Lionel Desmond’s hospital stay to be probed at fatality inquiry

A psychiatrist will face more questions this morning at a fatality inquiry about why he focused on Lionel Desmond’s demeanour and not his history of combat, mental illness and marital conflict in deciding the former veteran was healthy enough to leave hospital.

The day after his release on Jan. 2, 2017, the former Afghanistan war veteran drove to the Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., home where his wife, Shanna Desmond, had kicked him out days before. He fatally shot her, his daughter, Aaliyah, 10, and his mother, Brenda. Desmond then killed himself.

As other health-care workers, including nurses, are called to testify at the fatality inquiry today, Judge Warren Zimmer will look at whether they were trained to recognize the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the signs of domestic violence. 

Dr. Faisal Rahman, the psychiatrist who assessed Desmond at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, N.S., two days before the killings, told the judge Tuesday that he felt doctors would benefit from more training in spotting the warning signs of intimate partner violence.

Desmond had arrived at the hospital in mental distress. He spent one night there and was discharged the next day.

Desmond had already sought treatment for his mental illness.

Family members have described him as a man who “came home changed” from the Afghanistan war in August 2007, where he spent months in firefights with the Taliban. He told doctors about how he was often given the painful task of retrieving bodies, both those of his comrades and of civilians.

In 2011, a military doctor diagnosed him with PTSD and, later, major depressive disorder. He got treatment within the military in New Brunswick and later at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, which houses an in-patient clinic to offer veterans intensive therapy for PTSD.

But neither gave him long-term relief.

While Desmond sought treatment in Nova Scotia as a civilian, there are signs he faced barriers and that, without the medical records from the military, his doctors failed to understand the scope of his illness.

Cpl. Lionel Desmond came home ‘changed’ from Afghanistan in 2007, his family says. (Trev Bungay/Facebook/The Canadian Press)

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