Feds recognize combat role in Hamilton soldier's suicide, 5 years on
Cpl. Justin Stark killed himself in October 2011, was sent a 1-cent cheque in 2014
Almost five years after Cpl. Justin Stark killed himself in the Hamilton armouries, the federal government has attributed his death to his military service and will posthumously honour the Argyll reservist.
This marks the end of a long fight for Stark's family, family friend Keven Ellis told CBC News. Two years ago, while pushing to have the the honour bestowed upon on Stark, the federal government sent his family a cheque for one cent.
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"They double insulted this family," Ellis said, speaking on behalf of the family.
"But now that the government has said it's work related, it's PTSD, [Stark's mother] has an understanding."
Stark, an infantry soldier with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, killed himself in the John W. Foote VC Armouries in Hamilton in October 2011. He was 22 years old.
Veteran's Affairs Canada has not used the term post traumatic disorder, but it has now determined Stark's death was "related to his military service," Major Holly-Anne Brown told CBC News.
"Consequently, his name will be recorded in the Book of Remembrance and his family will receive the various memorials to which they are entitled in such cases, including the Memorial Cross and a posthumous award to Cpl. Stark of the Sacrifice Medal," Brown said.
Stark began a seven-month tour in Afghanistan in May 2010 after being a part of the armouries in Hamilton for four years. His duties included patrols of Nakhonay, a village southwest of Kandahar city.
His mother dealt with military tribunals for years to determine whether or not his death was work related. All that stress was emotionally devastating, Ellis said. "She has just been a shell of her former self up until a couple of days ago," he said. "It gives answers. It's helping to heal her soul."
"It just didn't make sense that a young guy with so much life could go to Afghanistan, come back and take his life at his job at the armouries."
Brown said that she "couldn't speak" to why it took almost five years for Veteran's Affairs Canada to make the decision.
"There's no typical length of time. Every case is unique," she said.
"When a member's death is clearly attributable to service, for instance in the case of direct hostile action, or accidents while on training, the Memorial Crosses will be issued immediately. When the death is not clearly and undeniably attributable to service for instance in cases of natural deaths while at work, fatal illnesses, or suicides, the crosses will not be issued until the Department of Veterans Affairs Canada has made an official determination regarding the cause of death."
Stark made national headlines when the government sent a cheque for a penny — presumably for owed military pay — to his mother back in 2014. Stark's mother Denise accepted an apology from then-Defence Minister Rob Nicholson about the incident at the time, in return for a promise to review Stark's death and the military's initial conclusion that his suicide was not related to his tour in Afghanistan.
Since her son's death, Stark's mother Denise has visited his grave each day, Ellis said — and even with this closure, that still hasn't changed.
"She still goes to that graveyard every single day."