Another Canadian soldier, veteran of Afghanistan, has died of an apparent suicide, following the deaths, also suicides, of two Afghanistan vets in Manitoba and Alberta earlier this week. A spokesperson for the Canadian Army has confirmed that warrant officer Michael McNeil died Wednesday at the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario. The death is being investigated
News of McNeil’s death comes a day after it was revealed that two soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba died by suicide a short time apart earlier this week. Master Cpl. William Elliott died at his home just outside the base, while Master Bombardier Travis Halmrast died in Lethbridge, Alberta.
“As the Commander of the Canadian Army, I am disturbed by the loss of three of our soldiers,” Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse said in a statement Thursday.
“The Canadian Army cares deeply for each and every member. It goes without saying that we take every death seriously and as such we will explore all facets of these situations to try and learn from them and reduce future occurrences while also providing the best support to the Army family whenever a death does occur.”
The deaths have raised questions about the treatment of Canada’s veterans and resources available to wounded soldiers and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“They are giving them all this stuff they need over there to fight with tanks, guns and everything. They do the job over there and do it well, but when they come home and they need the help they don't seem to have it,” McNeil’s uncle, Frank McNeil, told CTV News.
The army said McNeil joined the Canadian Armed Forces in Oct. 1994. He had been deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan and his cousin was killed by Taliban snipers six years ago.
Elliott was a “decorated combat veteran” who toured in Bosnia and Afghanistan and had suffered back injuries in Afghanistan. His friend, Cpl. Glen Kirkland, told CTV News this week that Elliott was worried about being discharged from the army and not having financial security.
Halmrast, whose death is also being investigated, was said to be living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I don't believe he got the help that he needed, no,” Halmrast’s sister Samantha told CTV.
“Especially in the state he was in right now, he needed more help. And I don't feel as though he got any.”
Defense Minister Rob Nicholson expressed his condolences to the soldiers’ families and friends in the House of Commons Thursday. Earlier in the day, Nicholson said the deaths were "very troubling," but noted that the Conservative government has spent millions of extra dollars to treat and counsel returning soldiers over the last two years. Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent said there is a “surge” of troubled soldiers who took part in the Afghan mission, and his office has been asking the government to improve services available to them
The military will undertake boards of inquiry into each death — routine procedures that look at the circumstances and systemic issues that may have led to a particular incident. That’s not good enough for NDP defence critic Jack Harris, who accused the government of failing its wounded soldiers. Military inquiries into some 50 suicides since 2008 remain incomplete, Harris said. ( An update states there have been 70 suicides so far since 2002)
“We have had soldiers who’ve stood up for Canada and our allies when we asked them to. We should be standing up for them and I don’t think we’re doing that,” he said.
A number of mental health and defence experts have warned Canada could face a surge in post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers over the next five years as the after-effects of a decade of fighting in Afghanistan begin to settle in.
Guy Parent, Canada’s veterans ombudsman, said both National Defence and Veterans Affairs need to anticipate the flood, but he prevaricated when asked whether he believes the steps taken to date have been sufficient.
“They’re getting ready,” Parent said.
Highway of Heroes.
401 Highway of Heroes; from the Canadian Forces Base at Trenton Ontario to the Don Valley Parkway Toronto. There are fifty bridges between Trenton and Toronto and every one of them was full as the cortege of hearses, military and police escort passed beneath them. I stood on one of the bridges and it was a very emotional experience for me. I held hands with people I had never met and hugged them and felt like they were my family. There were many days like this one during Canada's mission in Afghanistan and we all gathered to say goodbye to our fallen Canadian heroes on their final journey home to Canada. With such strong feeling for our military we are incensed that our government has not provided the care our physically and emotionally wounded soldiers need.
Mr Harper, you keep letting us down . These men need caring and compassion and you seem lacking in both. Mark another one up to your coldness and crassness. You are in good company with your fishing buddy Rob Ford. See you on election day.