Nova Scotia

PTSD diagnoses nearly triple amongst veterans in 8 years

The number of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder has almost tripled in the last eight years, according to Veterans Affairs Canada documents obtained by CBC News.

14,375 vets diagnosed as of March 2015, according to documents

Michael Blais, the president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said he was surprised by the statistics on how many veterans suffer from PTSD. (CBC)

The number of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder has almost tripled in the last eight years, according to Veterans Affairs Canada documents obtained by CBC News.

In 2007, 5,548 vets were diagnosed with PTSD according to a Parliamentary Committee report. That number jumped to 14,375 as of March of this year.

The numbers also show the overall number of veterans who receive disability benefits from Veterans Affairs has doubled to 22,567 during the same period.

The statistics surprised veteran advocates like Michael Blais, president and founder of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

Numbers double what advocate expected

"I think it's extraordinary. I estimated the numbers would be over 10,000 but not much more. It's symbolic of the fact that many more are finally coming forward, fighting through the stigma self-identifying that they had been wounded and seeking treatment," said Blais. 

Some people working in the mental health field say they're are not as shocked over the figures. 

Mark Johnston is a psychiatrist who works both in Halifax and Kentville. He has been working with the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs since 2003.

He attributes the increase to Canada's 12-year involvement in the war in Afghanistan.

But Johnston told CBC News better awareness and openness about PTSD and mental health issues in general has made it easier for veterans to come forward for help.

"I recognize the numbers are going up I would argue there's probably an awful lot more — percentage-wise I think we are scratching the surface, to be honest, we are probably catching much less than 50 per cent of them."

Paper work daunting

There are several reasons people working in the mental health area and veterans advocates believe has kept the majority of PTSD hidden.

"Some folks who know they have PTSD but don't want to come in for treatment; other folks know they are not feeling right but don't know what's wrong with them or want to deny there's a or think there is nothing you can do about it anyway so why bother," said Dr. Mark Johnston.

- Shawn Kennedy

Shawn Kennedy left the military in 2006. He was part of a team that hunted submarines on Sea King helicopters. Kennedy completed a large number of missions that physically hurt him and he also developed PTSD.

"Mind you, we had our own therapy in place, which was the drinking. So we just drank it all away, we had our crew mates who we went to the mess [hall] and chatted with which is all good but as you are well aware drinking became a bad thing."

Kennedy blames part of the problem on veterans not wanting to come forward with the complicated process of getting help from Veterans Affairs Canada. He said the claim process is complicated. 

Mark Johnston, a psychiatrist who works both in Halifax and Kentville, attributes the increase to Canada's 12-year involvement in the war in Afghanistan. (Murray Brewster/Canadian Press)

"You are talking about a guy who all he wants to do is lock himself up in a hole in the bottom of the house basement of a house somewhere to be left alone. You can't throw in a pile of paperwork and expect him to do anything with it," he said.

Veterans Affairs Canada has not agreed to an interview about the challenges it faces with this large increase of clients with PTSD.

Planning problems

The federal auditor general did call out the federal government last year for long wait times for veterans seeking mental health treatment.

Guy Parent, the veteran's ombudsman, told CBC News the process is improving, slowly.

"Veterans Affairs Canada put out an action plan for mental health. The plan addresses wait times and want," he said.

The real problem, according to Johnston, is military planning.

DND plans well for war but not for mental health issues.

"So you can cost out your tanks, cost out your trucks and your personnel costs and that's great but where is the costing for mental health. It's costing us $10 billion now it's going to cost another $10 billion over the next 20 years, until we start doing that [planning for mental health issues] we are going to keep making the same mistakes."


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