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Post-traumatic stress disorder is often associated with military service, but more research is needed into veterans' health following a decade of service in Afghanistan. (Mark Dye/Reuters)

Canadian military veterans and veteran research groups are calling for a funding increase to assist returning soldiers who struggle with their mental and physical health.

Military veteran Rob Martin, who lives in Perth, Ont., about 85 kilometres west of Ottawa, served two tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer. When he returned home, the now retired lieutenant-colonel said, his struggles took over his life.

"In my deepest, darkest periods of despair, I was considering suicide," Martin said.

Unlike some of his colleagues, Martin said, he found help for his despair and the cloud has since lifted.

As Remembrance Day arrives, Martin is speaking to other veterans about the fight he has had with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Research institute focuses on veterans' health

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research is working to learn more about the health of veterans such as Martin.

The institute focuses on both the mental and physical health of new veterans. It officially launched this fall in Kingston, Ont.

Its director, Alice Aiken, who served 14 years in the Canadian military, said the research program has been developed from scratch.

"There's still a lack of understanding of the unique needs of military health and veterans," said Aiken.

"People think all Canadians have similar health needs and it's not true. Military have very, very specific occupational exposures that other Canadians would never have had."

Currently there's a lack of private and public funding for veterans' health research in Canada, according to Queen's University professor Bill Richards.

Richards, who is also involved with the institute, spent 37 years in the Canadian military and his son served in Afghanistan. He said the U.S. invests about $500 million in veterans research and he believes Canada needs at least $10 million per year over five years.

"Just need to follow through now and make sure that Veterans Affairs Canada can provide an equal support for the research, looking at health consequences, social consequences, as a result of spending 10 years in Afghanistan," said Richards.
With files from the CBC's Julie Ireton