Veterans speaking up about PTSD

Veterans speaking up about PTSD

Veterans speaking up about PTSD

Steve Hartwig, Jason McKenzie and Scott McFarlane are travelling across Canada to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder in Armed Forces veterans. The three men served together in the former Yugoslavia in 1992-93.

“‘PTSD? Are those the crazy guys who go postal and kill everybody?’” That question is one reason Steve Hartwig is on the road. He’s travelling across Canada to educate people and get them talking about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

That ignorant remark was in reaction to Hartwig’s trailer, emblazoned with Into No Man’s Land: PTSD Awareness March.

“People use terms like ‘crazy’ and ‘insane’” in reference to people with PTSD, said Hartwig, who lives in Surrey, B.C. “In reality it’s not the case at all. We’re parents and soccer coaches and teachers. We have normal aspects of our lives like everyone else.”

Hartwig, Jason McKenzie and Scott McFarlane are on the road to Newfoundland. Hartwig is walking 32 kilometres a day, while McKenzie and McFarlane are taking turns behind the wheel.

The three men served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the early 1990s. On a 6 1/2-month tour of the former Yugoslavia, witness to ethnic cleansing and under constant threat of attack, all three developed PTSD.

“What was drilled into my mind on a daily basis was ‘never show a sign of weakness.’ So you have to soldier on,” said McKenzie, who joined the march Sunday as it stopped in his hometown of Regina Beach.

“Lots of times you’re forced out of the military if you come forward with PTSD.”

With no care – counselling, learning coping mechanisms, talking it out with other soldiers who’ve experienced PTSD – “the situation compounds because the individual is left to self-care their way through it,” said Hartwig.

“Then you come back to Canada and you’re rubberstamped and released back into the general population, saying, ‘You guys are good, have a nice day.’ ” For B.C. native McFarlane, the most traumatic event he faced was the one that had him shipped out by Medevac.

In February 1993, he caught on fire. He still has the vest he was wearing at the time.

“Steve saved my life … What Steve did was no different than a guy jumping on top of a grenade,” said McFarlane.

PTSD manifests in depression, anxiety and re-experiencing the traumatic event – “they smell the smells, they hear the sounds,” said Hartwig.

Sometimes it’s too much to deal with.

In 12 years in Afghanistan, 158 Canadian soldiers were killed in combat.

But in the past three years, 50 Canadian soldiers have committed suicide due to PTSD.

“If that trend continues, (200) soldiers will die by their own hand back at home … than soldiers died in combat. That’s the urgency of all this,” said McKenzie.

“It’s a different stigma attached to the suicides. … You don’t get driven down the Highway of Heroes with a flag bearing your coffin.”

With the proper care, the duration of PTSD can be shortened, said Hartwig. But it doesn’t often happen.

That’s another reason for this cross-Canada tour.

“We don’t have a voice with the people that are making the decisions and deciding the treatment,” said McKenzie.

A few months ago, he was at a low point and called Veterans Affairs for help.

At the time, several Afghanistan veterans had recently committed suicide. “I was hearing it on the news every day, this help was available,” said McKenzie. “I didn’t get a call back from Veterans Affairs for a week.”

When they called, they told him to go see his general practitioner. When McFarlane returned to Canada from his tour, “I was told I was an administrative burden,” he said.

The help that is available is inadequate, said Hartwig, as counsellors aren’t familiar with military situations or terminology.

“You’re explaining a C7 and you’re in a 113 and you’re moving here and they go, ‘Whoa, whoa, stop-stopstop, what’s a C7? What’s a 113?’ So I always got frustrated,” said Hartwig. “We are walking in no man’s land a lot of the time. We’re trying to figure out how to do this ourselves. When we ask for care, we’re told it’s there and we don’t get it, or we get halfway through it and the rug gets pulled from under our feet.”

Hartwig has heard from thousands of people so far, and his march is only two weeks in.

He invites people to share their stories by connecting in person or via Facebook. com/intonomansland.

The Into No Man’s Land tour aims to arrive at the Legislative Building around noon on Wednesday.

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Prime Minister Harper: Thank you for Julian Fantino

Prime Minister Harper: Thank you for Julian Fantino

Never in modern memory has a Cabinet minister by his own poor example brought so much attention to the profound cultural problems at Veterans Affairs Canada.

Published: Monday, 07/14/2014 12:00 am EDT
Last Updated: Monday, 07/14/2014 12:35 am EDT


Dear Prime Minister Harper, Gosh, the Veterans Affairs portfolio has been difficult hasn’t it? I don’t think you have received enough credit, however, for appointing Julian Fantino as the department’s minister. He has been a blessing in disguise to Canada’s disabled veterans and their families.

Canadians, particularly veterans, may be widely repulsed by the constant shenanigans of Fantino. I suspect that being the veteran and military champion you claim to be, you had a hidden plan to bring substantive change to that poorly-managed department. Our senior public servants and their policies are largely integrity, compassion, transparency, and innovation-challenged.  Those at Veterans Affairs (VAC) are arguably the worst of the lot.

Many believe you appointed the ex-cop because he would whip the department into shape while subduing those ungratefully vocal veterans who dared exercise the very rights for which they sacrificed in uniform. I am referring to those pesky fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the press.

Just as minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn noted following the department’s widespread breaches in my privacy in 2010, VAC, all alone in Charlottetown, needs cultural change. Rightly bringing the department back to Ottawa would be a rather large budget line. Firing all those questionably performing senior bureaucrats could face resistance in the public service.

I suspect you knew that such big change would require widespread public support. But most Canadians didn’t know or care about veterans. Disabled veterans were supposed to wither away quietly with meagre handouts. Meanwhile, society benefits from veterans’ sacrifice without society sacrificing much in return to care for them. Fantino’s arrival helped change that.

Although the Prime Minister’s Office adroitly worked on the Senate scandal to bring much-needed attention to Senate reform, appointing Fantino was your magnum opus.

He offended aging veterans who travelled a thousand miles to meet with him in Ottawa during one of Canada’s coldest winters on record. And rather than apologize for standing them up, Fantino accused the veterans of being “duped” by the public service union doing the job the minister should have been doing, i.e., protecting services for veterans.

During the altercation, which left one veteran in tears, Fantino declared he was late because he was at a Cabinet meeting to “champion some issues on behalf of veterans.”

Surely, those veterans suffering psychological injuries have been the hardest hit and the least cared-for in the tangle of VAC bureaucracy. The budget released two weeks later had nothing for living veterans such as those he offended. The late Jim Flaherty told Lisa LaFlamme on budget night, “I haven’t been asked for money for post-traumatic stress disorder, specifically.”

