Family still seeking answers after soldier's suicide
Published Wednesday, July 20, 2011 6:24PM EDT
More than three years after a soldier committed suicide following a struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, his family is still fighting for answers about what went wrong.
Corp. Stuart Langridge, 29, was a promising young soldier who dedicated his life to the military. But on March 15, 2008, he took his own life by hanging himself in his barracks at CFB Edmonton.
Langridge, who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, had been suffering from post-traumatic stress, alcohol and substance abuse upon his return from a six-month tour in Afghanistan in 2005.
Though his family didn't know it at the time, he had attempted suicide on six occasions.
"We had no idea how seriously ill Stuart was. We only knew parts of what was going on; we didn't understand the full extent of it," his father Shaun Fynes told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday from Victoria.
Shortly before Langridge succeeded in killing himself, he checked himself into a psychiatric facility at a local hospital in Alberta.
"He was doing really well," his mother Sheila said. "For the first time, he was really responding. And he actually asked if he could stay until he could be transferred to a treatment facility in Ontario…. But the army ordered him back to base and that's when things started to go much worse."
Langridge was discharged from hospital and within two weeks, he was dead.
His family alleges their son was subjected to discipline back on base, which worsened his condition. The military leadership didn't take his condition seriously, alleges his father.
"Four days before his death, he was taken back to hospital under military escort. His medical files show he was suffering from PTSD, depression and suicide ideation. I don't know how they can say they didn't know he was troubled," Fynes says.
Langridge's death began a bureaucratic nightmare for the Fynes family. Their son's ex-girlfriend was informed of his death before they were, and his suicide note was withheld from them for almost 15 months.
When they began asking questions about why their son's health problems were not taken more seriously, Sheila and Shaun Fynes claim they were stonewalled and treated with indifference by Canadian Forces officials.
That prompted them to hold a parliamentary news conference last fall, which was quickly followed by an apology from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk.
The family fought for and eventually received the Memorial Cross and Sacrifice Medal for their son. He was also included in the Seventh Book of Remembrance.
But they say they still have many questions that haven't been answered. They say they still get up every day to complete more paperwork and make more phone calls to set things straight.
The Fynes say they want to ensure that other military families don't have to go through what they did.
"What we're trying to accomplish is we don't want another family to get a phone call to tell them that their son was found dead. Stuart deserved a whole lot better," Shaun Fynes said. "I honestly believe our Canadian Forces are the best of the best and they deserve gold-plated treatment."
Dr. Greg Passey, a trauma psychiatrist and a former military medical officer, says the situation the Fynes family has faced is all too common.
He says despite all the progress that has been made in raising awareness of PTSD, the stigma is still there.
"There remains a lot of misperception and ignorance within the military in regards to issues like post-traumatic stress disorder. They're often viewed as people who are disciplinary problems," Passey told Canada AM.
Even the term ‘mental health issues,' is stigmatizing, he says, because it doesn't speak to the severity of the illnesss.
"The brain is a physical organ. It has physical abnormalities and diseases processes and injuries. And so we should be talking about brain disorders," Passey believes.
Passey also isn't pleased that the military groups suicides among its listings of "non-combat injury." The U.S. military does a better job of recognizing that military service can take a mental toll and is more forthcoming about the fact that the job may involve a certain number of suicides, he says.
"I'm not sure why the (Canadian) military is not upfront with issues like this," Passey said. "This individual was trained and changed by the military. He was affected by his military service and his brain was injured as a result. It would behoove them to just be upfront."
He says even with the recent recognition of PTSD, there are still not enough psychiatric resources and professionals to go around. The situation becomes even worse once a soldier retires or is discharged.
"While they're in the military, the resources aren't too bad. The difficulty is once they're released. And the reservists who have to depend on civilian resources; they get lost.
Rather than ignoring suicides, the military should be acknowledging them, Passey says.
"They're our invisible, unknown fallen who end up suffering and dying as a result of their tours even though they've come home alive," he said.