A Canadian soldier who had a foot blown off in Afghanistan has died of an apparent suicide, raising questions about the distress faced by combat troops.
Private Frédéric Couture of the Royal 22nd Regiment died on Wednesday at his parents' home.
His left leg had been amputated below the knee after he stepped on a land mine in December. His mother felt that he wasn't acting the same after he was sent home, according to former army sergeant Georges Dumont.
Mr. Dumont is part of a veterans support group that sued Ottawa for failing to provide proper treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. Dumont said he had called Pte. Couture, offering help. Pte. Couture's mother, Linda Lagimonière, answered and told him that her son had changed but that he felt he didn't need counselling.
Mr. Dumont's contacts at CFB Valcartier told him that Pte. Couture committed suicide at his family home in Roxton Pond, 90 kilometres east of Montreal.
A friend of Pte. Couture who spoke to the TVA network, said the 22-year-old soldier shot himself even though he had said in recent days that he was fine and looked forward to returning to Valcartier.
Pte. Couture's mother had said “something wasn't working right” with her son, Mr. Dumont said. “It's possible he was in denial. You can't twist a guy's arm to make him admit he's ailing.”
Withdrawal and moodiness are warning signs, said a psychotherapist helping military post- traumatic stress disorder sufferers. “You feel like you're nobody and absolutely nobody understands what you went through,” said Rob Tyler, a retired army captain.
He said many are reluctant to seek treatment because they would be seen as weak and lazy. “There's this whole cult in the military about being tough,” he said.
In interviews earlier this year, just after he was discharged from hospital, Pte. Couture, sitting in a wheelchair, played down the impact of his injury. “That's part of the risk of my job,” he told the Journal de Montréal.
But he was more despondent when he was initially wounded. A correspondent with the Sunday Telegraph newspaper was embedded with Pte. Couture's unit as it conducted a foot patrol in December. The reporter described a loud detonation when Pte. Couture walked on a mine.
“I'm 21 and I've lost my foot,” the young man repeatedly said as another soldier applied a tourniquet. “What do you think I'm going to do?”
A news conference at CFB Valcartier was initially planned, then cancelled.
Defence spokeswoman Sarah Kavanagh said all efforts were being made to detect distress among combat veterans and give adequate support to those who require special treatment.
She added that Canadian Forces medical experts had been in contact with Pte. Couture and his family since his return from Afghanistan and were closely monitoring the soldier's progress.
The federal minister for the Quebec City area, Josée Verner, announced yesterday more than $1.4-million in additional funding for a local outpatient program to help soldiers and veterans deal with PTSD.
“We're all powerless when confronted by suicide,” Ms. Verner said.
With a report from Rhéal Séguin in Quebec City