Instead, Fantino has been busy signing all manner of letters to the editor in which he  makes fascinatingly, spurious claims. In the Huffington Post Canada, Fantino wrote, “The disability award forms only a small percentage of the total financial benefits available to injured veteran” under the New Veterans Charter (NVC). In 2013, more than three times more or $419-million was given to veterans as a lump sum disability award than the $124.7-million paid out by all the other “financial benefits” of the NVC combined.

During Parliamentary testimony, Fantino alleged veterans could receive the impossible amount of $10,000 per month in financial benefits from VAC under the NVC. The minister and his department have repeatedly failed to corroborate this assertion. It was a masterful stroke to have Fantino accuse veterans of misinformation when Fantino and his senior bureaucrats are the greatest purveyors of misleading half-truths.

It was a brilliant plan to have Fantino, his three political staffers, deputy minister Mary Chaput and assistant deputy minister Walter Semianiw all run away on national news from the spouse of a veteran, Jenny Migneault. She was clearly not a threat or a union ‘dupe’. But Canadians needed to see that if Fantino has little respect for veterans, he and senior bureaucrats have little more than disdain for veteran spouses.

What veterans don’t understand about your Machiavellian plan is why the senior VAC bureaucracy, which needs deep cultural change, is allowed to run rampant. In spite of multiple executive positions designated for cutbacks, VAC reportedly has yet to make those individuals ‘redundant’. Meanwhile, overworked frontline positions were quickly cut. Furthermore, Chaput continues to rake in her annual bonus while she has increased her staff by 500 per cent ostensibly to generate much of the department’s “misinformation.”

Whereas Fantino can’t quite match the buffoonery of Rob Ford, he hit a home run when he compared Ford’s drug and alcohol addiction to sufferers of PTSD, like veterans from the war in Afghanistan.

I know there is much pressure to shuffle Fantino out of Cabinet this summer. I urge you to resist this. Fantino is the gift that keeps on giving to all Canadians.

Never in modern memory has a minister by his own poor example brought so much attention to the profound cultural problems at Veterans Affairs Canada. His antics will continue to highlight the indignity and humiliation to which far too many veterans and their families are subject to by Canada’s federal government. Then you will be able to bring about the extensive transformation needed at VAC.

Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, is a retired Air Force intelligence officer and a frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans’ issues.

The Hill Times

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I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing’: Bruyea

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I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing’: Bruyea

Former Air Force intelligence officer Sean Bruyea’s fight with Veterans Affairs Canada for veterans’ benefits and for his own reputation and privacy affected his health, his personal relationships, and his finances. But he’d do it again.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
Sean Bruyea suffered from fits of ‘suicidal ideation, physical and psychological breakdowns, as well as devastating shame’ and months of ‘darkness and despair’ during his fight with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Published: Monday, 06/30/2014 12:00 am EDT
Last Updated: Monday, 06/30/2014 10:33 am EDT

The Hill Times presents the second of an eight-part series called, “The Whistleblowers.”  We wanted to find out from some of the country’s best-known government whistleblowers if their actions have actually made a difference to government policy today and if, given the personal costs to their lives, would they do it again. 


Fifteen years ago, there were only two people advocating for Canada’s veterans: Sean Bruyea and Louise Richard, who called on the feds to improve a broken benefits system for injured and ill vets. Today, most people know something about how the federal government treats its war veterans.

“During that time, the bulk of public criticisms of Veterans Affairs in the media were prompted by press conferences held by me and Louise Richard, who I call the mother of modern veteran advocacy,” Mr. Bruyea told The Hill Times recently. “We knew the system was giving disabled veterans and their families a raw deal—bureaucratic run-arounds, mountains of paperwork, endless delays on treatment and benefit decisions, unjust decisions and inadequate programs to assist veterans and their families. The results amongst a shamed and cowering veterans’ community were broken marriages, suffering children, destroyed military men and women and, of course, even suicide. I knew the system had to change.”

Mr. Bruyea, 49, who grew up in southern Ontario and Montreal and graduated from the Royal Military College in 1986, is a former intelligence offer with the Canadian military. He served for 14 years in the Air Force, and was the senior intelligence officer for the Canadian Air Group of CF-18 fighter-bomber jets stationed in Doha, Qatar, in the first Gulf War, from 1990-1991. He was responsible for seeking and providing intelligence for all possible threats, including local terrorist and missile attacks. He was sent home early because of physical and psychological injuries incurred during that time and was medically released from the military in 1996 at the rank of captain. Today, he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and works at the Canadians for Accountability in Ottawa.

His experience forced him to become one of the country’s best-known advocates for veterans and a whistleblower on Veterans Affairs Canada.

In April 2005, the federal Liberal government introduced a New Veterans Charter that changed the benefits system and legislated the creation of a Veterans Ombudsman, something that Mr. Bruyea had called for over the six previous years. Mr. Bruyea said the opposition Conservatives gave him a copy of the new bill and asked for his input. When he read it, he said he was “sickened”  by it because it replaced lifelong pensions for veterans with much smaller lump sum payments.

“I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing. I had to speak out in the hopes of saving lives and diminishing suffering,” he said, noting that as an intelligence officer with six years of university education, he struggled to keep his head above water in the bureaucratic culture of Veterans Affairs Canada.

“The program was written in the most prejudicial manner towards veterans, removing any social contract which existed in 90 years of previous veterans’ legislation,” Mr. Bruyea said. “As a military intelligence officer, I was trained to study, analyse and anticipate the threat before it could harm my fellow military members. I knew enough about this new legislation, known as the New Veterans Charter, to determine it was a threat to the well-being and stability of disabled veterans and their families. I could see that it would not deliver what it promised, especially in the hands of a Veterans Affairs senior bureaucracy which has long proven itself to care more for pleasing  Treasury Board than saving lives. I knew that this legislation, in the hands of this insensitive department, would harm veterans and their families.”

Mr. Bruyea was receiving a lifelong disability pension and the new legislation would not affect him, but he said he felt the need to stand up against  Veterans Affairs Canada. He said he could not remain silent because he felt the changes would be “callously administered” by a department focused on saving money rather than caring for disabled vets who served their country.

“I felt a cold sweat thinking about how most veterans with far less education than me would drown in such a convoluted system to receive help,” he said. “I decided to advocate for change to help other military veterans and their families.”

On May 10, 2005, Mr. Bruyea held a press conference attacking the legislation, which he said repackaged existing programs, featured unrealistic deadlines for widows and disabled veterans, and erased lifelong monthly disability pensions for injured military instituted at the end of World War I.

