Are military and veterans' suicides casualties of war?

LOUIS CUPPENS  –  May 27, 2019

Despite the urging by many, neither DND nor Veterans Affairs Canada have an accurate number of suicide casualties that are related to Canadian military operations. Figures from the operations in the Balkans elude us, while figures from the Afghanistan are inaccurate. The inaccuracy stems from the fact that Canadian military reservists are not included in figures released by both government departments. In this article I place before you casualty and suicide numbers that have been quoted in the media.

Commemoration and recognition are the way that Canada honours those who gave all. There is a ministerial advisory group studying the question I posed but there has been no release of information to the public. It is gratifying to note that designated relatives of suicide casualties are now receiving the Memorial Cross as witnessed by the Legion’s designation of the “Silver Cross Mother” of 2018. The foregoing notwithstanding, Canadians still speak of the 158 fatal casualties of Afghanistan of which several were “in theatre” suicides.

There are reports that since our forces ceased combat operations in Afghanistan more than 155 suicides have occurred. It is known that there were approximately 1800 wounded casualties during that operation – but what is not known is how many mental injury casualties there were unreported/undiagnosed. In Nov 2016, the Globe and Mail reported that more than 70 veterans of the Afghanistan operations took their own lives.

Much is made of the 158 number including on the recently installed memorial at National Defence Headquarters and VAC posters. What of the others? Are the military/veterans ’suicides casualties of war? The answer has eluded Canadians in all of our post war/post operations periods.  The answer is surely YES – and this answer should be considered in the monument that the government intends to erect in Ottawa. What say you?

LWF Cuppens CMM, CD
Lieutenant-General (retired)
Special Advisor Advocacy CPVA