05/01/2013 05:59 EDT | Updated 07/01/2013 05:12 EDT

Mental Health Issues For Soldiers, Police Up 47% Since 2008

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A distraught soldier on one knee with one hand covering his face, possibly suffering from shell shock or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

The number of soldiers and RCMP officers suffering from mental health injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder has skyrocketed over the last six years, driven in part by the gruelling decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan.

Data provided to CBC News Network's Power & Politics from Veterans Affairs Canada shows the number of veterans, soldiers and federal police officers receiving disability benefits for mental health conditions has swelled to 16,206 at last count, from just over 11,050 in 2008. That marks an increase of 47 per cent.

Second World War and Korean War vets with mental health problems is the only group that saw their caseload decline, and that is due to an aging population. There are now 1,932 “traditional” veterans of that era with PTSD and other mental disorders, down from 3,036 six years ago.

Canadian Armed Forces personnel – including those still serving and out of uniform – have seen the biggest jump, from 6,587 in 2008 to the current 11,600. The number in this group who have served in Afghanistan has climbed from 697 in 2008 to 3,411.

Veterans Affairs did not have a figure immediately available on the costs of benefits and services to individuals with mental conditions, but the Defence Department spends about $50 million a year on mental health services.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has described the care of ill and injured soldiers as his “number 1 priority.”

A statement from MacKay’s office to CBC News said the Armed Forces has made “tremendous strides” in supporting personnel who suffer from deployment-related mental health conditions like PTSD.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are a priority focus for military health programs because they are the most common operational stress injuries,” he said. “Canada is now recognized as a world leader in fighting stigmatization and raising awareness of mental health illnesses. In fact, we have the greatest ratio of mental health care workers to soldiers in NATO.”

The data also shows the number of Mounties suffering with mental disorder has also spiked to 2,674 cases from 1,427 in the last six years.

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