The federal government will pay for the funerals of an Afghanistan war veteran and the three family members he killed in a rural Nova Scotia home last week, but has not yet said whether it will investigate how it handled the chronically ill vet before and after he was released from the military.
Veterans Affairs has a program to cover the funeral costs for eligible vets, including former soldiers whose suicides are deemed related to their military service. But that program doesn't typically extend to family members.
Veterans Affairs spokesman Zoltan Csepregi said Sunday that he couldn't provide many details due to privacy restrictions, but noted that the department and National Defence "are in discussions about how to pay for the funerals." He added: "We have agreed to assist the family during this difficult time."
The triple murder-suicide in the small community of Upper Big Tracadie has shocked the country.
Family members say Lionel Desmond, who deployed to the Afghanistan war in 2007, was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and his deteriorating mental state was taking a toll on his marriage and family.
Released from the military in July, 2015, Mr. Desmond, 33, shot his wife, Shanna Desmond, 31, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his mother, Brenda Desmond, 52, before killing himself on Jan. 3. Just two days before the shootings, the former corporal sought help at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in the nearby town of Antigonish, relatives said. They believe he didn't get adequate help at the hospital.
The Nova Scotia government has launched an investigation of how the health system dealt with Mr. Desmond, but both the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs have not yet said whether they will probe their handling of the chronically ill vet, who had been an infantryman with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Gagetown, N.B.
Some relatives had expressed frustration that they had not heard from military officials in the aftermath of the triple murder-suicide.
On Saturday, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr spoke with family members, confirmed his press secretary, Sarah McMaster. She would not divulge what was said because of privacy reasons.
A friend of Brenda Desmond started an online fundraising campaign last week to help pay for the Desmond family's funeral expenses. About $22,000 of the $30,000 donations goal had been reached on Sunday. In a post on gofundme.com, the organizer said she will check with family members on what they'd like done with the money, now that the federal government is picking up funeral costs.
An online obituary for Brenda Desmond shows the 52-year-old grandmother smiling in a photo and wearing a white hard hat labelled, "The Boss," in stickers.
Ms. Desmond was born in Guysborough County in northeastern Nova Scotia. The obituary notes that she was an avid bingo player and was well known for her smile, laughter and love of people.
A funeral service is planned for both her and her son on Wednesday at St. Peter's Church in Tracadie. There was no immediate word on arrangements for Mr. Desmond's slain wife and child.
The obituary for Mr. Desmond noted that he "succumbed to the tortures of PTSD." It also said he had a friendly demeanour and contagious smile and was known for his "can-do attitude" in the military and community.
"The entire Defence team is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life that occurred in Nova Scotia," Canadian Forces spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an e-mail Friday. "Regardless of what led to Mr. Desmond's actions, we know that we need to do more. We need to keep working towards implementing changes to our transition services and improve our delivery to those transitioning to civilian life."
Mr. Desmond is among at least 72 soldiers and veterans who have killed themselves after serving on the Afghanistan mission, an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation has found. Most have only taken their own lives, but just before Christmas in 2015, Robert Giblin, a veteran of two Afghanistan tours, stabbed his wife, Precious Charbonneau, before they fell from a high-rise apartment in Toronto. Mr. Giblin's family said he suffered with PTSD.
With files from The Canadian Press