The Fifth Estate Presents Broken Heroes

Friday, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT), on CBC-TV

Every Nov. 11 we mark Remembrance Day to honour the sacrifices made by those who serve their country in wartime. We remember, especially, the dead and those who carry the physical wounds of war. But, what of those with the invisible injuries, the crippling wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

In Broken Heroes, airing Friday, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT), on CBC-TV’s the fifth estate, Gillian Findlay introduces us to three Canadian soldiers, recently returned from Afghanistan: Jeff, Matt and Dave. All three speak candidly about the hell that now consumes their lives:  flashbacks hurtling them back to the danger of the war zone, grief for dead comrades, their ongoing battles with addiction, even suicide attempts.

PTSD is not a new phenomenon. In the First World War, it was called “shell shock”, never really understood, and never adequately dealt with. But, the urgency to find a treatment has never been greater. By the time Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan is over in 2011, 35,000 Canadian men and women will have served there. Using the military’s own arguably conservative estimate, as many as 2,000 of those could be coming home with PTSD.

What Canada’s military knows about PTSD comes largely from General Romeo Dallaire’s very public personal story. After witnessing the Rwandan genocide, Dallaire returned to Canada, consumed by what he had seen and what he felt he had not done. He tells Gillian Findlay that he attempted suicide four times. Now a Senator, Dallaire argues that military suicides should be recorded as any other casualty and criticizes Canada’s armed forces command for not doing enough to help.

Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynchuk, acknowledges that more could have been done in the past for soldiers suffering from PTSD and says that it is now one of his highest priorities. 

There’s no easy answer, but one thing is clear: Canada’s true casualty rate won’t be known until long after the fighting has stopped.

Executive producer of the fifth estate is Sally Reardon. CBC News Network rebroadcasts the fifth estate on Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET, Sundays, at 7 p.m. ET, and Tuesdays, at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

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