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Results: 136 - 150 of 2664
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
Overall, in the training in a boot camp, you'd go for 10 weeks pre-course before deployment. You might spend a number of weeks at it. What kind of percentage of resources would go towards this sort of training? Would you say it's increasing? Obviously you have pretty positive results.
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 15:52
The training is not highly intensive. The army, for example, does a 12-week recruit training course, and the BattleSMART program is delivered to them in two modules. The first module is on the Thursday of the first week. They arrive on the Tuesday at the army recruit training centre, and then on the Thursday they receive the first module of the BattleSMART training. It's about two hours and it's cognitive behavioural training.
It's a PowerPoint presentation, but it's very interactive with the recruits. I've watched it in action a few times. They seem to engage with it very well, but it does depend a lot on the nature of the presenter. If you have someone who is quite experienced and is very confident in teaching cognitive behaviour therapy to large groups of people, then the recruits engage a lot better than with someone who is not as experienced.
That's for two hours on the Thursday. Then they get a booster session on the following Monday, once they've had the chance to experience a few things about what goes on in life in recruit training. At the booster session they get examples of things to come back and talk about in the larger group when they've actually been able to apply the principles they've been taught in BattleSMART.
View Guy André Profile
BQ (QC)
Good afternoon, Mr. Cohn. Welcome to the committee. You are not here with us, but I am pleased to be able to talk to you.
You have statistics on suicide rates among veterans who fought in the Vietnam War. You established a rate of 7%. We in the committee have a hard time establishing the suicide rate among veterans because it's difficult to reach those people once they leave the army and resume their civilian lives. How did you succeed in establishing statistical data on all veterans while taking into consideration the fact that those people leave the armed forces and become civilians again?
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 15:55
We have the same difficulty as you have in terms of establishing rates of suicide in our veteran community. Our Department of Veterans' Affairs cannot actually say what the rate of suicide is in the veteran community, and this is a major problem.
I mentioned that last weekend there was a newspaper article about suicide. They were trying to work out what the rate of suicide was in the veteran community, and they had to decide. The reporter said that veterans' affairs could not actually give them a figure, so that's a problem.
Every time there's a suicide in our serving defence force population, we report on it. We do a post-event review and look at the factors that might have contributed to the person's suicide. There's normally a commission of inquiry, which looks very closely at the factors that may have contributed to the person's suicide. If there are any issues that need to be explored, then the commission of inquiry looks deeply into those factors, but we can really only report on the suicides within our currently serving population.
As I mentioned, at the moment we're running at about six or seven suicides a year. Our ADF population is not large; it's about 70,000, from memory, and if you look at our rates of suicide in our defence force compared with the Australian general population, we're running at about 60% of the general population if you match them for demographics, age, and gender. If you look at the people in our defence force who have died by suicide and match them by age and gender to the Australian population, we're running at about 60% of the rate for the national population. We're not overly happy with that statistic. We would like to get it down even further.
Later this year we are going to be conducting a major evaluation of our suicide prevention program initiatives. We are going to get an external consultant to come in and conduct the evaluation of all of our suicide prevention program initiatives.
View Robert Vincent Profile
BQ (QC)
View Robert Vincent Profile
2011-02-28 15:59
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Colonel, I understand the statistical data you are presenting this afternoon. However, the truth is that, when a member of the Australian Armed Forces is released from the army, as you were saying earlier, they are not monitored by you unless they are taking medication. You keep track of only those who receive benefits. How can you establish a suicide rate of 7% when you are not keeping track of those who have left the armed forces? You have no information about those people, about where they live, where they currently are or about whether there have been suicides among them. So, you have a random figure of 7% that applies to those whom you are perhaps monitoring, but you have no data on those who are not in your system. In a way, the rate of 7% is skewed. It could be 7%, but it could also be 10%, 12% or 15%. Do you agree with me?
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 16:00
Yes, I totally agree with you, and I'm sure that ours is not the only country that has this problem. We need to work much more closely with our Department of Veterans' Affairs to monitor what's going on.
One of the initiatives that has started in the last couple of years is an initiative of the Australian Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, which is a centre of excellence in Australia. They're based down in Melbourne. They do a lot of research into post-traumatic mental health, so that's post-traumatic stress disorder and the like. They've come up with a project to look at how we can reach out and engage with ex-service members--members of our defence force who have left--and how we can help to reach out and engage with them.
That website I was telling you about is one initiative, but we are looking at the other ways there are for engaging with people who may not voluntarily come forward and seek help, so it's going to involve the community a lot as well.
These are the initiatives that we're working on. The government has given us money to advance these different projects. In 2007 I think the government committed about $1.6 million over several years to look at how we can do things better in engaging with veterans in the veteran community.
We acknowledge that this is a major problem, and at the moment there are deficiencies, but we are working on them.
View Colin Mayes Profile
CPC (BC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for attending our committee today through video conferencing and for helping us to work through this review of operational stress and suicide. One of the issues we've heard about in some of our discussions is that there have been statements that the frequency of suicide among young people isn't any different from what it is among those in the Canadian Forces or in the general population. I'd like to know if that is the same in Australia.
Then I'd like to know a little bit about profiling those who suffer from operational stress or who commit suicide. When you look at it, is it the degree of exposure to operational combat? Is it other factors? Have you profiled those people so that you can identify where there could be some problem areas?
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 16:03
Yes, we have done some research in looking at the factors that determine whether someone suicides. One of our officers who is working in our mental health directorate, Major Damien Hadfield, did a meta-analysis in looking at the factors that were common amongst our ADF members who died by suicide. He came up with a number of things that are very common in the general society in Australia as well.
