Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House today to speak in support of Bill C-211, an act respecting a federal framework on post-traumatic stress disorder, well known as PTSD.
Last Saturday, I had the privilege to attend the annual first responders appreciation dinner in my riding. Having served as an RCMP officer, this topic is very close to my heart.
Bill C-211 seeks to establish a national framework to ensure that our first responders, whether it be military, paramedics, police personnel, firefighters, emergency dispatchers, veterans, and corrections officers, get the timely access to the resources they need to deal with PTSD.
PTSD is classified as a psychiatric stress-related disorder that develops as a result of a traumatic event. PTSD can develop following direct or indirect exposure to violence, accidents, war, death, or terror attacks. PTSD experienced by first responders and military personnel is the result of years of stressful job-related calls, witnessing distressing deaths, and repeated violence.
Episodes may cause an affected person to become angry, irritable, jumpy, agitated, depressed, or frightened. Many have used alcohol and drugs and have damaged relationships because of this.
The bill, if passed, will require the Minister of Health to convene a conference with the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, provincial and territorial counterparts, representatives of the medical community, and patient groups for the purpose of developing a comprehensive federal framework to address the challenges of recognizing the symptoms and providing timely diagnosis and treatment of PTSD.
Every day, thousands of men and women across Canada go to work, whether first responders, police, firefighters, or military personnel, and they willingly put their lives on the line to support and protect Canadians and their country.
Their jobs demand that they be prepared to show up to any scenario at any time, ready to face the challenges of their line of work. They treat our wounds, they protect our communities, some witness some of the worst that humanity has to offer. Then they return home to their families and try to live a normal life.
When most of us would head in the opposite direction, they are the ones who run toward danger. Their heroic efforts sometimes mean they are left to deal with the haunting images, sounds, and smells, which will stay with these men and women for life. Being a witness to human tragedy and suffering can become difficult to cope with in the days, months and years afterward.
We can look today at what is happening in B.C. Our first responders are dealing with the opioid problem and how it is affecting their jobs.
As a former RCMP officer for 35 years, I personally know what first responders go through, both emotionally and physically when they arrive at a scene.
Many years ago when I was a young air cadet, probably around the age of 12, I remember talking to a lot of different veterans on Remembrance Day, and there were a lot in those days, about their war experiences. I remember one particular gentleman from our community who drank a lot. I remember him telling me that he drank to hide the past and the horrors of war. This was probably the first time I was introduced to PTSD.
As I went through my working career as an RCMP officer, I remember in the sixties when a friend of mine came off an extended period of being undercover, where he intermixed with some pretty wild and dangerous individuals. He could not switch back to a regular life and suffered immensely, both mentally and physically. He eventually had to leave the force. This was PTSD, but we did not know what was wrong with him at the time.
I had a very good friend who I will call Mr. T. He was a lot like the guy on TV, but he suffered for many years with PTSD. He could not pull those hidden demons from within himself. As his commander, he came to me and talked about suicide. He received help and I worked with him closely over the next decade and even after we both left our careers in the RCMP. He could not get rid of the ugliness with which he had to deal.
As I am saying this, I thinking of Mr. T, as he is not here anymore. He committed suicide two years ago. I wish he had called me as I would have gone wherever he was to help.
I can think of a number of my colleagues who which I worked. A number of them drank too much, but were they doing this due to PTSD? Yes, they were. However, in all honesty, we did not know what it was. We did not know what to call it years ago.
I have to thank those members who have come forward in the last number of years, whether military, RCMP, paramedics, who were proud and strong enough to make public their problems and seek help.
It is out there among our first responders. As government we must work with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to ensure that help is there for all first responders.
Unfortunately, there is a stigma around mental health issues, including PTSD. Those who are affected hate to admitting they need need assistance is showing weakness to their peers. Instead, they keep it to themselves, hidden, silently carrying a heavy weight until they can no longer bear it.
According to statistics by TEMA, an organization that supports people with PTSD through research, education, training and peer support, 188 Canadian public safety and military personnel have died by suicide since 2014. Five first responders and four military members have died by suicide in this year alone. That is nine people in only two months.
This is absolutely heartbreaking. These brave people risk their lives to serve their communities, so where are we when they need our help? They have served us, but we have not served them. This is why we so desperately need a national framework to address this issue.
The Prime Minister has already called on his ministers to act on PTSD and make the mental health of our men and women in uniform a priority, and I thank him for that.
In the mandate letter of the Minister of Heath, she is called to “make high quality mental health services more available to Canadians who need them.”
In the mandate letter of the Minister of Veterans Affairs, he is directed to “Provide greater education, counselling, and training for families who are providing care and support to veterans living with physical and/or mental health issues as a result of their service...Work with the Minister of National Defence to develop a suicide prevention strategy for Canadian Armed Forces personnel and veterans.”
In the the mandate letter of the Minister of Public Safety, he is directed to “Work with provinces and territories and the Minister of Health to develop a coordinated national action plan on post-traumatic stress disorder, which disproportionately affects public safety officers.”
If that is not a clear directive from the Prime Minister to support exactly what the bill seeks to achieve, I do not know what is.
This is not a Liberal issue. It is not a Conservative issue. It is not any single party's issue. This is something that crosses party lines and it should be supported by all sides of the House.
Bill C-211 is an opportunity for all parliamentarians to stand together and acknowledge the very real impact that PTSD has on the lives of our men and women in uniform. The federal government must show leadership on this issue. I urge everyone in the House to support the bill. If we do not, we fail these brave men and women.