The father of a Canadian soldier, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after being injured in Afghanistan and now facing arson charges, says more needs to be done to support veterans.
Krikor Pehlivanian's son, Mike, was severely injured when his armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb in 2008. The explosion killed his commanding officer, Sgt. Prescott Shipway, and wounded Pehlivanian and six other soldiers.
Five years later, Pehlivanian, now 36, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is facing arson charges, after allegedly setting his mattress on fire and punching holes in the walls in a fit of rage.
“All over the place, holes, and paper and fire. All over, even the roof,” said Krikor Pehlivanian.
Mike Pehlivanian had moved back home with his father earlier this year. But in July, police were called in when he allegedly began lighting fires inside the house, according to a search warrant obtained by CBC News.
The incident led to a six-hour standoff with the VPD’s Emergency Response Team. The former soldier eventually surrendered peacefully.
Krikor Pehlivanian said the roadside bombing continues to haunt Mike.
“His captain was bleeding and he was bleeding, and he held the captain and started getting up from the truck. His captain said, 'Don’t die,' to my son, but because of the bleeding, he died.”
According to the search warrant, Pehlivanian's case worker, Helen Benes, claimed that he did not receive adequate resources when he returned to Canada.
Pehlivanian had been diagnosed with PTSD and depression, as well as having a brain injury and a history of drug abuse.
Benes told police he suffered from remorse about surviving the bomb and attempted suicide on several occasions.
Difficult transition for veterans
Dr. Greg Passey, a psychiatrist with the B.C. Operational Stress Injury Clinic, helps veterans like Pehlivanian.
He was the psychiatrist of Greg Matters, the veteran killed in a standoff with Prince George RCMP. Passey testified last week in the coroner’s inquest into Matters's death.
Passey said these veterans find it very difficult to transition back into society, and there’s often ignorance with regards to interactions with professionals, police forces and Veterans Affairs.
“Although everyone thinks they’re home, they’re safe and their lives should be fine, they continue to struggle with their physical pain, nightmares, with the anxiety, the irritability associated with operational stress injuries,” said Passey.
“There’s often this ignorance... They should just be able to suck it up and get on with things, and there’s not an understanding of the gravity of their symptoms.”
Dr. Passey said the number of vets suffering from PTSD seeking help will only grow in the coming years and eventually peak, as mental health issues usually don’t usually surface until several years after their tours of duty.
Veterans Affairs not tracking PTSD
Veterans Affairs is not actively tracking the number of veterans suffering from PTSD, nor the number who have committed suicide.
However, Lt. General Walter Semianiw of Veterans Affairs said there are structures and systems in place to help veterans when they come home.
He points to the success of nine specialized Operational Stress Injury Clinics across the country, including the Vancouver-based clinic where Passey currently works.
“The key here is better integration and coordination between so many providers…. In the end it’s about supporting the veteran and ensuring, he or she gets the support they need," said Semianiw.
He said the department has begun to look into suicide rates over time, and expects those results to be released in about a year.
Passey believes more resources need to be put into tracking these issues.
“Veterans have put their life and their limb on the line for this country," he said.
“Surely our country can spend a little bit of time and resources trying to track how they’re doing once they leave the military, and what we can do as a society to help support these individuals with their struggles in life as a result of their military injuries.”
Mike Pehlivanian, who has no criminal record, has been arrested and charged with arson and mischief. Sentences for arson can range up to three years.
He declined comment on the charges, none of which have been proven in court.