A clearer picture is emerging of the former soldier involved in an apparent murder-suicide in Nova Scotia, with his own words on social media revealing a man struggling with PTSD who was trying to get his life back.
“I’m truly sorry for freaking out at my wife/daughter and people who know me …. I’m not getting a lawyer. I’m getting my life back,” Lionel Desmond wrote in a Dec. 3 Facebook post that did not elaborate.
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“I apologize for anything out (of) my control. I will fix it, if not I’ll live with it.”
Desmond, 33, was found dead Tuesday night in a home in Upper Big Tracadie from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, RCMP say. His wife Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah and his mother Brenda Desmond, 52, also died of apparent gunshot wounds.
Friends and family say Desmond was a kind and funny person, who changed after a tour in Afghanistan in 2007.
In his Facebook posting last month, Desmond said he had hit his head on an light armoured vehicle and suffered back spasms after falling off a wall while in the Forces, and had been told he now had post-concussion disorder as well as PTSD.
“That (explains) my jealousy towards my wife and being over-controlling and (my) vulgar tongue towards my family,” he wrote.
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Friends and family confirmed the Facebook page, attributed to a “Lionel Demon,” belonged to Lionel Desmond.
He wrote he had “ADD/ADHD from thrashing my head,” and doctors told him he should seek neurological help in Halifax.
“I just hope there’s no brain damage … I will be going to Halifax to find out, wish me the best,” Desmond wrote.
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Rev. Elaine Walcott, a relative of Desmond, said Thursday that he had gotten treatment last year in Montreal but was looking for more help.
She said Desmond recently tried to check himself into a mental health unit at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish and was told there were no beds. She said he was also told they didn’t have his files.
Not enough done for soldiers returning home
Walcott said Canadian soldiers are asked to put their life on the line in battle, but not enough is done for them once they return home.
“How can we then have them cope with feelings of abandonment? How can we then have them question why they are not as nice as they used to be? As kind as they used to be?” she asked.
Desmond served in Afghanistan in 2007, and had received treatment from a joint personnel support unit for a year prior to his release from the military in July 2015. Such units provide support to ill and injured soldiers, including mental injuries.
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A retired soldier who served in Afghanistan with Desmond said Thursday that his friend had the classic symptoms of PTSD, but appeared to be dealing with them.
“Every time I think about Lionel Desmond as a person, I smile, because he was the person that everyone wanted to be. He was quiet. He was funny. He was the joker. Everyone loved him. Not a harmful bone in his body,” Trev Bungay said.
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“Lionel two days ago wasn’t Lionel. He fought hard for his country whenever he was asked to do it. He came home and needed help and he couldn’t get sufficient help to make him be able to live a normal life,” Bungay said.
Bungay was a master-corporal in charge of Desmond during their time in Afghanistan. He said Desmond was a great soldier who did his job well, but it was a difficult and stressful deployment.
“(It) was a very heavy combat, high casualty tour. Even the littlest things such as eating meals and going for a shower, you could die doing it. A rocket could be launched into a camp. It’s a dangerous place. It’s one of the most dangerous places in the world and we were there,” he said.
“There was a lot of Canadian casualties. We had to do a lot of body-bagging of Afghan casualties, civilians, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. Those are the things that you see that for most people, causes damage.”
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Bungay said PTSD isn’t going away and the proper resources need to be put in place.
“There are thousands of veterans who need help, but there are maybe 100 beds we can put them in. We’re behind the 8-ball,” he said.
Investigation launched into services offered to Desmond
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday an investigation has started into how the province’s health-care system dealt with Desmond.
McNeil said the “unspeakable loss” has prompted the Health Department and the province’s health authority to review what services were offered and whether protocols were followed.
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The premier said it’s clear Desmond had received treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from the military, but it’s unclear what level of care – if any – was provided by the province.
“There will be an ongoing process to make sure that the system responded,” McNeil said after a cabinet meeting.
McNeil also said he will be speaking with the federal Veterans Affairs Department to determine how federal officials handled Desmond’s case.
The premier said the province will look into what happened at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital, though it remains unclear when that will happen or if the province’s findings will be made public.
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Health Minister Leo Glavine said he planned to discuss the matter with the Nova Scotia Health Authority on Thursday.
Glavine said if a person experiencing mental-health “trauma” were to seek help at a health-care facility that was already full, the province’s rules say that person would be transferred to a facility with an available bed.
“We do have avenues for people, depending on what our psychiatrists and psychologists assess in terms of need,” he said.
He said it’s not clear what happened in this case.
READ MORE: Autopsies scheduled for family members found dead in Nova Scotia home
RCMP said autopsies were being performed Thursday on the bodies, and they hope to be able to say more about the case on Friday.
Walcott said the family members who discovered the bodies Tuesday are now dealing with their own terror.
“Members of his family walked in on their own war zone. There are new post-traumatic stress disorder victims,” she said.
McNeil expressed his condolences to the family.
“Of course, your heart goes out to them … It puts a tremendous strain on families. If you have a heartbeat, you have empathy for this family and this community.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 911 can send immediate help. For a list of available mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here.