Military suicides sadly familiar for Windsor vets, family
A former member of the Canadian military now living in Windsor, and a family that has felt the loss of a loved one, say the burdens of military service can become deadly.
Jeff Gravel joined the military when he was 18 years-old. He served in Bosnia, Kandahar, and finally in Kabul.
He said fellow soldiers were his support group when serving overseas. It was the only life he knew.
That changed when he returned to Canada and left the life he'd known for fourteen years.
"I realized that as much as my parents wanted to understand, or my childhood friends wanted to try to understand what I'd done. The only people that would ever know me, for me, were the people I'd served with," said Gravel.
Gravel is now in therapy for post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
Before seeking help, he was drinking heavily, experiencing dramatic mood swings, and eventually had suicidal thoughts.
Timothy Bruce says military veterans need better support once they return from the battlefield. His grandson, Afghan veteran Stefan Jankowski, died of a drug overdose in 2011. Jankowski had PTSD.
"The help should be there when they walk out off that plane, when they get home," said Bruce, who blames red tape for Jankowski not getting help before it was too late.
Windsor psychologist, Dr. Antoon Leenaars, said support services need to adapt. He's written a book on the topic of suicide in the armed forces and calls it a growing problem
"These people that are suffering these injuries, not only psychological but physical injuries and traumatic brain injuries, they are surviving way beyond what soldiers used to," says Leenaars.
Leenaars believes the United States is treating its veterans better than Canada.
"The leadership from the president down are starting to accept that suicide is a problem. This is not happening in Canada," he says.
The Royal Canadian Legion agrees that more needs to be done. The organization said it's very concerned about the recent suicides, and it wants the government to change its priorities. The Legion issued a release on Wednesday.
"With the 100th anniversary of World War I just around the corner, the money and travel related to commemorating Canada's military history does not have meaning in light of the tragic events over the last week. How can we possibly justify spending money to mark the commemorations for our achievements as nation when the mental health care system supporting the men and women of the CAF, both Regular and Reserve, as well as RCMP members and all their families, who serve our country is overburden and lacking resources?"
Gravel, a retired sergeant, called his years in the military the best and worst of his life.
"We all have experiences in the Armed Forces that chip away at who we are and what we can withstand and there's that proverbial straw that breaks the camels back," says Gravel. "Unfortunately for the ladies and gentleman that serve in our military these chips and straws we're forced to carry on our backs are heavier then most."