“Instead, military members, in the middle of a war in Afghanistan, had these lifelong pensions replaced with one-time lump sum payments which paid out only a fraction of what the lifelong pensions otherwise provided,” he said.

The bill was fast-tracked through the House and the Senate.

Mr. Bruyea soon helped uncover  Veterans Affairs Canada’s privacy breaches and vindictiveness against those who spoke up. Veterans Affairs Canada officials attempted to punish and discredit Mr. Bruyea by trying to cut off treatment for his PTSD and benefits while distributing briefing notes that falsely suggested he was mentally unstable.

“Government was furious. Senior bureaucrats who designed the legislation and manipulated both Parliament and a handful of representatives from veterans’ organizations felt I had no right to criticize what these bureaucrats referred to as ‘our programs.’  They felt I had no right to go to the Senate to testify against the legislation. Most of all, they wanted to stop me from having any influence on politicians or any other senior bureaucrats,” he said.

Veterans Affairs’ policy and client service sides shared his medical, financial, personal and marital information, distorting it and using it in briefing notes that “painted me as mentally unstable, greedy, impossible to please, and medically repugnant due to my multiple medical conditions,” he said.

More than 10 such notes, each containing four or more pages of this highly-personal information, were circulated to almost all  VAC senior bureaucrats, two sitting Cabinet ministers, and the  Veterans Affairs Parliamentary secretary, and were used in briefings to his MP and to the Prime Minister’s Office, he said.

Mr. Bruyea said the government wanted to cut off his benefits and fabricated an assessment at a Veterans Affairs hospital to say he no longer needed treatment, even though his own psychiatrist documented that if treatment ended, he would be suicidal. He said VAC did not question his treatment for the five years before that.

“Once the Conservatives were in government and after they received these briefing notes or received briefings on me, previous supporters of my efforts to improve the quality of life of veterans suddenly became outspoken critics of me or refused to meet with me to discuss improvements to Veterans Affairs,” he said, describing other reprisals he encountered once he started speaking out about how he was being treated.

The government generated more than 40,000 pages of internal documents and emails regarding Mr. Bruyea, which he received over three years through access to information and privacy requests at a personal cost of $30,000. Mr. Bruyea said that it was “daunting, terrifying and paralysing to realize the power of government over a citizen, especially when I was the enemy target of such power.”

Veterans Affairs Canada’s own departmental internal review in February 2011 determined that of the 614 bureaucrats who accessed his computer-based files, 54 officials “did not have a valid reason for access[ing]” those files. “These employees have been disciplined and department officials consider this matter has been successfully addressed and closed,” said a letter to Mr. Bruyea on the matter.

Mr. Bruyea, who suffers from half a dozen physical and psychological conditions resulting from the Gulf War, such as fibromyalgia, receives a disability pension which, he said, is “substantially less” than his military salary during the Gulf War.

More than 800 individuals in the bureaucracy had access to his personal medical records—a serious breach of Canadian privacy laws. Mr. Bruyea filed a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. In fall 2010, then-privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart reported on Mr. Bruyea’s case, ruling in his favour that his privacy rights were violated.

“What we found in this case was alarming,” Ms. Stoddart said in a statement at the time. “The veteran’s sensitive medical and personal information was shared—seemingly with no controls—among departmental officials who had no legitimate need to see it.  This personal information subsequently made its way into a ministerial briefing note about the veteran’s advocacy activities.  This was entirely inappropriate.”

She then recommended that VAC “take immediate steps to support an enhanced privacy policy framework with adequate protections and controls to regulate access to personal information within the department” and revise existing practices to ensure that personal information within the department is shared only on a “need-to-know” basis. “Personal information, including but not limited to sensitive medical information, should not be shared with programs that have no operational requirements for access to such information,” she said.

Ms. Stoddart also recommended that Veterans Affairs Canada provide training for employees on how to appropriately handle personal information and that consent for the transfer of personal information be gained when making hospital referrals.

As a result, the federal government made a public apology to Mr. Bruyea in October 2010.

“I was very troubled to learn that personal information concerning you was shared among public servants who had no need for this information in order to do their work,” then-Veterans Affairs minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said in his statement. “I recognize that this information sharing has caused you needless suffering and anxiety, and for that the government and I are truly sorry.”

Mr. Blackburn also acknowledged that other veterans may have been subjected to similar privacy breaches and extended his  “sincere regrets to anyone who may have gone through the same situation.” Additionally, he said that he would act on Ms. Stoddart’s recommendations and promised to increase penalties against those who broke the rules.

In January 2011, he announced changes to how VAC would service vets. This included reducing the standard turnaround time on decisions on rehabilitation eligibility to two weeks from four; reducing paperwork when applying for the Veterans Independence Program; hiring 20 extra case managers in high-demand areas across Canada, and improving response times at call centres so that callers can speak to VAC representatives within two minutes.

Mr. Blackburn also tabled legislation to make changes to the New Veterans Charter, which received royal assent on March 24, 2011. “This legislation represents a significant new chapter in the financial aid available to CF members and Veterans who are injured in the line of duty,” Mr. Blackburn said in a statement. “We are providing an additional $2-billion to ensure a better quality of life for ill and injured Veterans and their families.”

Mr. Bruyea’s fight with Veterans Affairs Canada affected his health, his personal relationships and his finances. He suffered from fits of “suicidal ideation, physical and psychological breakdowns as well as devastating shame” and months of “darkness and despair” during this time.

“I would call my wife almost every day at her work, sobbing, panicking, with yet another account of how Ottawa Veterans Affairs workers were attempting to take away my treatment, deny me benefits, question every aspect of what I received from VAC. I began to think about the only way out to save my wife…suicide. She would not have to pay for my care when VAC refused to care for me. She would have money and most of all, she could escape back to Mexico to avoid any effects of government persecution,” he said, noting at the time that his wife was making less annually than the cost of his medical treatment.

He was not working at the time, but was hoping to start again soon. “That hope became shattered with my downward spiral. I lost all my friends, my family, as I could not bear to deal with others. Survival at its bear minimum was all I could live each day. My wife remained strong but we did not know how long we would both last,” he told The Hill Times.

Despite all that, he said, he would do it again because it is too important not to.

“Veterans are indoctrinated to never question government. We had to believe that the government and the system were as near to perfection as possible. We die at government’s orders. How could we be willing to die for something flawed? Why would we waste our lives for the concept of government which uses military and veterans as pawns in policy, diplomacy or fiscal games? So veterans do not speak out for the most part. They beat themselves up inside when government neglects, mistreats or even belittles them. It is easier to believe we, the veterans, are at fault than we, the veterans, served in a government which made misguided or bad decisions,” he said.

