Timeline: Recent soldier suicides in Canada’s military
TORONTO – Last November saw three soldier suicides in three days among Canada’s war veterans, and the discovery of Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin’s dead body on Thursday could mark the eighth such death in less than two months.
Global News looks back at what’s known about the death of Beauchemin and his seven colleagues, some of whom may have struggled with mental health issues, either while working in the Canadian Forces or after.
Nov. 25, 2013: Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast
Halmrast had been based at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Shilo in Manitoba, but was transferred to Lethbridge, Alberta’s reserve unit.
Halmrast died in hospital three days after being found in distress at the Lethbridge Correctional Centre, where he was being held on charges of domestic assault. He was an Afghanistan war veteran.
Nov. 26, 2013: Master Cpl. William Elliott
Elliott was a decorated veteran with the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry and also a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, having served two tours there.
The 31-year-old father of two was found dead at a home near CFB Shilo.
Friend and fellow soldier Glen Kirkland told CTV News that Elliott suffered back injuries during his 2006 Afghan tour, and was worried the military wanted to force him out.
“He didn’t know how he was going to be financially looked after for his injuries,” Kirkland told CTV News.
Nov. 27, 2013: Warrant Officer Michael Robert McNeil
McNeil’s cousin, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, was killed in Afghanistan seven years before McNeil decided to take his own life at CFB Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa.
“He was suffering survivor’s guilt,” the soldier’s uncle, Barry Mellish, said in a November phone interview from his home in Truro, N.S.
“I think they should have had him on a suicide watch…I think they dropped the ball on that.”
Watch below: Shirlee Engel reports on three Canadian soldiers who took their lives the week of Nov. 25, 2013.
Dec. 3, 2013: Master Cpl. Sylvain Lelievre
Lelievre was from the 3rd battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, and was found dead at CFB Valcartier in Quebec on Dec. 3 in what military police called an “apparent suicide.”
Lelievre joined the Canadian Forces in June 1985. He served in Bosnia between 2001 and 2002 and again in 2004, and in Kandahar from 2010 to 2011.
Watch below: Shirlee Engel reports on the fourth apparent suicide of a soldier in just over one week.
Dec. 25, 2013: Retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern
MacEachern died on Christmas Day in a head-on collision between her car and a transport truck west of Calgary that was initially reported as an accident.
However the veteran’s husband, Tom MacEachern, said her death was a suicide, an “intentional final desperate act.”
The 20-year veteran with the Canadian Armed Forces was 51 years old.
In a written statement, MacEachern said Leona was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was released from a treatment facility for Christmas.
MacEachern said the extent of his wife’s treatment for PTSD was “to see a psychologist for 45 minutes a week to ‘assist in reaching your goal of symptom management.’ We would like to say that Leona had slipped through the cracks in the system but, in fact, there does not seem to be ‘a system’,” said the statement.
Watch below: Jacques Bourbeau reports on the death of retired Cpl. Leona MacEachern—a death her husband calls a suicide.
MacEachern believes his wife’s PTSD symptoms manifested after “protracted battles” with Veterans Affairs over medical benefits, and that she had difficulty readjusting to civilian life.
“She felt there was no hope as no-one seemed to be addressing the root causes of her condition,” he said.
Jan. 3, 2014: Cpl. Adam Eckhardt
Eckhardt, a Trenton, Ont.-native, was based with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at CFB Suffield in Alberta. He served only on domestic missions, according to the Belleville Intelligencer.
The 29-year-old was a married father of two, and his death was confirmed by CFB Suffield base commander Lt-Col. Sean Hackett.
Hackett said Eckhardt showed no signs of depression and hadn’t sought treatment, according to the Montreal Gazette.
Jan. 8, 2014: Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez
Sanhueza-Martinez, 28, was a veteran of the Afghan war, and belonged to The Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment based in Kingston, Ont.
He was found dead in an apparent suicide in a Kingston home. Though Kingston Police couldn’t provide additional details on Monday, they said no foul play was suspected and their current “sudden death occurrence” report was closed.
Kingston’s Regional Supervising Coroner Dr. Craig Muir couldn’t provide details on the cause of death Monday, adding the investigation is ongoing and could take several months.
Jan. 16, 2014: Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin
Beauchemin, a 22-year veteran, died last Thursday in Limonges, Ont., a small community about 45 km east of Ottawa.
In 1997, the helicopter pilot had been deployed to Haiti; in 1999 to Bosnia.
The Department of National Defence (DND) said Beauchemin also served as commanding officer of 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron located in Valcartier, Que. from July 2011 to October 2012. He then served with the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s staff from October 2012 to January 2013.
DND said he was posted to the joint personnel support unit (JPSU) in Ottawa in January 2013 on a return-to-work program. This was intended to return Beauchemin to work in the Canadian Forces.
A spokesperson said in an email the program is a rehabilitation initiative that works with other services to “provide care and support to ill and injured members” meant to enhance “communication between the member, the medical authorities and the Chain of Command, while respecting privacy expectations.”
DND confirmed Beauchemin died, without specifying suicide, but extended its condolences to his family and friends in a statement.
“We expect and have received assurances from the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs that they take operational stress injuries and Member suicide seriously, and that every effort is being made to identify at-risk individuals and to provide them with support,” continued the statement.
Ontario Provincial Police Cst. Serge Gauthier said no foul play was suspected and the investigation was no longer “a police matter.”
The soldier’s cousin, Yannick Beauchemin, confirmed it was a suicide Monday, according to CBC.
Documents obtained by Global News show that for every suicide reported in the Canadian Forces in 2012, there was at least one attempted suicide reported.
But the actual number of suicide attempts could be far higher, since the military only files out a report when a current male member dies by suicide, attempts suicide or when it is suspected someone attempted to take their own life.
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.
With files from Global News reporters Heather Loney, Nick Logan, Shirlee Engel and The Canadian Press
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