‘We must do bet­ter’: O’Regan

Male vet­er­ans more likely to die from sui­cide, says new preven­tion strat­egy

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS - DAVID PUGLIESE

Male vet­er­ans of the Cana­dian Forces are more likely to die from sui­cide than sim­i­larly aged men in the gen­eral Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to a sui­cide preven­tion strat­egy re­leased Thurs­day.

Such vet­er­ans tended to be age 30 or older, to come from the lower ranks of the mil­i­tary and to have fewer than 10 years of ser­vice, ac­cord­ing to the Joint Sui­cide Preven­tion Strat­egy de­vel­oped by the Cana­dian Armed Forces and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Canada.

The sol­diers tended to have been re­leased from the mil­i­tary for med­i­cal rea­sons or un­der cir­cum­stances where they did not want to leave the Forces, the strat­egy said, cit­ing a Sta­tis­tics Canada study.

It rep­re­sents a small vic­tory for crit­ics who have chal­lenged the claims of the Cana­dian Forces’ lead­er­ship that sui­cide rates in the mil­i­tary are lower than in Cana­dian so­ci­ety.

Crit­ics have long ar­gued such claims are flawed be­cause the mil­i­tary doesn’t track per­son­nel af­ter they have left the Forces. A sol­dier who leaves the mil­i­tary and kills him or her­self years, months or even days later is not in­cluded in sta­tis­tics gath­ered by the mil­i­tary or gov­ern­ment.

The strat­egy re­leased Thurs­day said “sui­cide rates for the Cana­dian Armed Forces are broadly in keep­ing with those of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. We have less com­pre­hen­sive in­for­ma­tion about Vet­er­ans avail­able to us but we are work­ing to im­prove our knowl­edge of the vet­eran com­mu­nity.”

“Based on the in­for­ma­tion avail­able, it would seem that sui­cide can be more com­mon among Vet­er­ans as com­pared to the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion,” it added.

The au­thors cited a Sta­tis­tics Canada study that com­pared the re­ported sui­cide rate in serv­ing and re­leased Cana­dian mil­i­tary mem­bers who en­rolled in ser­vice from 1972 to 2006.

“The study found that male vet­er­ans were more likely to die by sui­cide than sim­i­larly aged males in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, av­er­aged over the 35-year study pe­riod,” the strat­egy said.

In gen­eral, fe­male vet­er­ans were far less likely to die by sui­cide than males and were not more likely to die by sui­cide than women in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, it added.

The strat­egy cites over 160 ini­tia­tives that are un­der­way or in de­vel­op­ment, Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sea­mus O’Regan said at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day.

“We must do bet­ter,” O’Regan told jour­nal­ists. “This new strat­egy is a solid step in do­ing so.”

Some of the ini­tia­tives that al­ready ex­ist in­clude var­i­ous sports and health pro­grams and coun­selling ser­vices. New ini­tia­tives will in­clude hir­ing one spe­cial­ist to ad­vise the Forces on ad­dic­tion and an­other to ad­vise on the is­sue of sui­cide.

Im­prove­ments are promised to the process around vet­er­ans’ de­par­ture from the mil­i­tary. In ad­di­tion, a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for re­search on men­tal health and post-trau­matic stress dis­or­ders will be es­tab­lished, though de­tails aren’t be­ing re­leased yet.

A new fund will al­low Vet­er­ans Af­fairs to re­act quickly to deal with home­less for­mer sol­diers or other is­sues not di­rectly re­lated to their mil­i­tary ser­vice. Some sol­diers have com­plained their ca­reers have suf­fered af­ter they have ad­mit­ted dealing with post­trau­matic stress dis­or­ders or other men­tal is­sues.

Chief of the De­fence Staff Gen. Jon Vance said Thurs­day he will not tol­er­ate any form of stigma or judg­ment “levied against someone who has the courage to ask for help.” “If you do have a prob­lem, you will get the help you need,” he promised mil­i­tary per­son­nel in a mes­sage Thurs­day.

“Our med­i­cal sys­tem ex­ists to treat you for any in­jury or wound you sus­tain — whether men­tal or phys­i­cal, on de­ploy­ment or at home.”

Vance said he ex­pects all mil­i­tary lead­ers to foster a cul­ture of re­spect and com­pas­sion that puts the well-be­ing of mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies first.

The is­sue of sui­cide and the treat­ment of sol­diers, par­tic­u­larly vet­er­ans of the Afghanistan war, has made head­lines over the last sev­eral years.

The lead­er­ship of both the Cana­dian Forces and Vet­er­ans Af­fairs have long claimed that serv­ing and for­mer sol­diers re­ceive top-notch care. Col. Rakesh Jetly, the se­nior psy­chi­a­trist for the Cana­dian Forces, has de­scribed the mil­i­tary’s men­tal health pro­gram as “in­cred­i­ble.” But the fam­i­lies of some vet­er­ans who have killed them­selves say the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and fed­eral gov­ern­ment has failed those sol­diers.

JUSTIN TANG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Chief of the De­fence Staff Jonathan Vance ar­rives for a press con­fer­ence on the Joint Sui­cide Preven­tion Strat­egy, in Ottawa on Thurs­day.

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