There are factors such as a significant relationship breakup or a significant change in the person's life, such as a medical downgrade, so that they aren't able to do their jobs or might be looking at being discharged from the military as a result of their medical problem. It's something significant in that person's life, something that is out of their control and leads them down the path of depression. Then, of course, you get things like alcohol abuse, especially at the point where the member suicides; alcohol is a significant factor there. There are a lot of commonalities between the factors that predispose someone in our defence force for suiciding and for the general population.
Not a lot of our members who have suicided have actually had operational service; only about a third of our members who have suicided actually were deployed on operations. I'm just thinking of two of them who deployed and who subsequently suicided. Even though they were exposed to stressful things on their deployment, it wasn't actually those things that were major factors in their suicides. A relationship breakup or a medical downgrade were actually the major factors in leading them down the path of suicide.
I hope that answers your question.
View Colin Mayes Profile
CPC (BC)
I'm quite interested in the BattleSMART program. It's not only the education of the recruit or the forces personnel, but also some of those indicators that come up in discussing these issues.
Are there any operational policies that your forces are implementing when, for instance, a person is maybe identified to be at a little higher risk? Would they say, “Okay, let's not put them into an operational combat situation” and help them by easing them into that more dramatic part of their job?
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 16:07
If one of our members does have a mental health condition and they are receiving help for it, and if we actually know about their mental health condition in defence, then we can alert the chain of command so that the member may not go on operational deployment. It just depends on the seriousness of their condition. If they have been treated in the past for a mental health condition and they are now better, then the doctor makes a determination as to whether they are able to be deployed.
We are very sensitive about these sorts of things. We don't want to send a member on deployment if they've only just recently recovered from a mental health condition and deployment could cause them to have a relapse of their problem. We've very careful about these sorts of things.
Normally a member who does have a mental health condition is assessed by the doctor. Everyone who goes on deployment needs to have a pre-deployment medical, so if a member has a disclosed mental health condition, that would be discussed with the doctor. Unfortunately--and I'm not sure if this is the same in your military--there are a number of our members who, if they have a mental health condition, may not come forward to ADF mental health professionals, such as psychologists or doctors. They may go outside defence and seek help for their condition outside, so we won't have any knowledge of their mental health conditions. A member like that, who is being treated by someone outside defence, could potentially go on deployment, and we would have no visibility of their problem. Their mental health issue may flare up in the operational theatre, and then we would have to bring them back home to Australia. That is an issue for us.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you very much for sharing the information with us today.
You indicated earlier the issue that some of the individuals who have committed suicide may have been predisposed to do that. Are you referring to their being predisposed prior to entering the military? If that's the case, are they not put through some fairly extensive testing on their mental capacity or mental status when they apply, prior to participating in and joining the forces?
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 16:10
Absolutely.
In our defence force everyone who joins, either as an officer or as an enlistee, is put through psychological testing. We administer intelligence testing and we have an army general classification test. It's a bulk-administered IQ test. They also have a one-on-one interview with a psychologist.
However, the limitation with this method is that the applicant can choose to withhold information from the psychologist, so we can only make an assessment based on what the applicant tells us. If the applicant has made a prior suicide attempt or has had mental health problems in the past and has sought treatment and doesn't disclose that in the psychological assessment, that person can be enlisted, and we don't know anything about it.
Certainly, when we've gone through the psychological files of a number of the people who have suicided, we have seen that they have disclosed some things that at the time they enlisted may not have been considered big issues. With the benefit of hindsight, you can start putting things into place and see what they told to the recruiting psychologist. For example, it didn't seem like a major issue at the time that he'd experimented with cannabis a few years ago--it was just experimentation--or he came from a broken family, and that didn't seem like a major issue at the time as well, but when you start putting these things together with the benefit of hindsight after the person has suicided, you start seeing that maybe this person did have some predisposing factors.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
I think many of us thought as we were doing this study that suicide was a result of many of them coming back from deployment in places like Afghanistan and having witnessed the kinds of things that we know the men and women have observed over there. I found it interesting that many of the individuals who had committed suicide had not even been deployed.
Andrew Cohn
View Andrew Cohn Profile
Andrew Cohn
2011-02-28 16:12
Yes.
As I mentioned, the major factors for our members who have suicided tend to be things like relationship breakups or these predisposing factors that I was talking about. They could be exacerbated by the conditions of service. A number of members who have suicided had been medically downgraded and been put into rehabilitation platoons. They'd been taken away from their units and put in rehab and of course had been in there for quite a while trying to recover from their medical condition. Things like that can really start to tip people over the edge, especially if they have these predisposing things that I was talking about—for example, difficulty in forming friendships easily, or low self-esteem issues. It's only when you start doing a post-event review and start looking at the nitty-gritty of what these people were dealing with in their lives and what they were dealing with before they joined the defence force that you start piecing things together.
What we find is that our defence force is a microcosm of our society. In our Australian society, it seems that 15- to 25-year-olds are that high risk group for suicide, and a lot of our young soldiers are in that age group. They're dealing with the same sort of societal issues as people outside defence.
View Greg Kerr Profile
CPC (NS)
View Greg Kerr Profile
2011-02-28 16:14
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, Colonel Cohn, for joining us. We very much appreciate your input today.
We do hear of some similar challenges that we face. Regardless of where our armed forces are, there are some similar challenges.
I was interested in looking at combat versus non-combat. You've answered that aspect to an extent with the last question, so I'm not going to pursue that at the moment, except to ask you if you use peer support mechanisms, in the sense that you have those who have either been through the stress or have family members who have been through it. Do you make them available for your soldiers, particularly in your decompression terms as they come home? Do you use the peer support mechanism?
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