POLITICS

Veteran Died And Lay Undiscovered In His House For 4 Months, Says Sister

07/16/2015 04:29 EDT | Updated 07/15/2016 05:59 EDT
A retired member of the Canadian military with a mental illness lay dead in his home for up to four months before he was discovered, says his sister.

Former corporal Shawn Brumsey, 50, originally from Deer Lake on Newfoundland's west coast, spent a 28-year career in the Canadian Forces before retiring from Canadian Forces Station St. John's in September 2014. He lived in neighbouring Conception Bay South. 

Brumsey was diagnosed with a condition known as "major depressive disorder," which was attributed to two stints in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, according to a Veterans Affairs Canada document obtained by CBC News.

His sister, Deer Lake resident Lisa Brumsey, said her brother had been struggling with a mental illness for a long time and was a very private person. 

"No man should ever have to die in his house for four months," said Lisa Brumsey, who told CBC News that she could not contact her brother for long stretches. The siblings lived on opposite ends of Newfoundland. 

She said her brother died of a heart attack sometime in January, and she believes his heart failed because of severe weight loss caused by medication he had been taking. 

Weekly check-in at base

The issue of mental illness in the military and other emergency services has been a hotly debated topic for many years, and especially so since Canada's combat role in the Afghanistan war.

Lisa Brumsey blames National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada for not doing more to help her brother, but officials with both departments said there is only so much they can do.

"I want them to put something in place so this never happens," she said.

"I don't want any other family to go through this or any other soldier or anybody in the military. It's traumatic."

She called the military in January after she had tried unsuccessfully for months to reach her brother. She ended the call for help, though, when her brother replied to a text message. 

But the lines of communication went silent again, and in May, she discovered his phone had been disconnected.

She alerted the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, which found Shawn Brumsey in his home on May 16.

Power to the home had also been disconnected, and neighbours thought Brumsey had been working outside the province, Lisa Brumsey said.

Options for support were offered 

The Department of National Defence confirmed that Brumsey was reporting weekly to a specialized support centre prior to his release from the military, but his file was then turned over to Veterans Affairs.

Brumsey was offered support and counselling by Veterans Affairs Canada, but officials told CBC News that veterans are not obliged to participate.

Because of privacy restrictions, officials will not say if Brumsey accepted any of the assistance available to him.

Officials with both departments expressed sadness over Brumsey's passing, and said they reached out to family members with offers of condolences and support.

A statement from National Defence said both departments work closely to ensure veterans and military members with service-related mental health issues and their families receive the support they need.

"We recognize the seriousness of operational stress injuries," the statement reads.

Shawn Brumsey was an information technology specialist, and worked a long career at CFS St. John's. One of his co-workers at CFS St. John's said he was a quiet person who did his job and did not socialize with colleagues. 

"He was not a bad person. He worked hard," said the co-worker, who asked not to be identified.

A rift in the family

Brumsey's death has also opened a rift in his family and has complicated efforts to settle his will.

Lisa Brumsey said her brother — who was unmarried and did not have children — left her all his belongings, including his residence in Conception Bay South, but had not designated an executor for his estate.

She said no one in her family will agree to serve as executor, and no one will agree to let her to take on the role.

"My family has disowned me," she said in an interview with CBC News. 

Sadly, the dispute has also stalled efforts to clean Brumsey's home. 

Brumsey said the lingering smell of her brother's decomposing body and rotting food is unbearable. She said Shawn often hoarded food.

Lisa said her brother's plan was to sell his home and move back to Deer Lake in order to spend more time with her children, ages six and 19.

"They were his family," she said.

Instead of a reunited family, however, her brother's life ended in seclusion and isolation, and an untimely and undignified death.

"My life has been in such a turmoil in the last two months because I believe that house needs to be cleaned to set his soul free," she said.

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