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Ottawa promises to overhaul mental-health services for military

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Eighteen members of Canadian military took their own lives in 2015, DND reports

Post by Guest on Wed 23 Nov 2016, 13:32

Eighteen members of Canadian military took their own lives in 2015, DND reports

Soldiers patrol the outskirts of Spin Boldak, near the Afghanistan border with Pakistan, in 2009

The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 23, 2016 10:16AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 23, 2016 12:10PM EST

OTTAWA -- The Canadian military says 18 service members died by suicide last year.

The findings are contained in a report published today by the surgeon general of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The report says many of the 18 had sought some type of mental-health treatment shortly before taking their own lives.

It also concludes that army members were more likely to kill themselves than members of the general population, as well as fellow service members in the navy and air force.
The report finds that the likelihood of a Canadian Forces member taking his or her own life was even higher if the person had been deployed on a mission overseas.
The military has been struggling with how to deal with mental-health injuries among its soldiers, with attempts to increase services and ease the transition to civilian life introduced in recent years.


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Re: Ottawa promises to overhaul mental-health services for military

Post by czerv on Wed 23 Nov 2016, 08:59

Isn't this great? every few months they come with some promise, Herr repeats it and 'support' for mil and veterans continues.

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Canadian military pledges to take action on soldier suicides

Post by Guest on Wed 23 Nov 2016, 05:47

Canadian military pledges to take action on soldier suicides

VANCOUVER — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 8:17PM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 8:32PM EST

In a speech before military brass, mental-health specialists and veterans’ advocates, one of Canada’s top military leaders signalled that the Canadian Forces are prepared to aggressively tackle mounting suicides among soldiers to prevent further lives lost.

Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross, chief of military personnel, said the Forces have a moral obligation to care for their more than 60,000 soldiers, sailors and air-force personnel and must to do better in the wake of increased suicides in recent years.

“This is alarming, because rates of suicides among our members have historically been lower than those of the Canadian population,” Lt.-Gen. Whitecross told an audience of several hundred gathered for a health-research forum in Vancouver on Tuesday. “We need to better understand why this is occurring. And more importantly we must find a strategy to reverse this trend.”

Deaths by suicide have risen significantly in the Canadian army, which shouldered much of the combat operations in Afghanistan. A continuing Globe and Mail investigation has found that at least 71 service members and veterans have taken their lives after returning from the Afghanistan mission. Canada lost 158 soldiers on the deployment, including six who took their own lives in theatre. It was this country’s longest military operation.

A veteran of tours in Germany, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Whitecross’s frank talk is a stark departure from repeated assurances over the years that the military does not have a suicide problem. Only this past fall did the Canadian Forces acknowledge that deployment may be emerging as a risk factor for suicide.

Earlier this month, The Globe published 31 accounts of soldiers and airmen who killed themselves after their Afghanistan tours. Their stories, told by family members and close friends, provide the most comprehensive public record of the nation’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide. They also expose critical gaps in the military’s health system and in government policies intended to help soldiers and vets coping with mental-health issues. Fourteen of the fallen had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, while a coroner’s inquiry identified the illness in one other case. In another 10 cases, families saw signs of PTSD but the illness wasn’t diagnosed.

Twenty-two received mental-health treatment after their deployment, but many families were critical of the quality of care their loved ones received. Twelve took their lives within two years of returning from their last Afghanistan tour, raising questions about the medical evaluations done after their deployments and the mental-health support provided.

After The Globe’s initial suicide investigation last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directed the ministers of Defence and Veterans Affairs to work together on a suicide-prevention strategy. An expert panel, whose members have not been disclosed, is examining the military’s mental-health programs and suicide-prevention efforts. Its recommendations will help shape the strategy, which is not expected until late next year. The last review was done in 2009.

“We are looking at health and wellness in a much more comprehensive way than we have ever done before,” Lt.-Gen. Whitecross said. “We know that a solid mental-health program cannot be based on medicine alone. And we know that mental health is everyone’s responsibility and everyone’s challenge to face.”

Retired lieutenant-general Roméo Dallaire, a speaker at the four-day forum organized by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, welcomed Lt.-Gen. Whitecross’s frankness on suicides and said acknowledgment of the problem is long overdue.

The former Liberal senator, who himself has struggled with suicidal thoughts, contends the Forces were not properly prepared for the influx of ill and wounded soldiers from the Afghanistan mission. He has been urging commanders to get more involved in the welfare of their charges and in preventing suicides.

“Day-to-day supervision and monitoring has not been where it should be and that’s why people are falling off the grid,” Mr. Dallaire said.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr vowed that the new suicide-prevention strategy will be “second to none” and incorporate best practices from Canada and around the world.

