Canadian Soldiers’ Closed Door Policy



Regarding “Off With Our Heads” (August 24, 2007), about the War on Terra making our soldiers nuts, Carmelita McQuillan of Sydenham, Ontario, writes:

Your article about the mentally disturbed (or destroyed) Iraq and Afghanistan vets reminded me of a podcast I heard about a year ago. The young man who was speaking was one of a group of four who had joined up, trained, and were posted to Iraq together. His other friends were all killed and he was the only one of the four left. When the interviewer asked him how he managed from day to day, he said that when he was very worried or tense, he would take the feeling and “put it in the closet and close the door,” to deal with on some other day.

There must be so many of them like that. What is going to happen when they all come home and start opening up those doors?

I remember how the returning vets from Vietnam were often abandoned, despised, or just ignored by people who no longer wanted to think about that war and its consequences.

Some of that neglect is happening here in Canada, with the families of soldiers posted to Afghanistan. [Timeline of Canadian casualties in Afghanistan.] One group, from CFB Petawawa, has been particularly hard hit. Many children are suffering emotional trauma and there isn’t enough professional help for them. One little boy whose father was killed has to go home from school several times a day to make sure that his mother is still alive, otherwise he’s unable to cope.

I thought that was the deal with military service — if you signed up, the government was required to train and equip you properly, not waste your life on unnecessary wars of aggression, and to care for you and your family if something should happen to you. It doesn’t seem like either of our countries is living up to its promises.

Tragedy everywhere, but if you complain or disagree, you’re called unpatriotic or accused of not supporting the troops. (Yes, we get that line here too.)

Thanks for your columns. Always interesting.

Thanks for writing, Carmelita. Canada’s Liberal Party is pushing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party to get Canuck soldiers the hell back home. Before last week’s “summit” of Harper, George W. Bush, and Mexico’s Felipe Calderón, Opposition Leader Stephane Dion urged that Canadians end their combat role in Afghanistan by early 2009.

There’s no doubt that Canadian troops will be home a lot sooner than U.S. troops. But as you say, one of the big questions, of course, is what kind of shape the troops from either country will be in to resume any kind of sane civilian life. If the U.S. veterans get another administrator like GOP hack Jim Nicholson, whose previous job was chairman of the national party and who says he’s leaving his post as Secretary of Veteran Affairs in October, forget about much sane help for the soldiers we’ve driven insane.

Maybe it will be different in Canada, where at least the number of fried soldiers is smaller and the provincial governments have a few more internal watchdogs. But there’s always collateral damage: Reader McQuillan pointed out this frightening CBC story from April 13 about military children up north:

A mental health crisis has erupted at the Petawawa military base, where children are “on the brink of suicide,” Ontario’s ombudsman said … as he released a damning report on the state of Canada’s military children.

In anticipation of the report’s release, the Ontario government has already pledged $2 million to help tackle the problems at CFB Petawawa, near Ottawa, Ombudsman André Marin said. …

He said children at the base are coping with particularly devastating losses — 20 Petawawa soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in total, 16 of them killed since last summer. Another 80 Petawawa soldiers have been injured in Afghanistan battles.

Marin said while conducting his investigation, which began March 1, he met children who admit they hate to be called to the principal’s office at their school because they are afraid they will be told their mother or father has been killed overseas.

Others hide in their homes with the lights off, so that they can’t be found if a military official comes to tell them their parents are dead.