PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — The immediate family of a former Canadian soldier who killed three members of his family and himself received no support from Veterans Affairs after he returned home to Nova Scotia in 2016, the man's sister told an inquiry Wednesday.
The inquiry has heard that former infantryman Lionel Desmond was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Afghanistan in 2007 and was discharged from the Armed Forces in June 2015.
Desmond's younger sister, Chantel, told the inquiry that her brother was admitted to a residential treatment centre in Montreal in May 2016, which was arranged by Veterans Affairs. Unfortunately, he left for his home in Nova Scotia halfway through a six-month treatment program, she said.
When asked if the military or Veterans Affairs provided any support to family members, Chantel Desmond said that didn't happen.
"If we received any supports, they would be here today," she said, referring to her 52-year-old mother, Brenda, her brother, his 31-year-old wife, Shanna, and their 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah. "We received none."
She said she initially noticed a huge improvement in her brother's condition when he arrived in Nova Scotia in August 2016. But she said his mental state deteriorated over the next four months. She noticed he was becoming more distant, had stopped shaving and was wearing more camouflage clothing than before.
"He was getting worse," she said. "There was no therapeutic things happening for him."
Chantel Desmond said the provincial fatality inquiry should recommend that Veterans Affairs provide more help to the families of military members who are medically discharged.
"As soon as a family member (in the military) gets a diagnosis, there should be a meeting to explain what is going on," she said from a so-called vulnerable witness room, where she answered questions but was shielded from view.
"(They should) develop a tool kit and set dates where you can meet and discuss things. From a medical standpoint, you need that. The family has to deal with it. They need to know how to do that."
Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard testimony from Albert (Junior) MacLellan, a retired warrant officer who was called in to help the grieving families immediately after the killings.
MacLellan, a relative of the Desmond family, told the inquiry he couldn't understand why it was so difficult for the Afghanistan war veteran to get his military medical records after he was discharged.
"It's not right," said MacLellan. "It should be given to the individual. They're all electronic now. All it should take is to zip a copy to a CD."
MacLellan, who served in the Canadian Forces for 31 years, testified that it took him 35 weeks to get his own medical records when he left the military, adding that it would have taken longer had he not had help from a friend inside the system.
The inquiry has heard that when Desmond was discharged and moved from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, provincial health-care providers did not have access to his medical records. As well, there was evidence suggesting this was a persistent problem for veterans.
The commissioner of the inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, has also noted testimony suggesting Lionel Desmond "fell through the cracks" while provincial and federal authorities appeared to be working in "silos" that kept them from talking to each other.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press