OTTAWA – Canadian veterans are at "significantly higher risk" of death by suicide than the general public, according to a first of its kind federal study that found young male veterans, and female veterans overall, are at the highest risk.
Male veterans had a 36 per cent higher risk of death by suicide than the general population, while female veterans had an 81 per cent higher risk than the general population.
Male veterans are 1.4 times more likely to die by suicide compared to the general male population.
Female veterans have an 1.8 times higher risk of death by suicide compared to the general female population.
Young male veterans are at the highest risk. Male veterans under 25 years of age have a 242 per cent higher risk of death by suicide compared to the general population of males younger than 25.
The risk of suicide for male and female veterans has been stable over the last four decades, the study found.
The findings are part of the "2017 Veteran Suicide Mortality Study" released by Veterans Affairs Canada on Thursday. The study looked at a span of 37 years—between 1976 and 2012 -- of Canadian mortality data from Statistics Canada, as well as the military career records of 200,734 former Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
Over the 37 years of the study, 1,421 male veterans, and 65 female veterans died by suicide, according to the minister's office.
Prior Veterans Affairs Canada studies have found a higher pervasiveness of mental health issues among veterans.
It is the first ever time the federal government has collated data on veteran suicide and the government intends to use the study’s findings to inform suicide prevention for veterans.
"The Veteran Suicide Mortality Study is an important step to understanding suicide within our Veteran population and help us create programs and services that deal with the issue effectively," said Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan in a statement to CTV News.
In October, the federal government announced a suicide prevention strategy which aims to improve services and supports offered to members of the military and veterans, to try to reduce the number of suicides among Canadian soldiers.
"It’s a difficult thing to talk about, because it’s not numbers. These are real people, real families, there’s devastation in the wake of a suicide. All I can tell you is that we’re going to keep trying. We’ll keep applying effort, get people into mental health care and do everything we can using best practices and partnering with as many people and as many organizations as we have to try to prevent the suicides," said Canada’s top soldier, Chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, in an end of year interview with CTV News' Mercedes Stephenson last week.
Report is ‘misleading’
Retired Cpl. Bruce Moncur, an Afghanistan veteran, said he wasn’t surprised by the findings and said the report fails to recognize the many suicides after 2012.
“If you recall in 2013, around Christmas time there was a rash of suicides that actually CTV covered rather extensively that I think would’ve pushed the numbers a little higher,” Moncur told CTV News Channel.
“I think that this report is not overall truthful in the sense that I think it would be a lot easier to find the numbers from 2012 than 1979 when this study started.”
He added that the report was “flawed” and “misleading” and neglected to offer any clear solutions.
“If you read the conclusion in the report, there is no definitive plan or action plan or suggestions,” Moncur said.
It’s a complaint that Tom MacEachern shares. His wife, Cpl. Leona MacEachern, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and died of suicide in 2013 on Christmas Day.
Four years later, Tom MacEachern says he’s still waiting to see the government enact a plan.
“There’s rooms full of reports and testimony and case files that have been piling up for years. Where’s the action?” he asked.
'I’m a little dismayed'
"I'm a little dismayed that it doesn’t actually capture the full breadth of the problem," former Canadian Armed Forces medic Walter Callaghan told CTV News Channel.
Callaghan said that is because the study did not include two classifications of reservists -- part-time reservists and full-time, but not operational reservists -- which he believes means that "there’s a huge segment of the military population that is not in there at all."
Callaghan also pointed to the fact that the study focused on cases where suicide was listed as the cause of death, and could potentially be overlooking other related causes of death, including accidents or alcohol abuse, for instance.
Overall, he said he wasn’t at all surprised by the findings, and still thinks Veterans Affairs Canada has a long way to go to deliver services to veterans when they need them.
He said the system forces veterans to "jump through so many hoops to try and navigate a byzantine bureaucracy."