TORONTO – Another member of the Canadian Armed Forces has died of an apparent suicide – the eighth such suicide that has been reported in the last two months.
Lieut.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin died last Thursday in Limonges, Ont., a small community about 45 km east of Ottawa.
Beauchemin was deployed in Haiti in 1997 and Bosnia in 1999.
According to multiple reports on Sunday night, the military confirmed the death, but did not comment on whether or not the helicopter pilot died by suicide.
Canadian Veterans Advocacy president Mike Blais reportedly told the Ottawa Citizen that sources confirmed to him on Sunday that Beauchemin died by suicide.
Over the past two months the country has been rocked by reports of soldier suicides, with many advocates pointing to a mental health crisis in Canada’s military.
The federal government has said that “great efforts” are being made to provide support for members of the Canadian military “going through difficult times.”
“Canadians can trust that the Armed Forces take the issue of member suicide very seriously,” said Rob Nicholson, minister of national defence, earlier this month in a statement.
But for some veterans and advocacy groups, not enough is being done to address mental illness in the military.
“Between the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces, they all go in their own separate directions, they are not working together, and the basic game plan appears to be how fast can they dump people off on provincial health care systems,” said 28-year veteran Steve Critchley following the death of retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern.
Earlier this month, 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.”
“In too many cases, grieving families are left without answers or closure.”
In December, officials including Harper and Chief of National Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson, urged anyone struggling with mental health issues to get help.
In a video posted on National Defence’s website, Lawson said it is “essential” that soldiers and veterans – like all Canadians – recognize mental health issues as they develop.
“We each have a roll to serve in identifying and assisting those affected by mental health concerns,” said Lawson.
Lawson said to those currently struggling with mental health issues, “don’t avoid or delay accessing support services and treatment.”
“Self stigma regarding mental health must end,” he said.
It’s a statement one veteran takes offence to.
Captain Wayne Johnston, a 41-year veteran of the Canadian military and repatriation officer to the fallen, says “self stigma” is just the latest talking point surrounding the issue.
Johnston was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in November 2010. He said dealing with PTSD and the stigma surrounding it is the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“I’ve had open-heart surgery, it was bloody painful, but nothing is more painful than stigma,” Johnston told Global News.
“We’re getting tired of hearing every time someone commits suicide from organizations ‘you’re not alone’,” he said. “Jesus Christ I know that,” he said.
Johnston said that soldiers and veterans dealing with mental health issues need long-term support.
“Part of the mental health aspect is rebuilding your life, with your spouse, with your children, friends and rebuilding your skill sets. That doesn’t happen overnight. You need a social safety net,” he said.