TORONTO – Wounded Warriors Canada is welcoming the organization’s first ever National Ambassador.
Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Linford, a 25-year veteran, officially took up the post on Monday after recently retiring from the Canadian Armed Forces.
Linford served during the Gulf War, and in Rwanda and Afghanistan before transitioning to a health services operations officer in 2000.
Linford was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder in 2004. He has travelled the country speaking to veterans and their families about the impact of PTSD and working to reduce the stigma surrounding it.
“Wounded Warriors Canada is on the right track to bring understanding to all Canadians of the injuries veterans sometimes acquire, as well as provision of several great resources for the veterans themselves to assist them to truly getting back their physical and mental health,” said Linford.
Founded in 2006, Wounded Warriors developed a series of programs and services, focusing primarily on the mental health of wounded troops and reservists. While the organization focused in particular on the “staggering impact of post-traumatic stress disorder,” they aim to help all veterans needing help transitioning back to civilian life.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), PTSD – an anxiety disorder caused by psychologically traumatic events – can become so severe that individuals are unable to live a normal life.
People suffering from PTSD could suffer from a variety of symptoms, including recurring nightmares or flashbacks, emotional numbness, feelings of extreme guilt, insomnia and aggression.
The announcement comes as the country continues to grapple with a spate of suicides within the Canadian military.
National Defence said it is investigating the death of 28-year-old Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez, a veteran of the Afghan war. The department said Kingston Police are also investigating the death, which occurred last Wednesday.
“The sudden loss of any soldier is devastating to the military community and our condolences go out to his family and friends,” said the defence department in a statement to Global News. “The loss of any of our soldiers is tragic and heartbreaking. The regimental family, the entire army family and community are mourning the loss of Cpl Sanhueza-Martinez.”
The incident follows several other cases of suicide, including that of retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern, a 20-year veteran with the Canadian Armed Forces, who died on Christmas Day in a head-on collision west of Calgary.
While initial reports indicated MacEchern’s death was an accident, her husband Tom MacEachern said she was in treatment for PTSD and intentionally drove her car into an oncoming transport truck.
Five other soldiers have committed suicide in the last six weeks, prompting veterans’ advocates to demand action on what they say is a mental health crisis, including more resources being made available to the Department of National Defence.
On Friday, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair urged Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make the issue of mental health services for Canadian Forces members a personal priority.
“While we appreciate steps have been made to improve access to health services, and to remove the stigma associated with mental illness, it is clear that these efforts have not been sufficient,” said Mulcair.
Mulcair said there are over 50 reviews on military suicides that remain outstanding, “some as old as five years.”