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.
My son, Corporal Scott Smith, was an excellent and ambitious infantry soldier. He was preparing for a leadership course that would have led to a promotion when he died by suicide on Dec. 10, 2014. He was a loving father and proud military member who had served in Afghanistan. But no soldier comes back from war the same. Scott was struggling, but he was afraid to ask the military for medical help because he worried that it would harm his career. Other vulnerable soldiers are worried too.
The military has programs to help personnel who are troubled with post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, but two trends keep emerging from the stories of soldiers who have taken their own lives. If you seek help, you damage your career. If you don't seek help, the military states it had no idea the soldier had mental-health challenges. The problem is many soldiers don't ask for help because they have witnessed others who have, and then have been released from the military or had their career progression stalled.
After my son died, I met with senior military officials who explained that careers do get put on hold if soldiers come forward because of the nature of their work and possible risks. At the time, this seemed to make sense. However, after further thought, and after reviewing my son's board of inquiry report, I realize that is a big part of the problem.
The military states in my son's inquiry that no one was aware of his issues other than his family. Scott was able to go to work and perform his job in a highly satisfactory manner, even though he was troubled.
Yet, if he exposed his issues, his career would have been put on hold while he sought help and the military assessed his problems. The way I see it, the risk to the military would have been reduced if he had sought help without fear for his career.
The military has many employees just like my son, who are deeply troubled but do not seek help and go to work and perform at a high level. But they're not on duty at home, and it is the families of these soldiers who bear the brunt of the mental-health issues. Spouses and children have suffered for years, while the military reaps the rewards of their members' performance at work. It is not good enough for the Canadian Forces to turn a blind eye and say it didn't know. It has to know because of all the victims to date. Both the military and families have lost too many good soldiers because of the current punitive system.
At the time of Scott's death, we asked the military to introduce mandatory mental-health programs for all personnel who deployed. That will take the stigma away. So, even if they were not severely affected by their overseas tours, they will still get assistance.
It is time for change. The families of our military members should not have to endure the hardship of living with the changes in their spouse, parents, children, brother, sister or friend on a daily basis. Even if they don't end their lives, they are not the person they were before they deployed. We need to stand behind the soldiers and their families, and lobby for change that will see full support for all soldiers. They protect us, let's protect them. They should be able to live normal lives like the rest of us. We owe them that.
Connie Smith is the mother of Corporal Scott Smith, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
If you would like your relative included in the commemoration project of Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org