An influential military-focused charity that denied scholarships to two children of an infantry officer who took his own life after deploying to Afghanistan announced on Monday that it is expanding the scope of its education program because of the enduring damage left by post-traumatic stress disorder.
The announcement, which was short on details, was made three days after a Globe and Mail investigation revealed that Canada Company's scholarship committee had last year ruled that Captain Brad Elms's children were not eligible for the charity's fallen soldiers scholarship because the circumstances of his death didn't meet the program's criteria.
Capt. Elms, 51, of the Royal Canadian Regiment died by suicide in Kingston in November, 2014. He was a respected infantry officer, methodical and meticulous. Before deploying to Afghanistan in 2008, he had served in Somalia, Bosnia and Haiti.
A one-time military Ironman winner, the army captain was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2003. His family believes he also had PTSD, but he never sought a diagnosis because he worried it would destroy his army career.
A military board of inquiry determined that his death was attributable to his military service. Veterans Affairs concluded Capt. Elms's service-connected mental illness was "the underlying cause of his death."
Despite these findings, Canada Company did not change its position on deaths by suicide when it reviewed its scholarship rejection of the Elms children, The Globe's investigation showed. Capt. Elms's widow, Sherri, urged the organization to spell out its stand in its terms of reference so no other family would go through a similar rejection. And so the charity rewrote the terms of reference for its scholarship program last year, adding authorized training missions to its eligibility criteria.
It also included this line: "Eligible candidates do not include children of Canadian soldiers whose deaths result from suicide."
It was unclear on Monday how Canada Company plans to expand its scholarship program and whether it will be available to children of military members who took their own lives.
Canada Company's position on suicide was out of step with other military-related scholarship programs. The Globe surveyed 21 other private and government education-assistance programs available to children of fallen veterans and found that only one other – the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's Fallen Heroes Scholarship – does not include students who lost a parent to suicide. In one other case – the Project Hero scholarship that is offered at about 60 colleges and universities and affiliated with Canada Company – the participating institutions have no common policy on inclusion of deaths by suicide.
Canada Company founder Blake Goldring and charity president Angela Mondou were not available to comment on Monday. In a media release, the Toronto-based organization said: "Given the greater awareness of the challenges military members and their families face with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Canada Company is taking action to expand the scope of its support."
The release noted that members of the charity's board of directors have contributed $100,000 to the scholarship fund and that the organization will collaborate with other military charities, the business sector and government organizations to raise more money. Additional details will be announced at Canada Company's scholarship presentation on June 24 in Toronto.
"This enhancement to our scholarship fund … will ensure that Canada Company continues to deliver relevant initiatives that suit current military needs," Mr. Goldring said in the release.
Started in 2007, the scholarship program was established specifically for children of Canadian Forces members "killed while serving in an active role in a military mission," Ms. Mondou said in a previous interview. Exceptions, however, have been made for children of parents killed in training accidents in Canada and while on leave from overseas operations.
Canada Company's education-assistance fund, valued at roughly $2.6-million, is one of the largest among private programs for children of fallen soldiers. Ms. Elms's scholarship request was the first from a family who had lost a loved one to suicide, Ms. Mondou said.
The Elms family had never publicly shared their story before. Ms. Elms hopes Canada Company's scholarship expansion includes all children of members whose deaths are service-related, as defined by National Defence and Veterans Affairs.
"When this standard is used, training accidents qualify, deaths in theatre qualify, service-related suicides qualify," Ms. Elms said in an e-mail.