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This article was published 9/11/2015 (1808 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Remembrance Day, Canadians will remember those who fell in service to their country. Their names are etched on war graves, on memorial walls and in family scrapbooks.
Every name of the war dead is accounted for. In the case of the two world wars, it doesn’t matter where or how they died. If they served in uniform, they are remembered officially.
An investigation by the Globe and Mail, however, has discovered gaps in the recent record. Some names are missing from the Afghan conflict. Military psychiatrist Dr. Greg Passey calls them "the unknown fallen," or, as the Globe says, "the unremembered."
They include 59 veterans of the Afghanistan war who committed suicide. That’s more than one-third of the 158 soldiers killed in the 13-year war. They are war dead, victims of wounds to their minds, yet their names are not engraved on the Afghan Memorial Vigil because they weren’t killed by gunfire, or blown up by a roadside bomb.
The high number of suicides and soldiers with mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder should have been a bugle call for emergency repairs to a system that has failed to help the walking wounded. Some 14,000 serving members are still receiving benefits for mental-health issues.
Veterans have long been fighting a losing battle for improved addictions treatment and other mental-health services, as well as better benefits and programs to help them transition out of the military.
The former Harper government talked a good game about wanting to ensure veterans and serving soldiers were looked after, but deeds never quite matched their lofty words.
Former senator and general Romeo Dallaire has frequently complained about "penny-pinching" by Veterans Affairs. He has called on the government to introduce a social covenant similar to one in Britain, where "a duty of care" to soldiers and veterans is recognized in law.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to spend an extra $100 million on family support, as well as re-establishing lifelong pensions for disabled veterans, which had disappeared in 2006. He has also promised to improve other benefits and to make it easier for injured veterans to move to civilian from military life.
These are grounds for optimism, assuming the Liberals follow through.
But while better health services and benefits are important, there are other problems that contribute to mental-health issues in the military.
The most important is something called "universality of service." Because Canada has such a small military, it requires every serving member to be capable of deployment. Even the pencil pushers and computer geeks have to be able to meet a physical fitness test.
This is not an unreasonable policy, but its strict enforcement has resulted in the release of some 15,000 serving members since 2001, including 1,900 last year, according to the Globe.
Some soldiers may be happy to leave, but many are despondent after losing their chosen career. They feel lost, abandoned and thrown away after their bodies and minds were torn apart by war.
The military and Defence Department must do a better job of finding jobs for these men and women in training roles, in the reserves, or some job connected to the military.
The risk of being kicked out of the military is also another reason why some soldiers opt to suffer in silence instead of seeking help.
On Remembrance Day, then, let’s also honour the veterans of Afghanistan who died from their mental injuries. And may they rest in peace.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.
Updated on Monday, November 9, 2015 at 5:52 PM CST: Write-through
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