What initially appeared to be a tragic Christmas Day accident on an Alberta highway was actually the “final desperate act” of a Canadian soldier who died of suicide, her husband has revealed to CTV News.
Retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, intentionally drove her car into an oncoming transport truck on the Trans-Canada highway near Calgary, her husband Tom said in a written statement.
The Dec. 25. crash instantly killed the 51-year-old who was stationed in Germany. The two occupants of the tractor trailer were not seriously hurt.
MacEachern, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, had left a note for her family.
Her loved ones believe that she developed PTSD as a result of “protracted battles” with Veterans Affairs over medical benefits for dental work she had done in the late 1980s, while she was stationed in Germany.
“We would like to say that Leona had slipped through the cracks in the system but, in fact, there does not seem to be ‘a system,’” Tom wrote, noting that MacEachern’s PTSD treatment consisted of seeing a psychiatrist for 45 minutes a week.
“When symptoms became worse she was referred into the Alberta Public Health care system which was even worse,” Tom said.
“Various medications led to new side effects and symptoms and assessments were done on lockdown psychiatric wards alongside the deeply disturbed and those under observation in relation to criminal matters. A couple of visits to emergency rooms when she reported suicidal thoughts were met with a quick visit by the ‘crisis team’ who then sent her home.”
MacEachern was finally admitted to the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka, Alta. She was allowed to go home for Christmas, but her family later learned that she was in transition between medications at the time. Tom said the family was not given any specific instructions before MacEachern was released for the holidays.
Details of her death come after a string of military suicides that have raised questions about the treatment of wounded and troubled soldiers and veterans.
Four Canadian soldiers died from apparent suicides in late November and early December, before MacEachern died.
Government sources have confirmed to CTV the suicide of another soldier last week at Alberta’s CFB Suffield.
Last month, Canada’s top general, Tom Lawson, vowed to improve resources and access to mental health care for soldiers returning from war zones.
But CTV News has learned that, of 57 mental health professionals the military said it would hire to help soldiers, only three such positions have been filled.
In a statement, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said officials are in the final stages of hiring the health care workers. He also said the military takes soldier suicides very seriously.
NDP’s veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer accused the government of delaying the hiring of extra health care workers “to balance the books.
“And if that is the case, that is tragic indeed,” he said.
With a report from CTV’s Richard Madan