken nearly 15 years of work to build up an adequate support system for returning Canadian soldiers, said Dallaire. Cutting frontline staff now risks undoing much of that good work.
"If you're fiddling with the research side and there's a sense that that's being put at risk… well, you might be answering for today, but you're putting a real serious worry on the guys and girls going to be deployed tomorrow," said Dallaire.
With reports from CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian and CTV Winnipeg