Today is Remembrance Day and throughout this great land of ours we are remembering those who gave up their lives so that we may enjoy our rights and freedoms. This year I was invited to my children’s school to attend the Remembrance Day Ceremony, and as I sat in the audience I observed a new generation pay somber tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I left the school content in the knowledge that Remembrance Day will not be forgotten so long as it is taught and celebrated in our schools. And while we will never forget those who died on foreign and (sadly) domestic soil, we seem to have forgotten those who survived. The number of soldiers experiencing mental health issues as a result of active duty is increasing; according to senior psychiatrists within the Canadian Armed Forces, the three most common mental health ailments are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and substance abuse (primarily alcohol). Budget cuts and overloaded case workers result in inadequate treatment for traumatized soldiers and without the tools needed to cope with PTSD and depression most turn to self-medication in the form of drugs and alcohol. One veteran of the Afghan War, who turned to alcohol to help deal with his PTSD said “It numbs the pain. We call it self-medication”. This is sadly not the worst scenario, in extreme cases when the alcohol or drugs can no longer numb their pain, our soldiers take their own lives. Since the start of the Afghan War, 59 Canadian soldiers have committed suicide; this is almost one third of the 158 soldiers who died during the twelve year war. Newly minted Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, has announced he will make this issue a “top priority” and will charge his Chief of Defence with the task of “identifying a way forward”. There are promises to reduce the caseload for each Veteran’s Affairs case manager, and find ways to support veterans and active soldiers in such a way that they can receive the help they need in order to live a healthy and productive life. While this sounds promising, veteran Darrell McMullin whose son committed suicide in 2011 shortly after his return from Afghanistan says, while the promise of a review is welcome, it is a far cry from helping soldiers suffering from mental health issues today. “The military will spend a fortune to train a soldier to go to war. They need to spend that same amount of money to repair that soldier when they come back.” In other words, our military lacks among other things a sense of balance, and unless a genuine effort is made to correct this our soldiers and veterans will continue to suffer.
We Remember Them