Afghanistan war veteran Aaron Bedard, who is a member of Mr. Hehr’s mental-health advisory board, said the rise in suicides underscores broader mental-health troubles among current and former soldiers: Too many are not getting the help they need and are struggling in isolation.

“The action needs to start happening. Studies and research have been done,” said Mr. Bedard, a former combat engineer who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. “They like to say they’re closing the seam, filling the gap. Well, the gap is us. We’re people.”


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Ottawa promises to overhaul mental-health services for military

Post by Guest on Fri 18 Nov 2016, 10:54

Ottawa promises to overhaul mental-health services for military

MONTREAL and TORONTO — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 9:26PM EST
Last updated Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 9:31AM EST

The mental-health system for treating military personnel and veterans will undergo a sweeping overhaul to better care for them from boot camp through their retirement years, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has revealed.

Top-ranking officials in Defence and Veterans Affairs are looking at “creating a new structure that’s going to not just look after the veteran at the end but start with keeping our soldiers healthy when they’re in the military,” Mr. Sajjan said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

The minister was not prepared to go into detail on what the overhaul will look like, but he did say he hopes to have a detailed plan in place in 2017. The Trudeau government promised a joint suicide-prevention strategy for veterans and soldiers when it came to office last year after a Globe investigation revealed 54 Afghanistan war vets took their own lives. That toll is now up to 71.

Critics have long complained of a major gap in services between the Canadian Armed Forces and civilian life where veterans mainly rely on patchwork provincial systems and where Veterans Affairs falls out of contact with the majority of retired soldiers. Many soldiers and veterans have also criticized the slow pace of reform.

A Globe investigation this month into 31 of the 71 confirmed suicide cases of soldiers who served in Afghanistan shed new light on some of those failings. Their families reported incomplete screening, delayed care, ineffective treatment and insufficient support. Most soldiers also expressed dread at the prospect of leaving the military before they died. The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide.

About 27 per cent of veterans face financial, employment, mental or physical health issues when they leave the Canadian Armed Forces, according to Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr. “We are setting up our department to chip away at that number by giving them a road map when they leave the Canadian Armed Forces to find their new normal,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Hehr doesn’t see the creation of any new structure from his side, however, suggesting a more gradual approach boosting Veterans Affairs involvement when military personnel depart the armed forces. “We’ll work with existing structures to have a real closing of the seams,” he said.

Mr. Sajjan seems intent on a bolder plan, including a long-awaited overhaul of the Joint Personnel Support Unit that was established in 2008 and was meant to help soldiers recover from physical and psychological wounds and ease transition out of the military.

Many former soldiers and their families describe it as little more than a way stop on their way out. The recent Globe investigation showed eight of 31 suicide cases were attached to JPSUs. On Nov. 12, a ninth soldier whose last post was at the JPSU killed himself, the Globe has confirmed.

“I would not call it a failure,” Mr. Sajjan said. “When it was created it met the need it was trying to meet. But it needs to evolve. We’re looking at the entire system and how the JPSU is structured is going to be part of it.”

Retired sergeant-major Barry Westholm, who quit the Eastern Ontario JPSU and the Forces in 2013 because of chronic staffing shortages and insufficient training, said reviews of the unit are taking too long and no tangible improvements have yet been made, despite repeated pledges to fix the broken soldier-support system. He noted long-standing problems at the JPSU have caused a lot of heartache.

“They’re releasing these poor people in terrible states knowingly and causing, I believe, ultimately suicides,” said Mr. Westholm, who was a founding member of the JPSU. He joined the casualty support unit in 2009 because he believed in the concept and wanted to help battered soldiers returning from Afghanistan. He still believes in the JPSU, but said significant improvements are desperately needed to help ill and wounded military members.

“We knew in short order the troubles that the unit faced,” said Mr. Westholm, who spoke about the JPSU before the Veterans Affairs Committee this past May. “We knew by 2010 we were in trouble. And the entire time, between now and then, it’s been the same. No change. They have just been dragging their feet, for whatever reason. I would really love to know the reason.”

Both ministers insisted they feel a sense of urgency to fill cracks in the system between military and civilian life. Mr. Hehr would like to reinforce new initiatives such as including Veterans Affairs staff in the military release process and conducting exit interviews with soldiers.

Mr. Sajjan, a former soldier who served three times in Afghanistan, suggests more expansive measures.

A wounded soldier “leaves and then goes on to Veterans Affairs to deal with the file and [the veteran] has to convince Veterans Affairs of what actually happened,” Mr. Sajjan said.

“That piece is going to be sorted out. … It can’t just be remaking the way the system was.”


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