For Sheila and Shaun Fynes, the anguish over the suicide of their son was multiplied by the shoddy investigations into his death. And the reaction to the review of the botched investigations is a strong indication the military needs to regard more seriously the unseen wounds of veterans.
The Military Police Complaints Commission released its review this week of the handling of the death in 2008 of Cpl. Stuart Langridge. The report said the case amounted to a series of bungled investigations.
Langridge, a veteran of two overseas tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, was found hanged in an Edmonton barracks just days after being released from a civilian hospital. He had attempted suicide several times and had struggled with addiction.
The Fynes, who live in Victoria, filed a complaint, alleging that the military investigation was mishandled, and that National Defence tried to protect its image and cover up its poor treatment of Langridge.
The commission found the allegations of bias unsubstantiated, but Fynes said she still believes the system favours the military.
The review found “significant deficiencies” in investigations conducted by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service and “unacceptable errors” in the way the military police interacted with the Fynes.
Langridge had left a note, but investigators withheld the note from his family for 14 months, claiming it was evidence.
The family alleged there was criminal culpability in the way the military treated and humiliated Langridge because of his mental condition. The 28-year-old soldier suffered from depression and anxiety, but was never formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The commission made 46 recommendations, including better training in search warrants, dealing with evidence and communicating with families. The vast majority of them were either rejected outright by National Defence or not answered at all.
Traditions are part of the military, but one of the traditions that should be abandoned is blindness to psychological wounds that result from combat experiences. Soldiers with bleeding wounds are taken to safety and treated, but when the wounds are unseen, soldiers don’t always get the care they need. Mental anguish is too often seen as a weakness, when the suffering is just as real as lacerations or broken bones.
Granted, psychological wounds are not always obvious, not always easy to treat. Often, the sufferers themselves cannot explain the nature of the injury. But PTSD is nothing new — a form of it became known as shell shock in the First World War. The military needs to increase its awareness of this disease and support those soldiers who suffer from it.
In 2013, a Canadian soldier battling PTSD was put on the fast track for dismissal. The former combat engineer tried to take his own life, and the army began the process of giving him a medical discharge against his wishes.
His wife wrote the defence minister, saying her husband was reminded repeatedly that “he isn’t an amputee,” which, she said, made a mockery of the Defence Department’s claim that psychological injuries are taken as seriously as physical wounds.
One of the complaints that emanated from the First World War was that the British saw Canadian soldiers as “cannon fodder,” expendable pawns to be thrown into the path of enemy fire as part of strategy. Today’s soldiers and ex-soldiers can be forgiven if they believe they are regarded in the same light by the Canadian military and government.
Toughness is required in the military, particularly in times of war, but lack of compassion is not toughness — it’s a weakness.
It’s a tradition that soldiers do not leave fallen comrades behind. The military and the government should not leave wounded soldiers or their families to fend for themselves on today’s battlefields.