This article is part of The Unremembered, a Globe and Mail investigation into soldiers and veterans who died by suicide after deployment during the Afghanistan mission.
Our only son, Corporal Anthony A. Reed, died of post-traumatic stress disorder at CFB Petawawa in December, 2012. Tony asked for help repeatedly, even on the last day of his life. He was apparently told by the mental-health unit at the base’s Warrior Support Centre to “come back tomorrow.”
Our son’s PTSD surfaced within months of his coming home from Afghanistan in 2009. Constant nightmares kept him from sleeping. He admitted that he had a problem, but military health facilities were stretched beyond capacity. He was given a cocktail of drugs, and sent to cope on his own. This ailment is not well understood by the medical profession. There is a lot of trial and error.
Tony injured his knee in the theatre, which kept him out of the infantry, his chosen trade. He was part of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. His pride in the uniform kept him going to work in all but dire circumstances. While on assignment with the Trade Pioneers unit, he mastered a laser-computer package that allowed for intricate woodworking designs; his designs are being used today. The officers had an appreciation for his woodworking projects in their mess, as well as for the various plaques he made commemorating jobs well done. Tony was well liked and respected.
Tony’s wife and his two children saw and experienced the negative transformation in his life. We saw alarming changes too, such as impatience, anger, paranoia, agoraphobia and suspicion of people of Middle Eastern descent. These symptoms drove him to excessive drinking and prescription drugs. He became a loner. Previously, he was happy and loved life.
He was a family man who always found no-cost ways to entertain the children. They loved camping, canoeing and fishing. Tony taught them to appreciate wildlife, to build fires without matches and to make a lean-to with saplings and conifer branches.
PTSD and suicide have cost our family a strong and loving son. Our grandchildren don’t have a dad to talk to; he will never see their accomplishments. He will never walk his daughter down the aisle or see his son become a doctor. We have lost the support of our son as we grow older, which makes for an uncertain future. There is a big hole in our hearts, which we don’t know how to fill. The pain of losing a child never goes away.
Soldiers who die by suicide must be recognized for their sacrifices alongside those who died in the theatre. Families should not be made to feel ashamed by their country. Canadian casualties should be remembered with the same honour and dignity whether death happened on the battlefield or at home. They cannot be forgotten by the nation they served.
Micheline and Phillip Reed are the parents of Corporal Tony Reed, 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
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