Author Topic: Canadian Forces failed to prevent suicidal soldier's death, inquiry hears  (Read 1133 times)

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Canadian Forces failed to prevent suicidal soldier's death, inquiry hears

Chris Cobb, Postmedia News
Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

OTTAWA - Despite the experience of an increasing number of suicides among returning Afghanistan war veterans, the Canadian Forces failed to prevent the death of a suicidal army corporal who had attempted five times to kill himself, a military inquiry was told Tuesday.

In only the third case in its 13-year history, the Military Police Complaints Commission began an inquiry into the March 15, 2008 death of Cpl. Stuart Langridge, who had served in Bosnia and had been part of a high-risk reconnaissance unit in the mountains around Kabul in Afghanistan.

Langridge, who was allegedly left hanging and uncovered for four hours while Canadian Forces Base Edmonton's military police conducted their initial investigation, was buried on his 28th birthday.

According to Langridge's family, their son left a suicide note addressed to his family that military police kept from them for more than a year, and that included a request that he not have "any kind of fancy funeral . . . just family."

The Department of National Defence held a full military funeral for Langridge.

There have been three separate military police investigations into the corporal's death, all of which his family claims were biased and incompetent.

A subsequent military inquiry comprised a panel of one military engineer and two infantry lieutenants who, said family lawyer Michel Drapeau, were not qualified to rule on a medical case.

"Inexplicably, the military board of inquiry refused to acknowledge that Stuart was suffering from an acute form of PTSD," said Drapeau. "Instead it fixated on blaming Stuart's suicide on the divorce of his parents, and the subsequent estrangement of his father when Stuart was five years old."

Langridge's family had to use the Access to Information Act to get a copy of the panel's report, and still hasn't officially received one from the Defence Department.

The soldier's mother and stepfather, Sheila and Shaun Fynes, have launched more than 30 allegations against 13 military police officers.

The case is about a soldier's suicide and the treatment of his family after the death, his mother said outside the hearing.

The Victoria woman claims that the military brushed her and her husband aside and instead appointed Stuart's estranged common law wife as official next of kin.

"We have confidence that this is going to be a transparent hearing and result in some changes so that soldiers who are unwell will get the appropriate treatment in a timely manner," she said.

Defence Department officials have deliberately kept Stuart's immediate family at a distance, she added.

"But the more you push us away the closer we get," she said. "There is some accountability that needs to be brought to light here and it was easier for us to be left out of the equation to avoid some of that responsibility."

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Lawyer Drapeau told the inquiry that Langridge was "a quiet, loyal and caring soul."

"He was first and foremost a veteran - a soldier who served his country with distinction with frontline experience in Bosnia and Afghanistan," said Drapeau. "And this, you believe, has to count for something."

At the time of his death, Langridge was addicted to drugs and alcohol - an addiction the military said was the root cause of his problem, not a condition brought about by any trauma he experienced overseas.

"Like most of us," added Drapeau, "he was not perfect and he had some scars and warts. The year before his death Stuart had an alcohol and drug problem which, we believe, he acquired to ease his depression.

"He would not talk about his experiences in Kabul," said the lawyer. "He began to suffer from nightmares, night terrors and night sweats . . . he seemed to be isolating himself, to shun relationships and to seek only the company of his former Afghanistan crew mates."

Ten days before his death, Langridge had left hospital after 30 days' psychiatric treatment and was sent back to CFB Edmonton.

Two days later, homeless after a fight with his common law wife and living in his truck, Langridge asked base surgeon Maj. Richard Hannah to be returned to Alberta Hospital, but the psychiatric unit was full.

Instead, he was given a temporary bed at his unit, Lord Strathcona Horse (Royal Canadians) and was placed under what Drapeau characterized as a "suicide watch."

When he hanged himself, Langridge had traces of cocaine in his system.

Hannah, the only witness Tuesday, insisted that Langridge was not under a suicide watch with the Strathconas, and that the military had done everything possible to help Langridge and had offered him the best medical care.

The corporal's fundamental problem was drug and alcohol addiction, said Hannah.

"Cocaine is a terrible drug and causes terrible harm," he said. "Cocaine can cause people to commit suicide."

Three separate psychiatric reports indicated no evidence of PTSD, said Hanna, adding that it was "a stretch" to say PTSD caused Langridge to kill himself.

"I busted my butt to take care of Cpl. Langridge," he added. "He was a troubled young man who had many problems."

After Langridge died, Hannah said he re-visited the intervention the armed force's medical system provided.

"I wanted to know whether we had dropped the ball," said Hannah. "If I made a mistake I wanted to know. I didn't want Cpl. Langridge to die. That was the last thing I wanted to happen. If I had made a mistake, I would have put my hands up and admitted it."

The hearing continues next week.


© The Ottawa Citizen 2012