News Details

Suicide of soldier assigned to secret unit raises new questions about help for troubled vets


Source: Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday 01 May, 2013

The suicide of an Afghan veteran working for a highly secretive unit is raising questions about the type of help soldiers are receiving from the Canadian Forces to deal with mental illness.

Master Corporal Charles Matiru, who killed himself in January, worked for Joint Task Force X, a secretive unit based in Kingston, Ont., whose members operated alone or in small groups in Afghanistan gathering intelligence.

Matiru had done four tours in Afghanistan and had been hospitalized once before in 2006 after he started hallucinating about the war.

Matiru’s family says the soldier didn’t receive the support he needed from the military to deal with his post traumatic stress disorder. There was a reluctance in the Canadian Forces to help the master corporal and when the military system did grant approval for treatment, there were delays in receiving that, the family says.

Matiru first sought help for alcohol abuse and paid for his own stay in 2012 at a clinic in British Columbia. He later had tried to get into a mental health clinic in Ottawa but was unsuccessful. His common law partner did, however, succeed in getting him into a mental health facility in Toronto to deal with his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as addiction.

“It didn’t seem like they (the military) were very cooperative in terms of having to facilitate it,” said Matiru’s brother David, who lives in Vancouver. “There were struggles the first time. There were struggles the second time where the military did get involved but there were hurdles.”

Charles Matiru joined the Canadian Forces in 2003 and within three years had completed two tours of Afghanistan, serving in the infantry. After the last tour he checked himself into a mental treatment facility after he started hallucinating about the war and that people were trying to attack him.

He later did two back-to-back tours of Afghanistan starting in 2009. Matiru was a “source handling officer” and would go into the field to gather intelligence from Afghan sources as part of military efforts to track down insurgents and prevent attacks on Canadian troops. He was assigned to the secretive Joint Task Force X which carries out such intelligence operations in support of Canadian Forces missions worldwide.

Once back in Canada after his last Afghan tour, Matiru turned to alcohol and had become depressed. In June 2012 he talked about suicide.

Matiru, 32, shot himself in Kingston in January. His story is outlined in the new issue of Legion magazine by writer Adam Day who got to know Matiru in 2009 while covering the Afghanistan war.

“Charles did not have to die — the system failed him,” the article concluded.

David Matiru said his brother didn’t want his close-knit family to know about the mental problems he was facing but they found out anyway, and in 2012 tried to help him deal with the PTSD. Dealing with much of the day-to-day aspects of the illness fell to Charles’ common-law partner, who will give birth to the couple’s baby in June.

Matiru said there has to be changes in how the military deals with such cases. In his brother’s case there were a number of red flags; the 2006 breakdown, the appeals for help and the discussion of suicide in 2012.

“They (Canadian Forces) know the sensitivity of what he does,” said Matiru. “There was a lot of shit that he saw and did. There are a lot of senior people who know the details. When someone breaks down like that, and they know what he’s been through, then they should try to expedite things.”

The provision of support also has to go beyond getting soldiers into two-month treatment programs for PTSD, he added. “There should be more of a hands-on approach in serious situations,” Matiru explained. “If a person doesn’t check in every two weeks, then there should be someone checking in on them. It needs to be more aggressive once it gets to a suicide situation.”

Matiru said his brother was able and willing to get treatment but there were delays in the military system in arranging that.

The Canadian Forces did not respond to a Citizen request for comment on Matiru’s case.

The Conservative government and senior military leadership have repeatedly stated that funding and support from soldiers dealing with mental illnesses is being provided. Veterans, their families and opposition MPs have countered that by saying not enough is being done.

Last year, the family of a soldier from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa kidnapped the man and took him to a mental health facility after becoming concerned about the military’s lack of treatment for the Afghan veteran.

The soldier had been released from the Ottawa Hospital’s General campus where he had been taken following his second suicide attempt. Military officers were told by doctors the soldier had to be under constant supervision but those orders were ignored and the family was concerned the man would once again attempt to take his own life.

Matiru is not the only human intelligence operator to be dealing with mental health issues. At least one other is dealing with PTSD, the Citizen has learned.

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