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Feds unveil new strategy to help reduce number of military, veteran suicides

Last Updated Oct 5, 2017 at 6:42 pm EDT

The federal government is promising to improve the services and support available to military personnel and veterans in hopes of cutting down the number of suicides among those who have served in uniform.

The initiatives are outlined in a new suicide prevention strategy released Thursday that comes amid concerns about the number of service members and veterans who have killed themselves in recent years.

That includes retired corporal Lionel Desmond, the Afghan war veteran who was seeking treatment for PTSD before shooting and killing three family members in Nova Scotia before taking his own life in January.

“While it is impossible to prevent every suicide,” the strategy says, “we can take meaningful actions to reduce risks and build protective factors, support and resilience among our comrades and loved ones.”

The strategy represents a rare level of cooperation between the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada, with a major focus on easing the transition from a military career to civilian life.

The two departments have been accused in the past of letting service members fall through the cracks during such a critical juncture in the life of a soldier.

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The concerns have been particularly focused on when physical or psychological injuries force soldiers to retire from active service, as family members say happened to Desmond.

The strategy also proposes to better screen recruits for mental health problems, boost pre-deployment resilience training and increase the military’s ability to detect those who might be at risk.

Funding has been or will also be set aside to conduct research into the causes of suicide, and ways to ensure veterans and their families get the support they need after leaving the military.

More than 130 serving military personnel have taken their own lives since 2010, according to National Defence, including eight between January and August.

The suicide rate among all active members is broadly in keeping with those of the general population, but previous studies have shown those in the army are at twice or three times the risk – something that’s especially true for those who have deployed to a high-threat environment, such as Afghanistan.

Officials have not been able to determine the number of suicides among veterans, but previous studies have suggested former service members are more at risk than those still in uniform.

Efforts are being made to better track suicides among veterans, with a report expected in December.

The strategy has been endorsed by a variety of different groups, including the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.

A new centre called Cadence Health and Wellness is opening in Newmarket on Oct. 14 and will cater to soldiers and veterans suffering from PTSD.