Mental health care needs among soldiers expected to increase: military psychiatrist
As the Canadian Forces struggles with the deaths of three soldiers from apparent suicide, a military psychiatrist said Friday the army is expected to see a “steady” increase in the number of Afghan veterans coming forward with mental health care needs.
Cases of soldiers reporting mental health issues has risen by about eight per cent among those who served in support of the Afghan mission, Col. Rakesh Jetly, a psychiatrist and adviser to the Canadian Armed Forces, told reporters in a teleconference.
The number is higher among soldiers who have served on the frontlines.
“It could be up to about 20 per cent in the group who’ve had the highest exposure to combat,” he said.
The deaths of three Canadian soldiers earlier this week is raising concerns about the treatment and military resources available to Afghan war veterans who may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, or other mental health-related issues.
CTV News learned late Friday that a soldier from Nova Scotia has filed a $20-million lawsuit against the government, claiming the military ignored his PTSD.
Despite the deaths, Jetly said there has not been an increase in suicide rates among Canadian Forces members.
The army confirmed Thursday that warrant officer Michael McNeil died Wednesday at the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that two soldiers with links to CFB Shilo in Manitoba died of apparent suicide a short time apart.
Master Cpl. William Elliott died at his home just outside the base, while Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast died in Lethbridge, Alta., following a near death from suicide at a corrections facility.
According to the latest figures from the Defence Department 22 full-time members of service died of suicide in 2011.
Critics are also questioning the accuracy of military-tracked statistics on suicides, as the numbers don’t include reservists.
"The problem is, it's been very, very difficult for us within the organization to actually accurately capture reservists," Jetly said. "We're just afraid that if we just sort of start trying to tabulate them that the numbers will be misleading.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said the Conservative government has spent millions in treatment but is always looking to improve the system.
“One death is too many and we all have a responsibility to identify those individuals who need help and to get them that help,” he told CTV News Friday.
Opposition critics, however, say the government has not put enough resources into suicide-prevention programs.
"We need a system in place to ensure that we can identify where the failing is," said New Democrat MP Matthew Kellway. "At this point in time it's not clear that we have that system."
The U.S. military recently announced a plan to spend $50 million to study and track the patterns of suicide in soldiers going back five years.
“Obviously, the U.S. has been in Iraq which is different than Afghanistan, but I do think we can learn something from what they’re looking at down there,” said Tim Laidler, executive director of the Veterans Transition Network.
\With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan and files from The Canadian Press