Skip to main content

A tribute to Sgt. Paul Martin, who took his life in September 2011 while struggling with PTSD, is displayed in his family’s home in New Brunswick.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

To read the story behind the Globe's unprecedented, far-reaching investigation into soldier suicides, please click here.

When The Globe and Mail reported the suicides of 54 former and active Armed Forces members who served in the Afghanistan mission, the figure was reached without the co-operation of the Department of National Defence. On the contrary, DND officials seemed determined to keep this terrible toll out of sight.

A door kept tightly closed has now opened slightly. DND officials have revealed that the actual number of suicides is 59, and that four active service members killed themselves this year. As well, the DND now admits that, of the 158 Armed Forces members killed in Afghanistan, six were suicides.

The body count is growing, and it is more evident than ever that the DND and Veterans Affairs aren't doing enough to help members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the combat-related anxiety disorder believed to be a leading cause of suicide.

At least now the government admits there's a problem. That's a first step. As we wrote on Tuesday, that acknowledgment should extend to Ottawa giving military honours to soldiers diagnosed with PTSD who commit suicide – the same honours that would go to any soldier who died from his or her battle wounds.

But more critically, there must be increased efforts to prevent combat veterans from reaching that awful abyss. It's become clear that cutbacks have left the Armed Forces without adequate resources to help members suffering from PTSD. In particular, the military has ignored internal recommendations to expand addictions programs, even though nearly six in 10 soldiers who died by suicide in recent years were dependent on alcohol or drugs.

Better rehab, better tracking and better communication between the DND and Veterans' Affairs are all needed. As well, the Armed Forces should soften its "universality-of-service" policy, under which members suffering from PTSD can be summarily discharged, leaving them adrift and more despondent than ever.

The new Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, is a decorated lieutenant-colonel with combat experience in Afghanistan. As well, his government pledged new money and resources during the election campaign for veterans suffering from PTSD. Mr. Sajjan must make this issue one of his first priorities.