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The official website of Paul Franklin: a father, veteran, activist, motivational speaker, and proud Canadian.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In 2013 Suicides took everyone by surprise the victims ranged from currently serving members to vets long out of the military.

Please excuse the negligence of not writing as often as I should..... tis the nature of the world.  Today I had a meeting with Peter Stoffer NDP MP. (http://peterstoffer.ndp.ca/)  In the conversation ideas were pushed around back on forth on some of the current vet affairs issues and of course the problems many vets are having accessing services.

I have decided to write this in a briefing note format as it deals with government and even the Legions on how both can work together and solve the problem.

In 2013 the Christmas timed suicides took everyone by surprise ........the victims ranged from currently serving members to vets long out of the military.

31 January 2014

BN on what can be done to help reduce suicide rates of CF members and vets and potentially save the Royal Canadian legion.

1.  Case Study.... Falkland Islands Conflict :

        a. You may ask what does the Falklands have to do with the conversation over suicide rates and prevention in Canada..?  The answer is simple as other countries wars and conflicts all seem to show the same data.  Given time the number of suicdes will almost always over take the number of military members who died in that conflict.   We are not doing these people a favour by continuing to do the status quo.... we need to think of new and better options.
         b.  The Commonwealth recently celebrated the 32 nd anniversary of retaking of the falkland Islands by the Uk task force.  The war at times was a difficult struggle and at other times a fight with the very terrain and weather itself.  The UK lost 255 killed and 775 wounded.  The Argentine losses were 649 and 1640 wounded.  

         c.   The shocking thing is that both Argentines and the UK are suffering from massive numbers of suicides that have either passed the number of fallen or are well on the way.  The British soldiers were better trained and equipped and had far superior medical care on the battle field.  The Argentinians had poor supply, clothes that were WW2 surplus and all but useless cold weather gear as well the medical services were well below par.  It does not appear that something like training, equipment and even care for the wounded or fallen make a difference in the number of suicides.  Something else is going on.

"The South Atlantic Medal Association (SAMA82), which represents and helps Falklands veterans, believes that some 264 (255 fallen) veterans had taken their own lives by 2002" 
 "The current Argentine suicide toll is 454 (with 649 fallen in combat), according to an Argentine film about the suicide of a Falklands veteran."
2. Case Study United States War on Terror:

            a. The United States and its allies have been fighting one of the longest wars in human history and the strain on the militaries involved, on the soldiers, sailors and air crew and their families is shocking.  The US has  2309 fallen and 17674 wounded in the Afghanistan conflict called Operation Enduring Freedom. In the Iraq war the  US lost 4487 and had 32323 wounded in action.  The medical care is some of the best in the world and even civilians have been attracted to the military hospitals in Afghanistan and Iraq.  They are saving lives that just a few years ago would have been all but impossible.   The mental health programs are available in country and yet suicides and other mental health issues still boil to the surface.

           b.  American soldiers are suffering from exhaustion as the US is involved in its longest war in its history.  Multiple deployments means broken marriages, children that don't recognize mom or dad and the complications of coming home changed in many ways.  The returning soldiers often have a different outlook on the world and their place in it.  Some are aggressive and even filled with hate others are the opposite but most fall in the middle.  

         c.  Many soldiers have gotten into the habit of self medicating.   Where most countries will not allow a person who is showing PTSD symptoms to go on a tour the lack of personnel have made that option unlikely for the US and it send in soldiers who self medicate with mood altering drugs and drugs that often have chemicals and even hormones that effect brain performance and even decision making process.

         d.  In 2010 more soldiers committed suicide than died in combat in that same year, 468 suicides to  462 fallen in Afghanistan.  Since 2001 the US has had 2700 service members kill themselves.  Now these suicides not only cover the Afghan conflict but also Iraq.  

         e.  About one third of the 103,788 veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars seen at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs facilities between September 30, 2001, and September 30, 2005, were diagnosed with mental illness or a psycho-social disorder, such as homelessness and marital problems, including domestic violence. More than half of those diagnosed, 56 percent, were suffering from more than one disorder. The most common combination was post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Fallen Americans given the dignity of perfect drill and escorts taking the fallen to their families.

