A group of Canadian business leaders and soldiers who were injured in service will trek 100 kilometres to the North Magnetic Pole to raise money for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The True Patriot Love Foundation, which is organizing what it says is the largest expedition to the North Pole, hopes to raise $1.5-million for treating the mental illness through private donations and corporate sponsorships.
Fourteen soldiers, 12 of whom were injured while deployed overseas, 23 business leaders and a film crew will leave on the cross-country ski trip on April 21 from Resolute Bay, Nunavut. Star hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser will join the two-week expedition.
"Those soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice for our society, and society has the ultimate responsibility to take care of its own," said Paul Desmarais III, chair of the expedition.
Mr. Desmarais, a Great West Life vice-president, will trek alongside his father, Paul Desmarais Jr. (Power Corp.), François Olivier (Transcontinental), Jim Leech (retired CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan) and other executives.
In December, four Canadian military suicides were reported in one week. And the husband of a retired corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces who died in a head-on collision in Alberta recently said this week his wife's death was suicide.
The incident moved one of the executives who will go on the expedition.
"We haven't figured out how to stop this, but we have to do better," an emotional Tim Hodgson, managing partner at Alignvest Management Corp., said as he recounted the story of Leona MacEachern's death.
Shauna Davies, 31, of Clarence Creek, Ont., is one of the former soldiers who will ski to the North Pole. Ms. Davies was not injured during her 10 years of service, but she retired from the military last summer to care for her husband, a medic who was diagnosed with PTSD after his last deployment in Afghanistan.
Ms. Davies said she became anxious and depressed looking after her husband and their daughters, ages 7 and 4. "When a soldier is hurt, it has a ripple effect. It affects the whole family, but a lot of times, that is the forgotten story," she said.
Mr. Desmarais said the corporate sector needs to "step in when the government is unable to fund needed programs for the health and well-being of the military." It also has to provide work and training to veterans returning to civilian life, he said. "We feel this is a major issue that the business community has not focused on."
The True Patriot Love Foundation says about 30 per cent of the soldiers who were deployed in a war zone such as Afghanistan have an operational stress injury like PTSD or depression. But as the symptoms do not necessarily manifest themselves right away, it may be years before veterans seek treatment – and some never do.
"There is still a stigma around it. A physical injury, you can see, but many veterans are still ashamed of suffering from a mental injury," Ms. Davies said.