Friday, 4 May 2012

Are Budget Cuts Undermining Mental Health Treatment for Canadian Soldiers?

Public Service Union officials said yesterday that budget cuts have affected jobs of those that are responsible for monitoring the mental health of soldiers.  Earlier this week the Canadian Forces reported that suicide rates among soldiers had risen to 20 from 12 from the year before.

"Canadian Forces have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2011.  Canada's combat role was terminated in July 2011 and Canada presently has approximately 950 trainers in Afghanistan.

Since 1996, the military has recorded 187 suicides among its members.  The causes for suicides can of course be a number of things, but many can now be attributed to service in Afghanistan and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  There have been several high profile cases, but many have not in the public eye.  Canadian Forces Suicide Numbers Rise"

The issue of mental health among returning soldiers returning from Afghanistan is seldom addressed in the national media unless something dramatic occurs.  Many soldiers suffer quietly, although the military has vastly improved in its approach to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While the union claims that the budget cuts are shutting down  part of the department's program to monitor mental health and work on suicide prevention, the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay says that this is simply not true.

The Minister is contradicted by the  Professional Institute of the Public Service, which says experts who focus on post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injuries among soldiers are among those losing their jobs.

Recent budget cuts will cut approximately 19,500 jobs from the public service, which the government says will be by attrition in most cases.  The public service unions and the opposition have been vocal, claiming that the cuts will cut services to Canadians.

The Official Opposition has come out swinging on this issue as well and says the the cuts to mental health professionals are callous in the wake of the suicide statistics published earlier this week.  Defence Minister Peter MacKay rejected the opposition party and union claims,  stating that the government has been working to double the number of mental-health professionals available to treat the troops.

 “The Canadian Forces have increased the number of mental health services.  In fact, we now have over 378 full time mental health professionals. We are working to hire more, to double the overall number since taking office in 2006.”

MacKay says that Canada has become a world leader in fighting the stigmatization and raising awareness of PTSD and other operational stress injuries and that care is provided through 38 primary care clinics and detachments and 26 mental health clinics across Canada.

According to MacKay many soldiers that are based in Petawawa, Ontario (about 100 miles from Ottawa) are presently being treated in Ottawa.  Some of the positions are being moved to Petawawa to cut down on the need to travel for those soldiers and provide mental health treatment where they live.

"Our government believes CF members are better treated where they work, train and live. This decision will significantly decrease the amount of time soldiers spend away from their families and their units as they will no longer have to travel to Ottawa for their appointments.  To be clear, our decisions are based on the interests of those receiving treatment.

Our government has made the decision to ensure that the positions of all front line workers who treat ill and injured personnel are protected. Direct patient care is not being affected in any way by recent efficiency measures."

 Naturally, there are always two sides to every issue and it is difficult to sift through it all.  What is clear though, is that any cuts should not affect the treatment of soldiers suffering from PTSD or any other  combat related behavioural issues.

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