Lionel Desmond (front row, far right) was part of the 2nd battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown, and shown in this 2007 handout photo taken in Panjwai district in between patrol base Wilson and Masum Ghar in Afghanistan. An inquiry investigating why a mentally ill former soldier killed three family members and himself in 2017 is expected to hear today from doctors involved in the treatment Lionel Desmond while he was in the military. During the first phase of the provincial fatality inquiry, which started last year, the hearings focused on the involvement of police and provincial health and firearms officials. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Facebook-Trev Bungay MANDATORY CREDIT

Desmond inquiry: psychiatrist says stressors caused relapses for soldier with PTSD

Desmond inquiry: psychiatrist says stressors caused relapses for soldier with PTSD

PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — The psychiatrist who diagnosed Cpl. Lionel Desmond with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 told a fatality inquiry Tuesday that the soldier had great difficulty dealing with major life stressors, even after four years of treatment.

The inquiry is investigating why Desmond — a veteran of the war in Afghanistan — killed his wife, mother and 10-year-old daughter before killing himself in their rural Nova Scotia home in 2017.

Dr. Vinod Joshi, who works part-time at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, told the inquiry that Desmond was suffering from moderate to severe PTSD when the psychiatrist first assessed him.

Joshi, a civilian contractor with the Canadian Armed Forces, said the infantryman had been subjected to traumatic events during a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007.

“He was extremely distressed,” Joshi said.

The psychiatrist’s assessment, completed Sept. 28, 2011, noted that the young rifleman told him about having to carry body bags, witnessing the deadly impact of an airstrike and having flashbacks about seeing the remains of a man’s torso after an explosion.

Last week, a member of Desmond’s platoon in Afghanistan told the inquiry the group engaged in intense firefights with the Taliban on almost a daily basis. Orlando Trotter, a former corporal, said he knew of eight soldiers from their battalion who had committed suicide after serving in Afghanistan.

The inquiry has also heard that Desmond suffered three separate head injuries while serving in the military and was suspected of having a traumatic brain injury. Joshi, however, testified that in 2011, Desmond said he had never injured his head.

Joshi said Desmond’s symptoms included night sweats, avoidance of crowds, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, angry outbursts and thoughts of suicide. But the doctor said Desmond displayed no psychosis or any plans to actually kill himself or hurt others.

The assessment also noted that Desmond had not sought any mental-health treatment until almost four years after he left Afghanistan.

“Many (military) members try to manage their symptoms on their own,” Joshi testified, adding that Desmond’s symptoms were considered common among soldiers diagnosed with PTSD.

As well, Joshi confirmed Desmond was dealing with marital difficulties throughout his course of treatment, which ended when he was medically released from the military in 2015.

“He wanted to have a relationship with his wife,” Joshi said, noting that Shanna Desmond had at one point texted her husband to ask for a divorce. “He was worried she might leave him.”

That was the first time the inquiry heard evidence that the Desmonds had experienced long-running marital problems. “This undercurrent of marital difficulty was there throughout,” Joshi said.

Despite these challenges, Joshi said his patient seemed to respond well to his initial treatment, which included trauma-focused therapy and prescriptions for various drugs, including an antidepressant, a low-dosage antipsychotic drug and sleeping pills.

However, Joshi told the inquiry that Desmond’s progress fluctuated.

Again, the psychiatrist said that wasn’t unusual for soldiers with PTSD.

The military considered having Desmond return to regular duty in 2013, but Joshi said his patient experienced a significant relapse in the fall of that year. Desmond, who was Black, was apparently subjected to a racist commentwhile working with colleagues, he said.

Desmond continued with treatment, but Joshi came to the conclusion that life stressors would continue to lead to setbacks. “It appeared to be a long-term pattern,” Joshi said, adding that it was clear Desmond could not return to regular duty.

On April 16, 2015, Joshi included the following comments on a form that summarized his last meeting with Desmond:

“Normal anxiety about future job prospects, money, etc.,” the note said. “His wife has started working in … Halifax. He is not sure of her intentions about their relationship.”

Joshi told the inquiry that at the time it appeared Desmond was coping well, despite the big changes he was facing. “He was still managing,” Joshi said. “A lot of it was normal anxiety.”

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a rifle and later that day shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in their home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

In the months and years that followed, friends and relatives openly complained that after Desmond returned home to Nova Scotia in August 2016, his attempts to seek help for his mental illness led him nowhere.

Evidence from the inquiry confirmed that Desmond received no therapeutic treatment in the four months before the killings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

The Canadian Press

Desmond fatality inquiry

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

Red Deer Rebels forward Josh Tarzwell is hoping to pick up where he left off last season as the 2020-21 WHL season kicks off Friday in Red Deer against the Medicine Hat Tigers. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Rebels set to host Tigers in WHL season opener

24-game WHL Alberta only season kicks off night Friday at the Centrium

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano tries to help goaltender David Rittich stop a shot from Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson during first-period NHL action Thursday, February 25, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Most Read