In The Media

Canada's special forces face unique mental-health challenges

by Lee Bethiaume (feat. D. Michael Day)

The Canadian Press
November 10, 2017

OTTAWA - Retired Sgt. Toby Miller can easily remember the day he was injured by an improvised-explosive device in Afghanistan. It was April 2, 2011 - his 41st birthday, and the beginning of the end of his military career.

Miller returned to duty a short time later, but he knew something wasn't right. When a comrade noticed that he wasn't doing well and suggested he seek help, Miller decided that might be best.

"I went into that meeting and it was abundantly clear to the psychologist that I was probably in no shape to still be doing the job," Miller recalled during a recent phone interview from his home in Comox, B.C.

"I was eventually diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. There are three dark spots on the left side of my brain that indicate some likely dead spots. And PTSD. I had nightmares for a long time. I still do."

Seeking help for PTSD and even leaving the military are hard enough for many service members, especially those who have never known anything else but life in the Canadian Armed Forces.

But Miller faced some unique challenges. That's because he was a member of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, or CSOR, one of the country's elite special forces units.

Canada's special forces often operate in the shadows, meaning many of their deeds may go unnoticed and unrecognized this Remembrance Day.

But when the government unveiled its plan to combat suicide and improve the mental health of military personnel and veterans last month, it included four initiatives specifically aimed at the special forces.

It was a public acknowledgment that Canada's elite soldiers have different needs than the rest of the Armed Forces.

The Canadian military currently has only about 2,000 special forces personnel divided among six different units, including Joint Task Force 2, CSOR, and a unit that responds to biological, chemical and nuclear incidents.

The unique demands placed on that small community include continuous training; an emphasis on secrecy, even with family and friends; frequent deployments; and zero tolerance for failure.

"You've got this higher tempo, you've got this smaller team dynamic, and the sense of self-expectation is extremely high," said retired lieutenant-general Mike Day, a former commander of Canadian special forces.

"All of that combines to make it a pretty stressful environment."

The military has established an elaborate selection process to identify those who can handle the demands and stress of a career in the special forces, which includes psychological testing and other screening.

There is also already training to help special forces operators, as they are known, deal with potential stressors, and ready access to psychologists and other mental-health services.

But Brig.-Gen. Peter Dawe, deputy commander of Canada's special forces, acknowledged there was room for improvement, which is why the suicide prevention strategy included plans to study and improve resiliency.

"We have an obligation that before we send our people into harm's way, that we've given them the tools … to process what they're seeing, what they're doing in that kind of a stress environment," he said in an interview.

The military also plans to take a closer look at the unique challenges that special forces members face when they leave the Forces - either by choice or because of medical conditions - to ensure there are no gaps.

For Miller, those challenges included the fact that he could not speak openly about his experiences as a special forces operator, even with other military personnel and family members.

"It took a very long time for my wife to get everything out of me, and she was in the military," he said. "So when you're trying to go to counselling with a group of soldiers, you can't just speak your mind."

Many of Canada's special forces soldiers have done multiple tours to Iraq over the past three years, and between that and various other lesser-known missions, they have been busier than ever.

That is part of the reason the government plans to add another 600 members to the command.

Dawe acknowledged his soldiers are being worked very hard, but he said commanders are monitoring their people closely. And the new initiatives included in the suicide prevention strategy should help make the special forces even stronger.

"Because," he said, "we know that ultimately, the success of this command and the success of this institution are dependent on the welfare of our troops."


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
 
SEARCH
PODCAST

The Future of North American Trade: Assessing the USMCA

October 13, 2018

On today's Global Exchange Podcast, we convene our roster of North American trade experts to discuss the newly signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Join host Colin Robertson in discussion with Eric Miller, Laura Dawson, Sarah Goldfeder, and Larry Herman, as they discuss the pros and cons of the new deal, as well as what happens next.



EXPERTS IN THE MEDIA

Why is Trump so keen to protect the Saudis?

by Ishaan Tharoor (feat. Thomas Juneau), The Washington Post, October 18, 2018

As Trans Mountain stalls, TransCanada begins preliminary work on Keystone XL

by Geoffrey Morgan (feat. Dennis McConaghy), Financial Post, October 18, 2018

Halifax shipyard workers warn of layoffs if maintenance work sent to Quebec

by Andrea Gunn & Stuart Peddle (feat. Dave Perry), The Chronical Herald, October 17, 2018

Canada needs Saudi Arabia ‘whether we like it or not,’ says booted Canadian envoy

by Samantha Wright Allen (feat. Thomas Juneau), The Hill Times, October 17, 2018


LATEST TWEETS

HEAD OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 421-7th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 4K9

 

OTTAWA OFFICE
Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6

 

Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca

 

Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.

 

© 2002-2018 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001

 


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email