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Lionel Desmond was asked to get his own medical records from feds, inquiry told

Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond. - Facebook
Shanna and Lionel Desmond hold their daughter Aaliyah in a photo from the Facebook page of Shanna Desmond. - Facebook

When Lionel Desmond moved home to Upper Big Tracadie in 2016, he brought a lot of baggage.

The seven months he'd spent on the front lines of the Afghan War a decade earlier hadn't left him.

Meanwhile, financial stress and marital difficulties had piled on.

Three suspected head injuries during his time in the military had left him with difficulty concentrating and following through on complex tasks.

Moving home from Oromocto, N.B., Desmond also left a health-care system with experience handling the complex needs of combat veterans.

He came home to one in northern Nova Scotia without that experience.

On Monday, the psychiatrist who diagnosed Desmond with major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic brain disorder, borderline delusions regarding his wife and possible attention deficit disorder a month before he killed his wife, daughter and mother testified at the Desmond fatality inquiry.

“I felt bad for him. He seemed to have been let go from what he was getting (from the military in New Brunswick),” said Dr. Ian Slater, a psychiatrist with an outpatients practice at St. Martha's Regional Hospital in Antigonish.

“He was having a hard time and his wife was having a hard time. I thought he put his life on the line for people and he deserved to get the full level of service that the military would provide.”

But many of those services weren't available in Antigonish.

There were therapists trained and experienced in working with patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But that experience was mainly limited to working with women who had experienced sexual assault and first responders such as paramedics and RCMP officers.

Desmond was seeing one of those therapists.

Slater thought Desmond would be better served by a therapist accustomed to working with veterans who had experienced front-line service.

He also thought he needed a neurocognitive assessment to gauge the impairment caused by previous head injuries.

“We don't have those in rural Nova Scotia,” said Slater.

“The last time (I sought one for a patient) I tried for five years but was told, ‘We're not doing them outside of Capital Health.' A private one is around $2,000. People like him don't have that money.”

During cross-examination, a lawyer representing the federal government pointed out that Desmond had a Veterans Affairs case worker who continued to guide the former soldier and arrange treatment for him after he moved home to Nova Scotia in early 2016 after three months at an inpatient mental health unit in Quebec.

Slater, who saw Desmond twice, did not know about the case worker.

Nor did he know how to get access to Desmond's military medical records. He had asked Desmond to get those records himself during their second meeting.

He testified that due to Desmond's impairment from the head injuries, navigating tasks such as filling out forms or maintaining a conversation while distracting noises were present would be difficult.

"After this incident I understand the then-provincial director of health services talked to Veterans Affairs and was told the best way to (get a veteran's medical records) was to ask the veteran to go get the records themselves," said Slater.

The federal government lawyer countered by telling Slater that Veterans Affairs is not a medical service provider — the services are carried out by the provinces — and so it does not actually keep all the medical records accumulated by veterans after they leave active service.

Desmond's medical records would have been spread between institutions in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec.

“I would like to have an easy way to access (Occupational Stress Injury) services, Veterans Affairs (medical) records and military (medical) records,” testified Slater.

“It could be like getting hospital records, which is fairly straightforward.”

On the morning of Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond made an appointment to have another visit with Slater.

Later that day he bought a rifle legally in Antigonish and killed his wife Shanna, daughter Aaliyah and mother Brenda.


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