Tuesday, 8 May 2012

PTSD and the Case of Corporal Stuart Langbridge

Twenty Canadian Forces soldiers committed suicide during 2011.  None of these suicides were as publicized as the suicide of Corporal Stuart Langbridge.  Corporal Langbridge committed suicide in 2008 in what the military claimed had nothing to do with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The military suggested that Langbridge succumb to his addiction of drugs and alcohol.

A veteran of the war in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Langbridge hanged himself, after efforts to help him with hospital treatment for drug and alcohol addiction had failed says the military.  Doctors and his superiors testified at a Military Police Complaints commission that they did all they could do for Stuart.  They say they went to the wall for Stuart.

His parents, Sheila Fynes and stepfather Shaun beg to differ.  They contend that their son was suffering from PTSD, which, for the most part, was ignored by the military.  They filed a series of complaints against the military’s National Investigation Service (NIS) claiming that three investigations into their son’s death were compromised, biased and concerned only with protecting the military’s reputation.

Corporal Langbridge  had left a suicide not for his parents in which he requested a simple family funeral.  The note was never given to the parents and not knowing of his request, agreed to a military funeral.  The last weeks of his life were spend doing menial jobs, where according to his parents, he was subjected to a rigorous workload he was in too fragile a state to handle.  The suicide note was never given to the parents until a year after his death.  The military never apologized.

The decisions on Langbridge were made by an estranged girlfriend, Rebecca Starr, who the military considered his common-law wife and had designated his next of kin.  Corporal Langbridge had lived common law with Rebecca for about one year.

The military requires soldiers to fill out a "Personal Emergency Notification," which list the soldiers Primary and Secondary Next of Kin.  There is also a designation of a beneficiary for the Supplementary Death Benefit.  Chances are that Corporal Langbridge also had a Statutory Declaration formalizing the common law relationship with Rebecca Star.

The military would have to follow those two declarations on who to notify after the soldier's death.  That doesn't explain why the suicide note, addressed to the parents was not presented to them.  In this case, it may have been prudent to contact the parents, tell them who the soldier designated and at the very least present a copy of the suicide note to make the parents aware of his wishes.

Despite the note the military went ahead and had Sheila Fynes agree to a military funeral.  If not by rules, out of courtesy the parents should have been contacted.  Instead he Fyne's went through several years of misery and ended up fighting the military, which she claims, is now acting to protect its reputation.

Without medical  records it is hard to say whether or not the military mishandled Langbridge, but one can assume that tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan should have raised a red flag about PTSD.  It is far too often that soldiers turn to drugs and alcohol to fight the inner demons caused by PTSD.

An Assisting Officer, assigned to the Fynes for over one year said,  In the "old days" soldiers were given one chance at suicide and then ordered to a mental-health facility for treatment, said Parkinson.

Changes in law no longer allows the military that right.

"He tried to commit suicide five times and was still walking the streets and not getting treatment," he said.

Parkinson wrote to his superiors at one point that Langridge's parents had been "deceived, misled and marginalized" by the system.

Sheila Fynes and her husband Shaun are not interested in a public inquiry, nor are they interested in a monetary reward.  They simply hope that people have heard what they had to say and what really hurt them.

“Hopefully people heard what I was saying — about what really has hurt us,” she said. “It isn’t about whether Stuart doing drugs or how sick he was, it’s about people not doing the right thing.”

How can you argue with that? 

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