This week marked the end of a long life of suffering, oppression, and final victory for Nelson Mandela. He passed away as a hero of the world. He is now with another of my greatest heroes - Martin Luther King. It is amazing, even ironic, that in a world that has seen nothing but the subjugation and oppression of black people, that two of the world's biggest heroes of modern time were black men. It's ironic because none of the "great" white men have made anywhere near an impression on the world, yet white societies have controlled the history books for a millennium. But, despite the absolute greatness of these two men, this article focuses on other heroes.
Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelievre, 3rd battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment; Master Cpl. William Elliott, CFB Shilo, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry; Warrant Officer Michael McNeil of 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment; and another yet named. These four men all committed suicide this week. They suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). These men are all heroes, tragic heroes, for suffering through the anger of PTSD, being ignored by the military, and sadly in the end taking their own lives.
There is also the case of Master Cpl. Kristian Wolowidnyk. He attempted suicide a few weeks ago, because the military was shuffling him out of the Canadian Forces for the great sin of having PTSD and associated depression. As the former Veteran's Ombudsman, Col. Strogran, himself suffering from PTSD, said this week on national television: " The government would rather have soldiers killed than come home wounded". Bottom-line, it's cheaper for them. A dead soldier equals a one time payment of less than $300,000. A wounded or disabled soldier is a "constant drain" on the system. Many with zero military experience, especially in the media, would consider this a radical statement, but those of us that have been in know it to be a fact.
Now, suddenly, with the death of four soldiers in one week the politicians are tripping all over themselves in concern. Do not believe it for a moment. That includes the military politicians. This week the Chief of Defence Staff issued an impassioned plea for vets to reach out for help if their PTSD is causing a crisis. Here is his advice:
"If you have thoughts of suicide, help is immediately available by calling 911. Expert help is also available at your base and wing clinics, via the member assistance program (1-800-268-7708) or at your local emergency room.."
So call 911 is an option. Not original, and certainly not acquainted with vet's issues or PTSD, but they can send you an ambulance or the police. Local emergency room is an option also, if the vet wants to wait in an overcrowded room of sick people to talk for 2 minutes, if they are lucky, to a doctor. Seems to me the "emergency" type situation involved with a suicidal soldier requires specific "emergency" type response - let's say from the military. Oh, there is that 1-800 number. Can't recommend that option for a distressed soldier though. I've tried the number myself.
Here is what you will get on the other end: a person who does not work for the military; is not a medical person; is a bureaucrat from Health Canada; and will not provide you with any counselling. No, that person will take your name and number, will find a social worker or other professional in your area that has a contract with National Defence, and won't guarantee you will hear from that medical professional for at least a few days. When that medical professional contacts you, they will make an appointment for you when they can. Normally that is at least days. Oh yes, they won't diagnose you either. They will talk to you, but that's it. So if you need a sympathetic ear, and aren't concerned with what is happening to you, and aren't in a hurry, by all means contact the 1-800 number.
The Government of Canada's response to its vets is a shame akin to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. How to get rid of an inconvenience en mass? Simply place them in a bureaucratic maze, or circus may be better, claim to be doing the honourable thing with plenty of resources at the ready, and then leave them to tread water until they snap or simply go away to make make out as they will. The entire veterans system in Canada is based on denying vets real assistance - like funding and proper, unobstructed treatment.
Are the suicides of our four boys this week shocking? Yes they are. They are terrible. Their blood lays in the hands of a government and military that talk the talk, but do not walk the walk. As an Officer I used to eat last, and the men ate first. That's the way it is. You have what's left, and your men are taken care of before you are. Our government and military brass do the opposite. They take what they want, and the soldier is left with what is left, and that's usually nothing. If you are a civilian, and are reading this, do your part and contact your media, or MP, or write to the Minister of National Defence or the Prime Minister, and tell them how disgusted you really are. If you aren't disgusted, then ask yourself why not. If you are a member of our government reading this, know that you are betraying our heroes. If you are a soldier reading this, stay strong and remember the people in your life love you and need you, and that you are a hero.
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