Brother says soldiers need to know they can find help for post-traumatic stress

TRURO, N.S. – The younger brother of a soldier whose death has raised questions about the Canadian military’s treatment of those with post-traumatic stress disorder says members of the military need to know help is available if they are suffering.

Speaking before Warrant Officer Michael McNeil’s funeral Thursday, Kevin McNeil said PTSD is a problem that is not going to stop, but the risks can be minimized.

“The most we can do is maybe slow it down,” McNeil said outside the armoury in Truro, N.S.

“As much money as government is going to pour into this, it’s not going to stop. What we can do is make more people aware, more families going through the same thing we are going through to talk to these soldiers, know their jobs aren’t in jeopardy and we’re here for them.”

McNeil’s death at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, northwest of Ottawa, is among four recent suicides in the military.

The Armed Forces acknowledges it will be dealing with an increased number of PTSD cases in the next decade as the stress of combat takes hold in those who have returned from the fighting in Afghanistan.

McNeil, 39, was a member 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the issue on Wednesday, saying everyone should encourage veterans in need to reach out to the systems that are there to help.

McNeil said he wants his brother remembered as a family man first and secondly as a hero to his country.

“He gave everything to his country,” he said. “He was a strong man and will be missed forever.”

McNeil’s coffin was carried into the armoury by an honour guard made up of McNeil’s comrades in the Royal Canadian Regiment, assisted by his brother Kevin and cousin Tim McNeil.

During the funeral service, Lt. Kendra Mellish, the widow of Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, a soldier killed in Afghanistan in September 2006, gave a reflection on her friend.

She said after her husband died, McNeil helped care for her children and would meet her when she came back from tours.

“Only seven short years ago, he was in this same position, paying homage to his friend (Frank),” she said.

She offered comfort to McNeil’s two daughters, one son and one stepson.

“Be proud of the hero he was,” she said.

McNeil worked on reconnaissance units during two tours of Afghanistan. He also completed tours of Bosnia and Croatia after joining the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1994.

Mellish urged other military personnel to seek help if they are suffering after military tours.

“I’d like to leave you with a last thought: I’m confident without a doubt that there is someone here who is suffering the way Michael was suffering. You are suffering in silence. There is no need to suffer in silence. There is help … Go get help.”