Need to know: Money alone cannot address military mental health

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson lauds the government’s funding for troubled soldiers
Sean Kilpatrick/CP

“I put my life on the line to go to Afghanistan. I did a f—ing good job. And now I’m seen as broken.” —James Kirk, formerly of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery

Joyce Murray, the former candidate for the Liberal party’s leadership, paid a visit to Petawawa, Ont., a town with a military base about a two-hour drive northwest of Ottawa. Yesterday, Murray told the House of Commons that she’d heard some troubling things about soldiers with mental-health issues.

“I was told that to seek help is to risk getting kicked out of the armed forces and that the injured need twice the peer support that they are currently getting. I was told that delays in hiring health professionals are due to budget cuts.” she said. “Why is the minister blaming the injured and denying the critical gaps in the necessary supports for our women and men in uniform?”

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson stood to respond. He dismissed all of Murray’s comments as “completely untrue,” and went on to laud the government’s achievements on the file. “There have been unprecedented investments in this area. We have the highest ratio of mental health workers of all our NATO allies. We are getting the job done and we will continue to support the men and women in uniform, as well as the veterans in this country,” he said.

Completely untrue? Surely, there are shades of grey. Take, for example, James Kirk. He served in Afghanistan in 2007, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and endured five years in the military before his release in 2012. Kirk spoke to the National Post‘s John Ivison about his struggle to cope with PTSD while he remained on active duty. “We were told to get help. But all the injured guys were pushed off to the side. It made me feel like a piece of s—,” Kirk recalled. “It was like the leadership was saying ‘I don’t want you to infect or poison my guys.’ I was treated like a malingerer.”

Kirk’s not an isolated case, if you believe an unnamed army administrator quoted by Ivison. So, Nicholson can repeat at will how much the government’s spending on mental health for soldiers and veterans. But money doesn’t change culture, not on its own, and that’s what has gone unrecognized in the House of Commons as a spate of military suicides casts a grim shadow over parliamentary debate.


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