Stressed soldiers lack support, ex-chaplain maintains

Forces personnel often left to suffer post-traumatic illness


April 25, 2009

The circumstances surrounding non-combat deaths of troops in Afghanistan often remain mysterious.

Of the handful that have occurred, at least two have led to criminal charges, several were accidental and two have been ruled suicides.

The death of Major Michelle Mendes has not publicly been ruled a suicide, but has brought increased attention to the mental health of Canadian Forces personnel.

“It does underline the need for a very strong emphasis on mental health services within the Canadian Forces,” said Allan Studd, a marriage and family therapist who served for eight years as a chaplain for the Forces.

“This is combat, it’s extremely tense and extremely dangerous, firefights are common and you know that there’s an enemy out there who’s just waiting to pick you off so you just have to live with being constantly on guard, always.”

The need for mental health support among Canadian Forces personnel outweighs supply, he said, in part because the military officials “are still looking at the provision of mental-health services through maybe a 1950s lens.”

The variety of mental- health professionals made available is too limited, and does not include marriage and family therapists, he said.

In March of 2008, Bombardier Jérémie Ouellet, part of the latest rotation of troops to arrive in southern Afghanistan, was found dead in his sleeping accommodations at Kandahar Air Field. The death of the 22-year-old native of Matane, Que., was recently attributed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His family has said he was “not the type of person to commit suicide.”

Major Raymond Ruckpaul was found dead in his living quarters with a gunshot wound at the Kabul headquarters of the NATO-led forces in Afghanistan in August of 2007. The death was deemed a suicide by the military’s National Investigation Service.

That same year, Canada’s Defence Ombudsman Yves Côté said the National Defence Department and Canadian Forces treat military families like “second-class citizens” and leave their concerns and complaints to languish for months on end.

He made the comment in the context of a 21/2-year investigation into the treatment of sniper Master Corporal Graham Ragsdale, who returned from Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

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