3. Case Study Canada's Afghan war:

          a.  As with the US Canada's involvement in the Afghan war is now the longest war in Canadian history.  Although we did not deploy with the large numbers of the United States we did deploy into areas that had their own unique challenges.  From Kandahar in 2002 chasing bin Laden, to Kabul in 2003 and building one of the most well organized camps in military history and then back to Kandahar
in an attempt to apply the three D concept (defence, diplomacy and development) of rebuilding. This all ended of course with the death of senior diplomat Glyn Berry and Canada went on the war path.

        b.   The number of fallen soldiers that Canada has suffered is a fairly small list compared to the dangers they faced and the ferocity of the enemy and Canada's response to them.  Canada deployed approximately 35 000 troops although many have done multiple tours. The fallen for Canada in the Afghan conflict is 158 with approximately 1700 wounded in action.  

       c.  Since 2001 there has been 115 suicides with the mission wrapping up at the end of 2014.  Canada is well on the way of surpassing the number of fallen in a far shorter time than say the Falkland War vets..... this is not something to be proud of.

All three soldiers gravely wounded in the suicide bombing attack on senior Diplomat Glyn Berry on January 15, 2006.
Private William Salikin, Cpl Jeff Bailey, MCpl Paul Franklin at Fisher House Landsthul, Germany giving a check we raised for $80 000 in December 2006.

4. Case Study the United Kingdom' Iraq and Afghan wars:

         a.  The UK has followed the US into Iraq and but went into Afghan following the rest of the world after the 9/11 attacks.  Although the US took the lead the UK made many more clear decisions unlike in Iraq and deployed 134,780 soldiers since 2001. 

        b.  In Iraq the UK lost 179 soldiers with  3598 were wounded.   In Afghan the UK has lost  263 fallen with 3408 wounded in action.  The fighting since 2006 has been at the same ferocity as Canada's war in Kandahar and the UK forces have been incredibly lucky and skilled at having the number of fallen at such a low rate.  The Hospital in camp Bastian in Helmand is similar to the Hospital in Kandahar and one can easily say that the number of fallen could probably be doubled if not for the front line care of the medics to the orthopaedic surgeons.

       c.  In 2012 the UK suffered from 50 vets that took their lives and when compared to the number that have died in battle (40 died while in combat in Afghan) the troubling trend reveals itself.  the umber of suicides is hard to track but what I have found suggest 50 UK troops from 2001 to 2012 and approximately 124 vets that have left the service but have since committed suicide for a total of 174.  As you can see the number 174 is almost the same as the fallen from Iraq and if the trend continues the numbers will surpass the fallen in Afghan as well.
Road of Hereos

5. Conclusion:
      Around the world and in almost every conflict from small short wars like the Falklands to long drawn out wars like the Afghan conflict we see a very similar trend. A country is best represented by how it treats its lowest citizens and it could be argued that the wounded soldier represents the highest level of citizenship.   The physical injuries are the easiest to treat and science is making leaps and bounds in bring back people that should be dead and are now living amazing lives some back in service others as ordinary civilians... if I can use the word ordinary.

One can look at each story of the soldiers that have committed suicide and one of the troubling trends is that MOST seem to have reached out in some way to try and get mental health care.  In Canada JPSU are trying to help the serving soldiers navigate the paperwork and even offer them a safe place to be posted to avoid some of the triggers that launch a mental health emergency.  In the UK a chronic shortage in mental health professionals means that the average case load would involve 1 professional for every 3000 soldiers.  The US is in a similar situation  but also with the added stigma that having PTSD in a much less accepting environment than either Canada or the UK.

Fallen Chinook helicopter
In these days of budget woes and cuts to office space the government is looking at high tech solutions.  They feel that as many of the new vets are tech savvy they can easily plow through the paper work and application processes  in a quick and easy manner... thus making room for cuts to offices and staff in locations that some think are remote.

Part of the problem with this idea is that in many ways it is short sided.  As I have shown we must expect the number of suicides and by de-facto the number of mental health issues to rise in the next decades to come.   PTSD can take years to manifest and a person that is fine one day can be broken the next.   As vets we utilize many of the provincial health care professionals and even here the provinces are in budget woes and mental health care is not sexy.  It is not flashy and the results are often baby steps. Many provinces look to cut the very services and care that can save these lives at risk.

So if the provinces are not the answer what can be done to solve the closing of VAC offices around the country at the same time that many soldiers are at risk.  I would offer one to look at another issue that is often forgotten.

