War wounds

The Compass - - Editorial -

Gov­ern­ments who send sol­diers to war have a duty of care for those sol­diers and their fam­i­lies, not only while those sol­diers are in war zones, but when they come home as well.

And that’s why the rec­om­men­da­tion to hold an in­quiry into the death of Lionel Des­mond and three mem­bers of his fam­ily in Nova Sco­tia is so im­por­tant.

Des­mond killed his mother, Brenda Des­mond, 52, his wife Shanna Des­mond, 31, and their 10-year-old daugh­ter, Aaliyah Des­mond, be­fore then killing him­self al­most ex­actly a year ago at their home in Up­per Big Tra­cadie.

The only real ques­tion is why it took a year to de­cide to move ahead, given the value an in­quiry can have, not only within Nova Sco­tia, but po­ten­tially for vet­er­ans across the coun­try.

Nova Sco­tia’s last full fa­tal­ity in­quiry was held a decade ago, ex­am­in­ing the death of Howard Hyde, who died in 2007 af­ter a strug­gle with corrections guards in Hal­i­fax. Hyde suf­fered from men­tal ill­ness and had not been tak­ing his med­i­ca­tion.

That in­quiry made valu­able rec­om­men­da­tions about the in­ter­ac­tions of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness and po­lice, and about the use of Tasers.

This in­quiry would look at how Lionel Des­mond re­ceived treat­ment, and whether that treat­ment failed in any way to pre­vent the deaths.

Nova Sco­tia’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner, Dr. Matthew Bowes, said he was con­cerned about the fact that Des­mond, who was suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der af­ter serv­ing in Afghanistan, had a num­ber of in­ter­ac­tions with dif­fer­ent govern­ment and health agen­cies.

“It’s not like Mr. Des­mond was un­known and this hap­pened out of the blue — there was a tra­jec­tory,” he said. “There was touch points in our sys­tem and I think it would be very valu­able to look at how those things oc­curred and how we might, in ret­ro­spect, have done it dif­fer­ently.”

Valu­able in­deed — there are scores of vet­er­ans in this coun­try who served in Afghanistan, and while none might be in the ex­act cir­cum­stances Des­mond found him­self in, the way health agen­cies and the fed­eral Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs deals with their con­cerns and needs is well worth ex­am­in­ing.

An in­quiry has no chance of look­ing into Lionel Des­mond’s rea­son­ing. But it can open a win­dow on this coun­try’s treat­ment of vet­er­ans, and pro­vide an in­de­pen­dent ex­am­i­na­tion of whether that treat­ment is good enough.

Des­mond’s sis­ter Chantel made that point very clearly: “I lost my fam­ily and now I’m wor­ried about try­ing to help other fam­i­lies,” she said.

What fed­eral and pro­vin­cial of­fi­cials should be think­ing about now is how best to sup­ply every scrap of in­for­ma­tion that an in­quiry needs or wants. They owe that to Lionel Des­mond, to his fam­ily, and to all the other vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies who may be fac­ing road­blocks and in­ad­e­quate ser­vices. Re­spon­si­bil­ity for vet­er­ans and their care doesn’t end when the uni­form comes off.

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for vet­er­ans and their care doesn’t end when the uni­form comes off.

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