More than 14,300 vets being treated for mental health plus an unknown number of reservists prove armed forces and Veterans Affairs face alarming crisis

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Image via Wikipedia -- Areas of the brain affected by neuro toxin damage in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder

In today’s Toronto Star Allan Wood reports that the Canadian military can no longer hide the raging mental health battle affecting our veterans and their families after they come home.

Allan concentrates on one example, Lt.-Col. Rob Martin, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan and a senior leader in the Canadian military. In Afghanistan, Martin studied and tracked the Taliban collecting scraps of intelligence and electronic signals to warn Canadian troops of imminent attacks. He worked 16-hour days. During his 2008-2009 tour in Kandahar, 25 Canadians under his command died. Each death emotionally wrecked him, and he came home a broken man. Some would say if you join the military and you are an officer, you have to expect and be prepared for combat deaths under your command. That’s easier said than actually experienced as Allan Woods demonstrates.

He quotes the Canadian Forces Surgeon General, Commodore Hans Jung, “I’m not sure if the worst is past, but I think we’re ready for the worst.”

Sorry, but the Canadian military has never been ready for the “worst.” Granted, there is a study soon to be released collected from doctor’s diagnoses of post-deployment operational stress symptoms that reveals “how soldiers who served in Afghanistan have gone on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.” But, this study only proves the horse has left the barn.

There have been numerous scientific studies published in the U.S. dealing with the causes and therapeutic programs to help vets with PTSD. Why has the Canadian military ignored them and prepared for the emotional boomerang our vets have experienced both before the Afghanistan War and since? It’s shameful how long our Canadian military and its medical leaders have buried their heads in the sand.

Two things have been proven south of the border.

1. The Impact of Mefloquine on Deployed Troops

For the first, the U.S. Surgeon General has banned immunizing troops with the anti-malaria drug mefloquine (Lariam) because of its neuro toxic damage to the brain. Hundreds of thousands of American veterans have suffered from its adverse effects since 1989. What doctors like Dr. Remington  Nevin, U.S. Army medical officer, have learned is that there is a genetic predisposition to converting the drug into a toxin because the brain cannot flush it out of the system as happens with those who suffer no effects. Guessing that those with a history of psychologcal problems is no longer a safe benchmark to predict who will react and will not. No one knows because you have to take mefloquine to find out whether you are vulnerable to it or not. By then it’s too late. Mefloquine neuro toxicity leads to changes in behavior, hallucinations, depression and often acts of suicide. Despite this decision to ban the use of this drug for the U.S. military, the Canadian military have ignored the U.S. decision. Canadian troops have been issued mefloquine (Lariam) as an anti-malaria treatment throughout all deployments to Afghanistan when there are other recommended drugs that do not cause devastating side effects such as Doxycycline, a common antibiotic, and malarone, approved four years ago. 

British doctors became alarmed when their patients who travelled to malaria-infected areas came home with disturbing symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, anxiety and panic attacks. Dr. Paul Clarke, an infectious disease specialist and the medical director of a large network of travel clinics in Great Britain, organized his own study.  “There were episodes in which people were clearly divorced from reality and indeed had unusual symptoms that could be described as psychotic.” The British consequently warned that 1 in 10 people could suffer from adverse side effects when on mefloquine, while the Canadian military has stuck to a ratio of 1:1000.

So, with these results in mind, American researchers are looking into the connection between the neuro toxicity of the anti-malaria drug mefloquine and the onset of PTSD. Why then haven’t we recognized its potential to wreck the mental health of our armed forces?

Commodore Jung, when, sir, are you going to acknowledge that the U.S. studies more than prove the health risk Canada has exposed our troops to over the years? It is your sole responsibility to ban mefloquine as a malaria preventative treatment for our military.

2. Repeated Episodes of Adrenalin Rush cause the Brain to Short-Circuit

Another U.S. research paper reveals that people over exposed to repetitive stress that depends on sustained adrenalin rushes suffer the equivalent to an electrical overload and the brain malfunctions in the same way as a damaged record keeps repeating one line over and over again. Now that American scientists understand the breakdown in function, they are hoping to develop a drug or treatment to restore the brain to its original efficiency.

What this discovery means to the Canadian military is that recycling the same troops through two, three and four deployments is to put them at an unacceptable risk to brain damage. 

Is anyone paying attention or are you all too busy covering your assess in the wake of recent suicides among veterans?


SIDEBAR: Allan Wood goes on to decribe how many of our veterans are being denied benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada to cover their travel costs to see psychologists and other medical professionals treating their mental health problems. Allan quotes a Veterans Affairs spokesman: “It is generally expected that veterans will access services from their nearest possible health-care provider.”

Unfortunately, mental health is on the back-burner of today’s under-staffed health care providers across the coutry and treating battle-induced stress injuries is an even less serviced  specialty. Veterans often have no choice but to travel to the clinics and experts best suited to deal with their problems.

Allan did get a representative for Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney to acknowledge that VAC “will follow up with the veterans to ensure they’re getting the services they need.” A nice public statement but meaningless until we see actual follow through.

So many legitimate reasons to join our veterans in their protest November 5, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. in front of the parliament buildings. Ottawa’s spin on veterans’ treatment is no longer credible.



About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, emotional trauma, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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