Firefighters, EMT's local police, provincial police, RCMP and many others that delve into risky situations also run the risk of having mental health issues.   These are the people that save us, that run to the fires not away, that save grand mothers life so she can she her grandchild born, that place themselves between armed gun man and the wounded civilians..... as much as soldiers have a special contract with the Canadian people...... so do they. 

Tema Conter (www.tema.ca) is a PTSD charity that offer education, programs, peer counselling and even interventions to help those in need...... they serve the military, police, firefighters and EMT's.  Some police unions have trained their personal on interventions and peer counselling even offering the help of a a trained psychologist.  Often though the machoistic character of these organization can have a bad effect and make the person suffering from hiding their feelings and ignoring their triggers.

Families suffer as well as the soldiers come back changed from the sites and smells of war carrying memories that can be PTSD or just simply having them manifest around them.  Secondary PTSD is not something you get from someone who has it.... it comes from your reactions to this new person who has come home... broken limbs, broken head or simply an invisible wound that changes who they are.

Lt Col Harjit Singh of the BCD receiving his Meritorious Service Medal from the  GG David Johnson 

6. Recommendations:

a.  The legions are located all across Canada and the membership and the leadership really want to help with the issue of suicide and VAC office closures.  Legion membership is down as they try and find a place in the 21st century...... this new place may have to involve things like allowing my friend Harjit to enter into the establishment.

b. Police, fire-fighters and EMT union personnel are located in the cities they serve and some are trained to help notice PTSD or other stresses and help with interventions or simply offering help over a cold beer.

c. My own charity the Amputee Coalition of Canada has peer support volunteers that visit amputees in the hospitals and in the communities to talk about rehabilitation and also the changes one may expect with their new life.  Many other charities and peer groups can help with everything from street drug cessation, alcohol addiction, family crisis, PTSD issues and so much more.

d. What I propose is this:

        i.  The Legion begins the process of placing a room in each branch that is designed similar to a psychologists office with a comfy sofa and a comfortable atmosphere.
        ii.  The Legion command structure actively searches and talks to the union reps, VAC officials, peer counsellor and more.
        iii.  This space is offered free of charge to any of the groups I listed to have short meetings but more importantly to talk to their clients.
        iv.  The local Legion then becomes the place for people to come when they need help.
         v. The Legion gets the great benefit of having new blood come and see what the Legion is an what it stands for.
         vi.  The legions that are struggling to keep their doors open and with declining memberships will now have people coming to use the space and the chance for increased membership and cross pollination over the issues and problems and joys that we all face can be shared.
         vii.  The Harper government can now save face as the budget issues of having a fully manned office is now not only available but in fact free.  The only costs are to the VAC personnel attached to that Legion.
         viii.  Programs that help fight PTSD like journal writing and painting can now be given as open classes within the Legion so that others may participate especially those that are too shy to admit they may be suffering as well.  

 The Royal Canadian Legion can enter the 21st century with its head held high and say that they are honestly working to not only help those that have served in the military.... but to all of those that serve.

Firefighters (many ex military),  EMT (many ex military medics), Police (many ex infantry) these people have chosen new paths after their times in our service its now time to help them in their time of need.

Paul Franklin MCpl (ret)
Amputee Coalition of Canada
Tema Conter Memorial Trust


Amputee Coalition of Canada

Argentina rise in suicides

BBC more UK suicides of soldiers

British Wounded

Canadas History in the Afghan War

Canadian soldiers suicide over Christmas

Casualties in Iraq (anti war)

Casualties OEF

Combat soldiers and suicide

DND stats on suicide

Falklands Suicides (UK)

Hidden face of the injured

Huff post (suicides expected to rise in Canada)

Iraq Body Count



Suicide watch (UK)

Suicide watch (Canada)

Tema Conter Memorial trust  (PTSD Charity for police , firefighters, military and EMT)

Telegraph more kill themselves than die in battle

UK military suicides

War casualties in iraq and Afghan


  1. Hey Paul: I know many will not agree with me. But I feel that a large part will be our "always win" society. We call everyone who serves or dies a hero. If everyone is a hero... then no one is.
    Anyone with half a brain can see that. That and loneliness will wear on you. And without someone (like the Lord Jesus Christ, who is always there) to lean on during the barren times, life is lonely. js

  2. No lonliness here and so i agree that not all are hereos but to say just 155 out of 35 million are does not take the skin off anyones nose.