09/12/2012 04:18 EDT | Updated 11/12/2012 05:12 EST

Soldiers' mental health programs get $11.4M boost

The treatment of operational stress injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the top health care priority for the Canadian Forces, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday as he announced $11.4 million in additional funding for mental health care professionals in the military.

MacKay said the funding will pay for at least 51 new positions that would include psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers and addictions counsellors.

"Serving members who served our nation who are now ill or injured as a result of their experience, and require our assistance to heal, to recover, to transition and to improve their quality of life are a priority for me," MacKay said in a speech to announce the funding in Halifax Wednesday. "While our government has a good record of providing this care, there is more to be done."

MacKay said the Conservative government set a goal of doubling the number of mental health care professionals in the Canadian Forces from the 222 in place when it took office. Today, MacKay said, there are 378, for the highest ratio of mental health care professionals to soldiers in NATO.

"As we know, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the depression that follows are the most common operational stress injuries that we see in the Canadian Forces today. And with the intensity of the combat experienced in Kandahar [Afghanistan], the need today is very real. The effects are very real. The effects can be devastating."

"Those who are suffering from operational stress injury are my number one priority, for our health care programs now and for the foreseeable future," MacKay said.

MacKay said $1 million of the funds will be spent increasing the number of primary care doctors and $2.7 million will cover nine contracted physicians.

He said the funds, which will be permanently allocated starting this fiscal year, come on top of $38.6 million spent on the mental health needs of personnel.