“I knew that if I did not speak out, the new programs would begin to treat veterans most harmfully. Veterans would be unable to defend themselves, but instead believe that they deserved to be neglected. Others would merely give up and not receive help in such a difficult system. To me, it was fundamentally unjust that military members serving in Afghanistan, in a war zone, would have their lifelong benefits unilaterally terminated without any say in the matter. Throwing away almost a century of Canada’s profound commitment to veterans for cost savings shocked me to the point of disgust and nausea. … They gave me no option but to fight back in a most persistent, methodical and determined manner,” said Mr. Bruyea.

Of course, he would do it differently. He said today, he has many more tools and much more self-esteem to fight for what he believes is right and worth doing. He’s learned how to seek justice and is more comfortable collaborating with the media and advocacy groups and using Parliament, the courts and public opinion.

Mr. Bruyea said he was not successful in changing the benefits system for veterans, but he’s happy that vets are no longer afraid to speak out against their government. When he started, he and Louise Richard were the only advocates; organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion were publicly critical of them, he said.

“They loathed any public criticism of government, often siding with government against the veterans speaking out,” he said, whereas today the Royal Canadian Legion and other dozens of other organizations are more willing to be critical.

“The culture has changed for only one reason—veterans are increasingly less afraid of the department which holds near complete control over their financial and medical destiny. A solidarity of sorts has broken out as veterans see other veterans speaking out, making it easier to overcome ones fears and confront government, a once sacred and taboo target,” Mr. Bruyea said.

Part of that has to do with his case and  Veterans Affairs’ reluctance to seek reprisals against those speaking out in its wake. Because the government and  Veterans Affairs Canada sought “such horrific and comprehensive reprisals” against Mr. Bruyea, they forced him to become something they feared: “an advocate who set the stage for many more to advocate,” he said.

“Have veterans’ programs improved? Sadly, the opposite has occurred. Government has circled the wagons, and avoided making any substantial improvements to the New Veterans Charter in the eight years of its existence,” he said. “A culture of delay, deny and hope they die is alive and well at Veterans Affairs and Treasury Board.”

As for the whistleblowing culture, Mr. Bruyea said it needs major improvements.

For starters, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s office needs to be able to protect RCMP, Canadian Forces, CSIS and veterans from reprisals.

“Certainly we need a far more robust whistleblower regime,” he said, noting that it should be completely independent, should not employ current public servants and should forbid anyone hired from being employed in the public service for at least five years.

The current system has a senior bureaucrat investigating other senior bureaucrats, leading to a culture of “playing nice” that interferes with prosecutions by protecting bureaucrats over whistleblowers, he said.

“The refusal of the current commissioner to even name those who violate the law clearly points to an office soft on persecuting those who persecute whistleblowers,” he said.

No bureaucrats involved in his case were disciplined beyond one-day suspensions or written reprimands, he said.

In September 2010, Mr. Bruyea also sued the government for $400,000. The suit was settled out of court for an unknown amount. Today, Mr. Bruyea, a married father with one son, is continuing his advocacy as a writer, having published editorials in all of Canada’s major dailies. He also volunteers as an adviser to two veterans organizations and is a vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, a group which helps other whistleblowers. He is currently working on a master’s degree in public ethics at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.

“My thesis is on, you guessed it, Veterans Affairs and its treatment of modern day veterans,” he said. “I spend most of my time with my family healing the wounds of the war I fought overseas and the war I had to fight with my own government.”

The Hill Times

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From the Veterans Ombudsman

From the Veterans Ombudsman

The Hill Times – 25 May 2014 –

Providing for Veterans to Secure the Nation

Most of us recognize intuitively that there is a direct link between how a nation treats its Veterans and its ability to recruit and retain citizens for its military. It is not rocket science. If it is public knowledge that injured or ill Veterans’ needs are not being met, then why would anyone join the military or stay in it for any length of time? It is for this reason that we have to consider the provision of Veterans’ benefits as a matter of national security.

This should be a fundamental element of the defence of our nation, because a nation that cannot recruit or retain its citizens for military service will not necessarily be able to defend itself and remain independent. It is not as if this is a new concept. This was recognized as early as 1601 when the British government of Elizabeth I passed legislation to provide:

“…Relief and Maintenance to Soldiers and Mariners that have lost their Limbs and disabled their Bodies in the Defence  and Service of Her Majesty and the State…to the end therefore that they…may reap the Fruits of their good Deservings and others may be encouraged to perform like Endeavours…”[1]

Most of us understand the logic of this, but how well do we as a nation put that theory into practice?

There are those who will say we are doing a good job because unlike some nations we have created an entire federal government department devoted to supporting Veterans with a comprehensive suite of programs. But is meeting Veterans’ needs truly a government priority when substantive gaps in Veterans’ support programs are identified, yet not quickly corrected?

During the Afghanistan mission, there were many times when deficiencies in military equipment and training were identified and very quickly rectified because it was a defence priority for force protection and to accomplish the mission. Procurement processes for new helicopters, tanks, armoured vehicles and body armour were fast tracked to ensure that our troops were properly equipped and protected. Yet there are many identified gaps in Veterans’ support programs that have been known for years and still await corrective action.

Cost is often cited as a consideration. But let’s put spending on Veterans support programs in context. Veterans Affairs Canada’s budget represents approximately one percent of federal government expenditures and it has been that way for the past two decades. If nothing changes, expenditures will decline below one percent in the future. The Afghanistan mission was a national security priority for Canada and despite running a federal deficit, the funding was found to accomplish the mission. Why is not the same rationale applied to Veterans’ needs?

We know that there is a human cost to any mission, and everyone understood that Afghanistan was going to be a high intensity operation with casualties. One hundred and fifty-eight service personnel died and over 6,100 were injured or became ill as a direct result of their service.

So, when the federal government was allocating funding for the Afghanistan mission, did it consider fully the “life-cycle” cost of the mission, including the impact on Veterans’ care needs? Allocating the necessary funding to ensure proper rehabilitation and transition to civilian life of the mission’s potential casualties would have not only been a sound investment in Veterans, but one that will benefit Canada in the long run.

We knew from the outset that there was going to be a human cost for the mission because medical advancements in recent years have resulted in more lives being saved on the battlefield, so should we not have planned to provide additional resources in the future to meet the higher volume of complex needs? Should the care of Veterans post-mission not have been considered a national security priority from the earliest planning stage?

Almost every day we see stories in the media about how Veterans support programs and benefits are not meeting the needs of Veterans who served in Afghanistan and in other recent conflicts. Concerns are also being voiced often about the government’s current and future ability to address the volume and complexity of Veterans’ needs as a result of more than two decades of high intensity operations by the Canadian Armed Forces. I believe that the current high level of frustration within the Veterans’ community about benefits and services would be significantly reduced if proper assistance was provided to Veterans as a matter of national priority. Veterans have fought for their country; they should not have to fight for the support they need and deserve.

What can be done to make things better?

I believe it begins by supporting Veterans and dealing with their issues as an integral part of the national security continuum. Then, we need to actively demonstrate to current and future Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans that we are committed to putting our words into action by bringing about substantive change for Veterans and their families. In my Report on the New Veterans Charter, I detailed what needs to be done: better income security after age 65, action on loss of income during transition, improved access to allowances for the most seriously disabled, increased flexibility of vocational rehabilitation assistance and better support to families. In addition, we need to imbed the moral obligation of the people and the Government of Canada to provide support for Veterans in all pertinent legislation, including the New Veterans Charter.

If, on short notice, we can put a new helicopter into service in a distant land with all of the complexity that such action entails, surely we are capable of fixing Veterans’ issues.

As a nation we can afford to do this; as a nation we cannot afford not to.

Guy Parent

Veterans Ombudsman



The Hill Times – Le 25 mai 2014

S’occuper des vétérans, protéger le pays

Pour la plupart d’entre nous, le lien entre la façon dont un pays traite ses vétérans et sa capacité de recruter des militaires et de les maintenir en poste saute aux yeux. Pas besoin d’être la tête à Papineau pour comprendre cela. Si tout le monde sait qu’on ne répond pas aux besoins des vétérans blessés ou malades, qui alors voudrait s’enrôler dans l’armée ou même y rester, quelle que soit la durée de son service? Voilà pourquoi il faut considérer les avantages offerts aux vétérans comme une question de sécurité nationale.

Les avantages offerts aux vétérans doivent faire partie intégrante de la défense de notre pays, puisqu’une nation qui est incapable de recruter des citoyens en vue du service militaire et de les maintenir en poste ne sera pas nécessairement en mesure de se défendre et de demeurer indépendante. Ce concept ne date pas d’hier. En effet, il a été reconnu dès 1601, lorsque le gouvernement britannique d’Élisabeth 1re a adopté une loi prévoyant :

« […] une compensation et une pension pour les soldats et les marins qui ont perdu leurs membres et qui se sont blessés en défendant Sa Majesté et l’État […] jusqu’à la fin pour qu’ils […] puissent récolter les fruits de leurs bonnes actions et que d’autres soient encouragés à poser des gestes semblables […] »[1].

La plupart d’entre nous comprennent cette logique, mais, en tant que pays, dans quelle mesure la mettons‑nous en pratique?

Il y a des gens qui diront que nous faisons un bon travail, puisque, contrairement à d’autres pays, nous avons créé un ministère fédéral qui se consacre entièrement à soutenir les vétérans grâce à un éventail complet de programmes. Mais peut‑on vraiment dire que le gouvernement donne la priorité aux besoins des vétérans quand les lacunes importantes décelées dans les programmes de soutien offerts aux vétérans ne sont pas comblées rapidement?

Pendant la mission en Afghanistan, nombreuses sont les fois où on a déterminé des lacunes en matière d’équipement militaire et d’entraînement et rectifié le tir sur-le-champ puisque la protection des forces et la réalisation de la mission étaient des priorités pour la Défense. Les processus d’approvisionnement relatifs aux nouveaux hélicoptères, chars, véhicules blindés et gilets de protection balistique ont été accélérés pour veiller à ce que nos troupes soient équipées et protégées convenablement. Pourtant, il y a beaucoup de lacunes dans les programmes de soutien des vétérans qui sont connues depuis des années et qui attendent toujours d’être corrigées.

Le coût est souvent mentionné comme étant un facteur. Replaçons donc les dépenses liées aux programmes de soutien des vétérans dans leur contexte. Le budget d’Anciens Combattants Canada représente environ un pour cent des dépenses du gouvernement fédéral, et ce, depuis les deux dernières décennies. Si rien ne change, il tombera sous la barre de un pour cent à un moment donné. La mission en Afghanistan était une priorité en matière de sécurité nationale pour le Canada, et, malgré le déficit fédéral, on a trouvé des fonds pour accomplir la mission. Pourquoi ne pas appliquer la même logique aux besoins des vétérans?

Nous savons que toute mission comporte un coût humain, et tout le monde savait que la mission en Afghanistan serait de haute intensité et qu’il y aurait des pertes. Cent cinquante‑huit militaires sont morts et plus de 6 100 autres se sont blessés ou sont devenus malades en raison de leur service.

Quand le gouvernement fédéral a affecté des fonds à la mission en Afghanistan, a‑t‑il donc pris en compte le coût global du cycle de vie de la mission, y compris l’impact sur les besoins des vétérans en matière de soins? L’affectation des fonds requis pour la réadaptation et la transition à la vie civile des blessés éventuels de la mission aurait été non seulement un bon investissement dans les vétérans, mais aussi un investissement qui aurait profité au Canada à long terme.

Nous savions d’entrée de jeu que la mission comporterait un coût humain, puisque, grâce aux progrès de la médecine réalisés ces dernières années, on réussit à sauver plus de vies sur le champ de bataille. Aurions‑nous donc dû prévoir des ressources additionnelles pour répondre au volume supérieur de besoins complexes dans l’avenir? N’aurait‑il pas fallu qu’on considère les soins fournis aux vétérans après la mission comme une priorité en matière de sécurité nationale dès les premiers stades de la planification?

Nous entendons presque tous les jours dans les médias des reportages sur les façons dont les programmes de soutien et les avantages offerts aux vétérans ne répondent pas aux besoins des vétérans qui ont servi en Afghanistan ou dans d’autres conflits récents. En outre, on soulève souvent des préoccupations concernant la capacité actuelle et future du gouvernement à traiter le volume et la complexité des besoins des vétérans qui sont le résultat des opérations de haute intensité menées par les Forces armées canadiennes ces vingt dernières années. À mon avis, le niveau élevé de frustration ressenti actuellement par la communauté des vétérans au sujet des avantages et des services pourrait être considérablement réduit si un soutien adéquat était fourni aux vétérans à titre de priorité nationale. Les vétérans se sont battus pour leur pays; ils ne devraient pas à avoir à se battre pour obtenir le soutien dont ils ont besoin et qu’ils méritent.

Que peut‑on faire pour améliorer la situation?

Je pense qu’il faut commencer par voir le soutien des vétérans et le traitement de leurs problèmes comme faisant partie intégrante du continuum de la sécurité nationale. Ensuite, nous devons démontrer concrètement aux membres et aux vétérans actuels et futurs des Forces armées canadiennes que nous sommes résolus à joindre le geste à la parole en suscitant des changements importants pour les vétérans et leur famille. Dans mon rapport sur la Nouvelle Charte des anciens combattants, j’ai expliqué en détail ce qui doit être fait : améliorer la sécurité du revenu après l’âge de 65 ans, combler les pertes de revenus durant la transition à la vie civile, améliorer l’accès aux allocations offertes aux vétérans atteints des invalidités les plus graves, assouplir les services de réadaptation et d’assistance professionnelles et améliorer le soutien aux familles. De plus, nous devons inculquer à la population canadienne et au gouvernement du Canada l’obligation morale de prévoir le soutien des vétérans dans toutes les lois pertinentes, notamment la Nouvelle Charte des anciens combattants.

Si nous pouvons mettre un nouvel hélicoptère en service, à court préavis, dans un pays lointain malgré tous les détails complexes que cela entraîne, sûrement que nous sommes capables de régler les questions touchant les vétérans.

En tant que pays, nous pouvons nous permettre de le faire. En tant que pays, nous ne pouvons pas nous permettre de ne pas le faire.

Guy Parent

Ombudsman des vétérans

[1]Public Act, 43 Elizabeth I, chapitre 3, article 8 [traduction]. Parlement du Royaume‑Uni.

[1]Public Act, 43 Elizabeth I, c. 3, s. 8. Parliament of the United Kingdom.

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Minister appearance – Thursday, May 29th. 11:00 at 151 Sparks Street (2nd Floor)

Comrades all,

he Hon. Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Mary Chaput, Deputy Minister, are appearing before the Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday, May 29th.

he meeting starts at 11:00 at 151 Sparks Street (2nd Floor). We encourage you and all veterans, their families and friends to attend this important meeting.

the Minister and Deputy Minister will discuss the Veterans Affairs Budget for 2014-2015. Did you know that as the Department of Veterans Affairs is closing District Offices that are important to veterans are reducing services for veterans, the Department did not spend its entire budget for 2013? That’s right. Money that should have been spent on veterans was not spent last year.

The Notice of Meeting is attached to this message.

We recommend you arrive 15 minutes before the meeting, to allow a few moments to go through House of Commons Security and obtain a Visitor Pass. Please bring one photo identification with you.

If you are interested in having lunch between 12:00 and 13:00, please send me your name and phone number as soon as possible.

Please circulate this message and attachment amongst members of your organization, other veterans, their families and interested Canadians and encourage them to attend.

If you have any questions or require any assistance attending the meeting, please contact me at (613) 915-1516.

“Shoulder to Shoulder”

Jerry Kovacs
Canadian Veterans Advocacy

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Intravenously Administered Ketamine Shown to Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Intravenously Administered Ketamine Shown to Reduce Symptoms of Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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New York, NY (PRWEB) April 16, 2014

For the first time, evidence that a single dose of IV-administered ketamine was associated with the rapid reduction of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in patients with chronic PTSD was demonstrated in a proof-of-concept, randomized, double blind crossover study, undertaken by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. These findings, according to Mount Sinai researchers, could be the first step toward developing new interventions for PTSD.

The original investigation, titled “Efficacy of Intravenous Ketamine for Treatment of Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – A Randomized Clinical Trial,” was first published online in JAMA Psychiatry on April 16.

“These findings may lead to novel approaches in the treatment of chronic PTSD – a condition that affects a broad spectrum of adults in the United States and beyond, including victims of sexual assault, war veterans, those who have witnessed catastrophic events such as the September 11 terror attacks, and others,” said Adriana Feder, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the lead author of the study. “However, this should be viewed as a proof of concept study. Additionally, longer term clinical trials with ketamine will be required to determine if ketamine will be a clinically useful treatment for PTSD.”

Previously, few pharmacotherapies, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors — both of which are associated with significant levels of nonresponse and persistent residual symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder – have been shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic PTSD. However, these treatments were not shown to have the same rapid effects on symptoms of PTSD as IV-administered ketamine, which emerged as an effective, quick-acting intervention for patients with treatment-resistant depression when administered at sub-anesthetic doses (0.5 mg / kg).

Ketamine is used for anesthesia at doses of 2 mg/kg or higher, and as an analgesic (painkiller) at subanesthetic doses. It is considered particularly safe because, unlike other anesthetics, ketamine reliably preserves breathing reflexes. According to Mount Sinai’s researchers, there have been no randomized clinical trials examining the effects of ketamine in patients with chronic PTSD; the few previous studies that have examined the effects of ketamine in trauma-exposed individuals were either retrospective or non-randomized.

“In recent years, we and others have shown that ketamine could often counter the symptoms of depression in treatment-resistant cases. In the present study, we hypothesized that ketamine would be associated with significantly greater reduction in core PTSD symptom levels 24 hours after a single IV infusion, and that it would also improve co-morbid depressive symptoms in patients diagnosed with PTSD,” said Dennis Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, President for Academic Affairs, Mount Sinai Health System, and principal investigator. “This study has borne out that hypothesis, and we hope the results soon will be replicated and extended by other researchers.”

Study Methodology
Patients with chronic PTSD were enrolled in this study at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai between May, 2012 and December 2012. Eligible participants were between 18 and 55 years of age; had a primary diagnosis of PTSD; and a score of at least 50 on the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). Study participants were free of concomitant psychotropic medications for two weeks prior to randomization and for the duration of the study.

For each procedure day, patients were assigned to receive a single IV infusion of ketamine hydrochloride or midazolam administered over 40 minutes. The order of infusions was randomly assigned, and administrations were made two weeks apart. Midazolam was chosen as the active placebo because its pharmacokinetic parameters and nonspecific behavioral effects are similar to those of ketamine.

Administered ratings were administered at pre-infusion baseline and 24 hours (day 1) after infusion (before patients were discharged from the hospital), 48 hours (day 2) after infusion, 72 hours (day 3) after infusion, and seven days day 7) after infusion.

The primary outcome was PTSD symptom severity 24 hours after infusion, assessed with the Impact of Event Scale–Revised (IES–R). Total IES-R scores 24 hours after infusion were significantly improved with ketamine compared with midazolam (mean difference, 12.7 [95% CI, 2.5-22.8]; P = .02). There was no evidence of any period or residual effects for the crossover. Additionally, symptoms in seven patients randomly assigned to ketamine first remained significantly reduced two weeks after infusion, compared with only one patient randomly assigned to midazolam first.

Dr. Charney and Dr. Feder of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai have been named as inventors on a patent application covering the use of ketamine for the treatment of PTSD. Dr. Charney, Dr. Feder and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai could potentially benefit from the results of this study.

This study was funded by grant W81XWH-08-1-0602 from the Department of the Army – US Navy Medical Research Acquisition Activity; Dr. Charney is the Principal Investigator. This study’s identifier is NCT00749203.

About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven member hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services–from community?based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.

The System includes approximately 6,600 primary and specialty care physicians, 12?minority?owned free?standing ambulatory surgery centers, over 45 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, as well as 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit, or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Thursday, April 16, 2014
Contact: Sid Dinsay
Mount Sinai Press Office
(212) 241?9200

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The Social Contract – Crisis in the Military

The Social Contract

Crisis in the Military

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Closed Veterans Affairs offices tiny part of budget

Closed Veterans Affairs offices tiny part of budget

Published April 14, 2014 – 8:40pm
Last Updated April 15, 2014 – 12:27am

Eight regional offices that were closed by Veterans Affairs cost just one-seventh of one per cent of the department’s budget.

The combined operating budget for the eight offices across the country was $5.3 million in 2012-13, according to information tabled in the House of Commons.

The department spent $3.5billion in that fiscal year. On top of that, $173 million of funds authorized by Parliament went unspent.

In the past year, Ottawa has inked more contracts for media monitoring services — almost $11 million — than the combined budget for the regional offices.

The cost of the regional offices was also less than the $18.6 million spent the same year on outside companies for business services. This included $10 million to one company, WCG International Consultants of Victoria.

Veterans Affairs spent almost half the cost of the regional offices — $2.3 million — in one advertising buy March 25.

The federal government also spent $3 million over five years to develop mobile phone apps, according to a Global News story.

The regional offices were closed in February. The most expensive was the Sydney office, with an operating budget of just over $1 million.

It’s not clear how much of that cost the government will recoup from the closure as some employees were moved to other offices.

“In the end, I don’t think they’ve saved much money at all,” said NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer.

The closures led to protests in Cape Breton and other areas, and became a front-burner issue in the House of Commons.

The federal government says that by moving services online and having them handled by Service Canada it saves money while also making services more convenient and widespread.

Activists and opposition MPs argued veterans will have a harder time receiving services.

Stoffer, the MP for Sackville-Eastern Shore, said his office has received 47 complaints from veterans since the closures. He said he received one positive review from someone who asked Service Canada for the toll-free number for Veterans Affairs.

Stoffer said he’s amazed the government went through a major political headache for such a small amount of money.

“I thought the figure would be much higher,” he said of the office budgets.

The office of Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino could not be reached for comment Monday.

Other than Sydney, the regional offices closed this year were in Charlottetown, Corner Brook, Thunder Bay, Saskatoon, Kelowna, B.C., Windsor, Ont., and Brandon, Man. The least expensive office was in Brandon, with an operating budget of $157,000.

An office in Prince George, B.C., was closed late last year. The government said it could not provide figures on that office because they are within the department’s larger budget for the British Columbia interior.

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Veterans bang heads against Parliamentary, bureaucratic wall

Veterans bang heads against Parliamentary, bureaucratic wall

The government is clearly not holding up its end of the bargain on veterans.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Veterans pictured last year in Ottawa on Remembrance Day. Sean Bruyea says MPs have never debated or given serious independent and binding consideration of the dramatic changes that the NVC made to the relationship between Canada and those who were and are prepared to lay down their lives in her service.


Published: Monday, 04/14/2014- THE HILL TIMES

The hue and cry from veterans and their families has not dimmed but grown stronger since 2005 when Parliament passed the legislation we now know as the ‘New Veterans Charter’ or NVC. Will Parliament take up veterans’ torch and finally make bureaucracy work for veterans? As the unaddressed recommendations accumulate, will the NVC become increasingly unfit to provide adequate shelter for our veterans and their families in the coming years?

Last week, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs wrapped up hearings on the NVC. We must remember that elected Members of the House of Commons have never debated nor given serious independent and binding consideration of the dramatic changes that the NVC made to the relationship between Canada and those who were and are prepared to lay down their lives in her service.

In good faith, far too many accepted the shoddy construction of the NVC because government promised to keep the renovations going. Near stagnant ‘incrementalism,’ a dirty word in the first 50 years of veterans’ benefits in Canada, has become the sad new social contract between Canada and, our veterans and their families.

Veterans Affairs Canada made pretenses to the glory of Canada’s post World War II veterans’ benefits. The original aptly-named Veterans Charter provided a host of programs for all veterans, whether injured or not. The NVC is not a charter at all but a cynical repackaging of already existing programs with few limited additions.

It took four years before the Veterans Affairs Committee wrote its first report in 2010 with 18 recommendations. Four years later, we are at it yet again with witnesses fighting to implement many of the same recommendations such as boosting the income loss program to 100 per cent matching projected career earnings, not just a fraction of true inflation as is now the case.

Bureaucrats claim to have implemented 10 recommendations from the Parliamentary report, including “ VAC ensures that family members who take care of severely disabled Veterans are compensated appropriately.” VAC’s basis for this claim: the Forces have a “Canadian Armed Forces Attendant Care Benefit.” Perhaps being so far away in Charlottetown, VAC senior bureaucrats do not realize veterans are ineligible for CF benefits. Misleading justification is repeated in most of the 160 recommendations that VAC claims to have implemented.

Canadians go to war, fight, die, lose limbs, minds and families, all at Parliament’s orders, for our values, our nation. They sacrifice for all Canadians. The military does not do all of this for bureaucrats even though bureaucrats may think differently. Then, why is it that Parliament, through either inaction or inability, has failed to stand up to the bureaucracy?

There are greater problems with the NVC than just the empty and specious rhetoric coming from Charlottetown. I tabled 30 recommendations for this Parliamentary review in a report titled, “Severely Injured Veterans and Their Families: Improving Accessibility To Veterans Affairs Programs For A Better Transition.”

As both sides of the committee table observed during witness testimony, at Veterans Affairs Canada, availability of programs does not equate to accessibility. Why for instance should widows or spouses of incapacitated veterans be time-limited on any program?
In legislation which pre-dated the NVC, the Pension Act, all programs were payable effectively on date of application. The NVC income loss program is payable when “the minister determines that a rehabilitation plan or a vocational assistance plan should be developed.” Application for review of any decision must be made within 60 days of VAC’s decision. The Pension Act did not place time limits on review.

Such pettiness is endemic in the New Veterans Charter.

Government is quick to march out the hypothetical 24-year-old corporal from the veterans’ ombudsman report who is projected to receive $2-million from VAC over his lifetime. Ignoring that $340,000 must be repaid in taxes, when none of the Pension Act benefits are taxable, this corporal represents fewer than 77 individuals, or 0.1 per cent of Canadian Forces VAC clients.

The veterans’ ombudsman noted of all the recipients of the permanent incapacity allowance, only one receives the highest grade of $1,724.65 monthly. As for the highly controversial lump sum which now stands at $301,275.26, only 148, or 0.35 per cent of all lump sum recipients have been awarded this amount in eight years. Currently, only two per cent of the 42,000 lump sum recipients have any long term economic assistance.

Contrary to VAC’s claims, the NVC does not offer opportunity with security. Canada Pension Plan disability, once accused of being insensitive and lacking compassion now allows disabled recipients to earn up to $5,100 annually without reporting this to CPP. The VAC extended income loss program deducts 100 per cent of earnings. Troublingly, the most seriously ill veterans are also not supported to pursue education.

VAC derogatorily and deceptively claims veterans were focused on disability not ability under the pre-NVC system. However, the Pension Act guarantees, “no deduction shall be made from the pension of any member of the forces because the member undertook work or perfected themself in some form of industry.” The Pension Act offered much security for the veteran to explore opportunities. Sadly, the NVC incarcerates our most suffering veterans in a lifelong psychological and financial prison of frozen human potential.

Would it not be better to provide access to life-enriching education and opportunities to seek employment without penalty while these veterans in turn begin to pay more taxes, hence offsetting some of their disability costs? Does that not make better economic sense?

All veterans and their families especially the most seriously ill, fulfilled their obligation at government’s orders without delay, without complaint, without excuse. All they rightly expected was that government honour its end of the contract immediately, expeditiously and for as long as those veterans and their families live.

For our most seriously injured veterans and their families, miserly constructed and administered programs have soundly violated this quid pro quo. Government is clearly not holding up its end of the bargain.

This dire situation wherein even the most loyal and timid of veterans organizations speak out is a very loud alarm clock for our elected officials to stand up to the bureaucracy and stand up for our veterans once and for all.

Sean Bruyea, vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, is a retired Air Force intelligence officer and frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans’ issues. For Sean’s report and testimony visit
The Hill Times

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Canadian soldier suicides poorly tracked, veterans groups say

Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs do not not track suicides by retired soldiers

By Andre Mayer, CBC News Posted: Mar 24, 2014 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014 5:00 AM ET

The recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan have renewed public debate about how to deal with military suicides. But veterans advocates say that the data collected by the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada on how many active and retired army personnel have committed suicide is incomplete, and makes it difficult to help soldiers who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“If you don’t have all the data, then how are you able to determine the causes and address some of the trends?” says Bruce Poulin, communications manager for Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion in Ottawa.

Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) has confirmed that two soldiers died in the past week.

Corporal Alain Lacasse, 43, of Valcartier, Que., was found dead in his home on March 17. Police said it was a suicide.

Master Cpl. Tyson Washburn, 37, of Pembroke, Ont., was found dead on March 15. Officials aren’t releasing details about his death, but CBC News has learned Washburn appears to have taken his own life.

There has been a spate of soldier suicides in recent months, including three in the span of three days in November.

Three more soldiers died in January. On Jan. 3, Cpl. Adam Eckhardt, a native of Trenton, Ont. who was based with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at CFB Suffield in Alberta, was found dead.

On Jan. 8, Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez, a member of The Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment based in Kingston, Ont., who had fought in Afghanistan, was found dead.

On Jan. 16, Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin, a 22-year veteran who had been deployed to Haiti and Bosnia, died in Limoges, Ont, a small town east of Ottawa.

The deaths of Master Cpl. Washburn and Cpl. Lacasse bring the number of confirmed suicides of Canadian soldiers in 2014 to five.

The difficulty of getting accurate numbers

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has published figures on soldier suicides up to and including 2012. The numbers show there were 10 suicides in 2012, 21 in 2011 and 12 in 2010.

Poulin says the figures published by the CAF are incomplete, because they only look at men currently serving in the forces and do not include army reservists, those who have retired from the military, or women.

According to the CAF website, “the low number of suicides amongst female CAF members makes the statistical analysis of female rates unreliable.”

The CAF has not published numbers for 2013, but according to Nicole Meszaros, a senior public affairs officer for the Canadian Armed Forces, “in the calendar year 2013, the CAF lost nine members to suicide and another four members whose deaths are under investigation but remain to be officially confirmed as suicide.”

Of the nine confirmed suicides in 2013 cited by Meszaros, one was a woman and three were reservists. Those numbers do not include veterans no longer serving in the military.

A ‘disingenuous’ comparison

The published CAF figures show that over the period of 2005-2009, the suicide rate was 18 deaths per 100,000. This rate is comparable to that for males in the civilian population. According to Statistics Canada figures from 2009, the suicide rate for Canadian males was 17.3.

Poulin says that historically, the official suicide rate for serving soldiers is about 20 for every 100,000 but adds that it’s not a complete picture of what’s happening.

“By not counting women, reservists and those that leave the military, you’re still looking at 20,” says Poulin. “The question then becomes, OK, but is that an accurate reflection of PTSD and the situation that we are facing right now?”

A 2013 report published by the Department of National Defence found that suicide rates in the CAF have not increased over time, and after age standardization, were lower than those in the Canadian civilian population.

That comparison is “disingenuous,” says Michael Blais, CEO and director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

“These men and women are not like those in the [civilian] population,” says Blais. He points out that soldiers are recruited for their mental toughness, and that anything that might trigger a suicide was “not a pre-existing condition – it’s a wound.”

“To compare a wound that was sustained in a military environment to the [psychological difficulties of someone in the] civilian population, that doesn’t cut it,” he says.

‘Veterans Affairs has an obligation’

While he takes issue with the suicide figures presented by CAF, Blais says it’s equally concerning that there is no data on the number of veterans who commit suicide after leaving the military.

“We have people who are getting out [of service], and within a year, committing suicide,” says Blais. “So many times, you find out about a suicide literally months after it’s happened.”

The Canadian Armed Forces does not keep track of suicides by retired soldiers, and Blais says neither does Veterans Affairs. CBC made several interview requests to Veterans Affairs, but did not receive a comment.

Blais says that the lack of documentation of suicide among retired veterans hinders efforts to get a proper handle on the scope of PTSD.

“Veterans Affairs has an obligation – we can’t fix this unless we know what’s wrong,” he says.

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