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Military needs to improve mental health care, says Commons committee report

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OTTAWA - The Canadian Forces have made great strides in dealing with combat injuries, but must do more to help soldiers and their families deal with mental health issues, a Commons committee reported Friday.

The all-party defence committee said the military should conduct rigorous mental health screening of recruits and train soldiers to assess their own mental health.

It also said more should be done to educate military families about mental health issues before soldiers deploy, and should get more training about so-called operational stress injuries before they are sent into the field.

"Although resiliency and readiness training may not prevent every member from developing an OSI, the committee believes the programs are of benefit particularly in de-stigmatizing the subject of mental health and encouraging members needing treatment to self-identify and seek treatment early," the report said.

Military medicine deals well with combat injuries, witnesses told the committee. In Afghanistan, a wounded soldier who still had vital signs on arrival at the multinational hospital in Kandahar had a 97 per cent chance of survival.

Hans Jung, a former surgeon-general to the Canadian Forces, told the committee it's the highest survival rate in the history of warfare.

However, more emphasis must be placed on mental health, and more should be done to help ex-soldiers make the shift to civilian life, said the report, which includes 32 recommendations.

And it said the government should fund research into military medical issues, including the handling of brain injuries.

The report noted that progress has been made in recent years, but some soldiers who served in the past missed out on those benefits.

"The committee acknowledges that the CAF has come a long way over the last decade with regard to resiliency training and mental readiness. It was, however, distressing to hear from family members that their loved ones serving in uniform may not have had access to such training given that it was unavailable until a few years ago.

"There are, no doubt, many others who are also victims of timing and past insufficiencies."

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