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Governor General reaches out to hurting vets

Governor General reaches out to hurting vetsGovernor General David Johnston oversees a ceremony giving royal assent to government legislation in the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, December 12, 2013. Johnston is sending a special holiday message to the families of military personnel coping with a recent series of suicides.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA - Canada's commander-in-chief is calling for greater responsibility toward Canadian Forces members in a special holiday message to the families of military personnel coping with a recent series of suicides.

Governor General David Johnston says the recent deaths of Forces members are a reminder of the stresses faced by military personnel and the mental health challenges that can result.

"Recent tragic losses have reminded us of the stresses to which you are often exposed and of the subsequent mental health challenges that may result from military service," Johnston says in his Christmas Eve message to the Forces.

"Help is available, and together, we must demonstrate a greater sense of responsibility to our men and women in uniform, both during and after active service."

At least four apparent military suicides occurred earlier this month, a week apart in different parts of the country, reigniting the soul-searching debate around how Canada is treating its new generation of returning war veterans.

The Forces have already begun the 100-day countdown for a total withdrawal of all military personnel from Afghanistan. The non-combat training mission will close up shop by the end of spring, following the final withdrawal of combat troops in the summer of 2011.

The House of Commons defence committee was recently told that while the Harper government has invested millions into the military's mental health services, far less attention is being paid to helping the mentally and physically wounded transition to civilian life.

A September 2013 report obtained by The Canadian Press said that there were 25 confirmed suicides in 2011 and an additional 17 deaths in 2012.

The military's medical establishment is trying to determine what is triggering the deaths.

Johnston says his thoughts and prayers are with families and friends who have lost a loved one.

"The core military values of the Canadian Armed Forces — duty, loyalty, integrity and courage — are reflected in your indomitable spirit of determination and camaraderie," Johnston says in his Christmas Eve message.

"This professional ethos also means you may be called upon to serve under extremely hazardous conditions and circumstances."

Johnston says he is proud and grateful for the work of the Forces.

He cited the relief efforts during this year's severe flooding in Alberta and the recent typhoon relief mission to the Philippines.

"Our men and women in uniform show unwavering dedication to helping others and to upholding our democratic values."

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