Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Feds invest $1M more to combat military stress

The federal government will be adding $1 million to a program that tackles mental health issues plaguing several Canadian soldiers and their families.

The money will expand the government's Operational Stress Injury Social Support Program by adding eight peer support workers to a team of 12 support coordinators who have experienced and survived similar stress-related injuries following combat.

Capt. Dwayne Atkinson has served five tours overseas, including stints in Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan. He says it was experience in Afghanistan that brought him to his breaking point.

"One of the biggest problems for soldiers is continually going to areas of desolation and destruction and seeing the human dynamic of conflict and what it does to people," Atkinson told CTV Ottawa.

"Constantly seeing this time and time again has an accumulative affect on soldiers and eventually everybody finds their breaking point and gets overloaded."

After Atkinson's second combat tour in Afghanistan, he was diagnosed with an operational stress injury.

"Coming back from Afghanistan I was really messed up," Atkinson told CTV Ottawa.

After his diagnosis, he enrolled in the government's stress injury program and he says the support he received helped him get to the root of his problem.

"They helped me and my family come through this and make me able to return to active service and put my uniform back on," he said.

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson was on hand to make the funding announcement in Kingston, Ont. Tuesday. He says the stress of serving in a theatre of combat has a great affect on soldiers and their families.

"That adjustment back to civilian life has always been difficult and will always be difficult and again that's why we're putting these teams together to make it that much easier," said Thompson.

Over the last five years, the number of soldiers who have experienced operational health injuries -- which include post-traumatic stress-disorder, anxiety disorders, depression and addiction -- more than tripled to 11,000 cases.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's John Hua

Operational Stress Injury Social Support Program