Valcartier cuts wait times for mental health help

The Valcartier military base has taken measures to cut wait times for some mental health services following recommendations from a coroner, CBC News has learned.

Last year, a coroner's report into Stéphane Legendre's death revealed that the 35-year-old soldier committed suicide a month after complaining about the wait to see a psychologist or psychiatrist was too long. He had been diagnosed with depression and killed himself after returning from his third tour in Afghanistan.

Maj. Valérie Lafortune, the base-appointed surgeon at CFB Valcartier said everyone knows the four-month wait is too long. She said administrators have looked for "reinforcements" and have managed to cut wait times to four weeks.

Lafortune said the base now offers a two-day training course on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to off-base psychologists.

"There's not a lot of experience … with the amount and severity of trauma that our guys experienced and sometimes, the psychologists were either afraid or didn't have the training," she said.

Legendre, 35, was diagnosed with depression and put on medication in October 2009, after his girlfriend left him and his father died.

He saw nurses and social workers who specialized in mental health but was never treated by a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

Camille Martel, Legendre's mother, said staff at the Valcartier Health Centre should have taken action earlier.

The centre classified Legendre as a "priority" case three weeks after he complained about the lack of help.

In 2011, the Department of National Defence said 20 members of the Canadian Forces died by suicide, up from 12 in 2010.

The Forces have increased mental health screening and awareness programs since 2009. Returning soldiers must attend post-deployment counseling with mental health staff.

Last September, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced $11.4 million in additional funding for mental health care professionals in the military.

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