Apparent murder-suicide is an 'extreme anomaly,' says veterans advocate
Wounded Warriors Canada's executive director cautions against making assumptions about PTSD
The tragic unravelling of retired corporal Lionel Desmond, which left him and his family dead of gunshot wounds this week, should not be used to stigmatize veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, a veterans advocate says.
Thousands of former soldiers and first responders across Canada are leading productive lives after finding a way to get mental health services, said Scott Maxwell, the executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada.
"This particular situation with Cpl. Desmond is an extreme anomaly in terms of what we're witnessing across the country with respect to our veterans," Maxwell said in an interview on Information Morning Fredericton.
- Veteran, his wife, child and mother found dead in apparent murder-suicide
- Veteran struggling with friend's role in apparent murder-suicide
Desmond, 33, is believed to have shot himself, his wife, 10-year-old daughter and his mother at the family home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. Their bodies were found Tuesday.
Desmond was posted at Base Gagetown before being deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Friends and family say he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving the military and tried different treatments without success.
For example, he said, veterans trying to establish new careers might hit roadblocks when prospective employers learn they left the military for medical reasons, he said.
"We don't want that red light to go off all over the place," Maxwell said. "In actual fact, these individuals are so highly trained and bring so much to the civilian workplace."
Still, what happened to Desmond does underscore gaps in access to services for veterans and their families, he said.
"When we talk about the lack of service support for our ill and injured members, it's even worse often in terms of service support and programming for family members."
We just need a little bit more urgency here.-Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada
Wounded Warriors, which supports mental health programs for veterans and first responders, advocates a preventive approach.
This would include trying to assess the potential for problems before a military member moves into civilian life.
Changes to the system
Maxwell has called for a single point of entry into Veterans Affairs, with all the paperwork done at the time a member leaves the service.
Rather than a "staggering" amount of paperwork or forcing veterans to tell their stories more than once to more than one agency, Maxwell has proposed an online portal for military members.
On leaving the service, members would input all the information that would be needed to apply for services should problems arise down the road.
"Some of the real deep difficulties manifest themselves years and years after they've been released," he said.
About 1,800 people leave the military each year because of injury or illness, he said, and an already complex system becomes more cumbersome, he said.
A simplified system has been discussed but never set up.
"We just need a little bit more urgency here," he said.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton