Head of military veterans group calls for change in Ottawa’s treatment of PTSD

Two days after a Canadian war veteran and three family members were found shot dead in an apparent murder-suicide in Nova Scotia, Canadians are engaged in a national conversation about the way in which the government treats veterans for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder . Retired Lieutenant Colonel Dana Gidlow, president of the Toronto Police Military Veterans Association, is among those calling for change.

Treatment should not focus solely on the returning veteran, he says. It should be broadened to include family members, friends and others. “There are many people who have a vested interest in each veteran’s mental health,” he says. “All these stakeholders should be taken into account.” For example, he says, family members should be involved in a veteran’s counselling and made aware of any medication he or she has been prescribed.

Gidlow, a former police officer who also did three tours of duty with the military, including one in Afghanistan, cites lack of funding as the reason this approach hasn’t been adopted. “There are some great people working for Veterans Affairs,” he says. “But they just don’t have the resources they need to effectively treat veterans suffering from PTSD.”

Canada’s military watchdog is also calling for change. Ombudsman Gary Walbourne wants Ottawa to ensure that all the necessary benefits and supports are in place for injured military personnel before they leave the Forces.

“That means pension, back benefits, health care. If we had had that type of a stance, I wonder what the outcome would have been,” he told the CBC, referring to the recent tragedy. “Would it have been different? We’re speculating; we don’t know. But there is opportunity in the system. Somebody’s got to make some decisions.”

The bodies of Retired Corporal Lionel Desmond, his wife, daughter and mother were found in a home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. All had died of gunshot wounds, according to the RCMP, and Desmond’s wounds appeared to be self-inflicted.

Desmond had received treatment for PTSD after serving in Afghanistan in 2007. Almost 10 per cent of Canadians involved in the Afghan mission — some 3,500 people — are now collecting disability benefits for PTSD. According to some estimates, more than 60 Canadian soldiers and veterans have killed themselves since returning from Afghanistan. Some 18 took their own lives in 2015.

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