Funeral Thursday for Canadian soldier as country grapples with recent military suicides

Video: The prime minister has told soldiers to seek help for PTSD and the Chief of Defence said they’re not alone in their fight. Shirless Engel reports.

TORONTO – A Canadian soldier, who died of an apparent suicide, was laid to rest in Truro, N.S. on Thursday.

Warrant Officer Michael Robert McNeil, 39, died at CFB Petawawa on Nov. 27.

McNeil’s younger brother said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a problem that is not going to stop, but the risks need to be minimized.

“As much money as government is going to pour into this, it’s not going to stop. What we can do is make more people aware, more families going through the same thing we are going through to talk to these soldiers, know their jobs aren’t in jeopardy and we’re here for them,” said Kevin McNeil before his brother’s funeral today.

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Military personnel, politicians and Canadians everywhere have expressed shock, grief and anger as a spate of apparent soldier suicides has rocked the country in recent days.

On Tuesday, officials from the Defence Department released the name of another soldier who died of an apparent suicide at CFB Valcartier in Quebec.

Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelievre is the fourth Canadian soldier believed to have committed suicide since last week.

READ MORE: National Defence releases name of fourth apparent soldier suicide

Officials including Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chief of National Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson, have expressed concern over the recent deaths, urging anyone struggling with mental health issues to get help.

“The loss of any soldier is painful and heartbreaking to our men, women and families,” said Lawson in a video posted to the Canadian Forces website on Wednesday.

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Watch the video below: Chief of National Defence staff makes statement on recent soldier suicides

“We have an expert health care system to support us, but in order for us to help each other it’s essential that all military personnel – like all Canadians – recognize mental health issues as they develop,” said Lawson.

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“Although suicide is a national public health concern, for an organization like ours – built on leadership, built on camaraderie and built on strength – it hits us especially hard,” said Lawson.

Documents obtained by Global News show that for every suicide reported in the Canadian Forces last year, there was at least one attempted suicide reported.

READ MORE: For every suicide in the Canadian Forces, at least one attempt was recorded

But the actual number of suicide attempts could be far higher, since the military only files out a report when a current member commits suicide, attempts suicide or when it is suspected someone attempted to take their own life.

But officials do not always become aware that a member has attempted suicide, said Col. Rakesh Jetly, a military psychiatrist.

“It’s very difficult to capture attempts,” he said. “They get captured if police and ambulance are involved, but there may be some people who quietly try to overdose from sleeping pills and alcohol, wake up the next morning and feel terrible about it. And we might not necessarily capture that.”

And so the actual number of suicide attempts in the Canadian military remains unclear.

READ MORE: Veterans, advocacy groups say Canadian soldiers need mental health, transition support

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Veterans advocacy groups say these recent suicides only hint at the scale of the problem within the military – for every death by suicide, they warn, as many as 12 others may have attempted to take their own life.

“There’s a lot of grief and sorrow associated with this kind of tragedy for those who return from service,” said Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada.

“At this point in time, during very tragic circumstances, it’s critical that [soldiers and veterans] realize that there are services available to them. They’re not alone and Canadians genuinely care and appreciate their service,” he said.

Watch the video below: Wounded Warriors Canada concerned by recent soldier suicides

The Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program has a confidential 24/7 toll-free telephone advisory and referral service for all military personnel and their families: 1-800-268-7708.

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With files from Amy Minsky and Carmen Chai and The Canadian Press

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