Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Dec.15, 2016. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)
I never met Lionel Desmond, the soldier who suffered from PTSD and killed his family. I can tell you about a case that I thought of when I heard about the tragedy, a case of a soldier from the same base, CFB Gagetown.
In 2014, following the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in Windsor, Member of Parliament Joe Comartin hired me to help him with the influx of veterans that would come to his office seeking help. My first case came early, on the day former Conservative MP for Essex Jeff Watson held a veterans' town hall.
That was the day I got a message from Paul. Paul had been in the regular army for 10 years, including a tour to Bosnia, and was threatening to commit suicide because of the stress that the Department of National Defence was causing him.
Paul had gone to a padre, a religious figure often seen as a source of counsel. Paul shared his anxiety and confided sensitive information. The padre betrayed the confidentiality that Paul had thought was there and informed his chain of command. Once this information was brought to the attention of his bosses, there were no attempts to help Paul -- instead, they processed the paperwork to get him discharged from the Forces.
A helicopter approaches CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada. (Photo: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
I had to move fast. I called the police and got Paul admitted into a facility. Through Joe Comartin's office, I then tried to coordinate with the Department of National Defence (DND) to ensure that CFB Gagetown was aware of the situation.
I remember looking up the Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) office numbers and leaving messages. Some of the numbers listed were for officers that weren't even there anymore, and others weren't in service. I talked to MPs, generals and higher-ups at Veterans Affairs to try to get him help. None arrived. Overall, the only contact I had during Paul's struggles were with Paul himself.
Paul described the treatment he received from DND as the opposite of help. According to him, they did everything in their power to sabotage him, belittle him, bully him. Paul reached out with the expectation that he would be taken care of, and when help didn't materialize it worsened his stress. Paul would threaten to kill himself, but the help never came.
I would not be surprised if we were to find out that Desmond's family faced the same kind of response.
After a year and a half of mental anguish, Paul did eventually take his own life. I was shocked. My first-ever case file had ended his life.
I wanted the country to know about how Paul was treated. I contacted his parents and I told them that they should demand answers and justice for their son. I lined up a friend at the Windsor Star, but at the 11th hour his parents said that they didn't want to pursue this further in the form of an article. They wanted their son who had lived with so much anguish to rest in peace, and I was not about to go against his parents' wishes.
I saw the way in which CFB Gagetown and DND not only failed to help Paul, but made things worse for him. I would not be surprised if we were to find out that Desmond's family faced the same kind of response.
I don't know what happened in the case of Lionel Desmond, but this is what I do know: the root cause of Lionel Desmond's death and the killing of his family is political.
Lionel Desmond and his family in a photo shared to Facebook. (Photo: CP handout/Facebook)
It was the Liberals in 2003 who sent us to fight in the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, Kandahar Province. Lionel Desmond, myself and many others were in constant danger of being killed -- all in the name of profit. One-hundred and fifty-eight died, 2,100 were wounded and countless others battled mental health issues so the profit margins of billionaires would remain intact. In fact, more Canadian soldiers committed suicide during the Afghan mission than those that lost their lives in theatre.
And when we came back, there was no real help waiting for us. Around the same time that they sent us to fight in a more dangerous mission, the Liberal government told Veterans Affairs that they had to implement a mental-health program without additional resources. The legislation that passed unanimously in the House was what is now called the New Veterans Charter.
The result is nothing short of highway robbery. The new mental-health programs are in shambles. This has done nothing but take money from injured veterans.
Which brings us to today.
The Liberals are back in power and back to letting veterans down. As the Opposition they voted unanimously to re-establish lifelong pensions, the same pensions they took away in the first place. They campaigned on re-establishing them and then, months after winning a majority government, they reopened the court case fighting plaintiffs who are trying to re-establish life-long pensions.
The treatment of veterans in Canada is at a crisis level.
And what of the Atlantic MPs, including the MP that represents the riding where Lionel Desmond and his family lived? We haven't heard anything from the 32 Liberal MPs when it comes to demanding better for veterans. In the face of such tragedy, silence.
My message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is that Lionel Desmond's death and his killing of his family could have been avoided. It's time to stop lying to veterans. It's time to stop fighting veterans. Millions of tax-payer dollars have gone into fighting veterans in court over something that you said you were going to do when elected.
The fact that the Liberals had the audacity to campaign on a platform to fix the problems they created, only to break their promise, is beyond reprehensible. Trudeau's recent cabinet shuffle only proves that the veteran file is not a priority for the Liberal government.
The treatment of veterans in Canada is at a crisis level. The mental-health positions are not being filled, the pensions are not being restored, the transition services are not forthcoming.
The current government is picking up right where the last one left off -- if you delay long enough and deny services, eventually the veteran will simply die. Services delayed are services denied, and the frustration from this system has created a sense of hopelessness that can lead to catastrophic consequences.
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