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theglobeandmail.com

LES PERREAUX AND RENATA D’ALIESIO

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.

 

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