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Healing Our Military Veterans: First Steps

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Healing Our Military Veterans: First Steps

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:45

There’s a dire need to directly involve Canadian society to help our Canadian Armed Forces veterans move closer to a productive life and away from the darkness of suicide.

Photograph by Jake Wright The Hill Times
Afghanistan veteran Kevin Berry, right, pictured Dec. 10 on the Hill with Conservative MP Ben Lobb, left, told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that the New Veterans’ Charter’s lump-sum payment treats Canada’s war-wounded like ‘mercenaries.’
By SEAN BRUYEA, AND ALLAN CUTLER | Published: Tuesday, 12/17/2013 3:40 pm EST
There’s a dire need to directly involve Canadian society to help our Canadian Armed Forces veterans move closer to a productive life and away from the darkness of suicide. How can we move towards an approach that not only promotes healing measures, but increases the opportunity for a successful and more fulfilled life after the uniform comes off? What would the first steps to this military-civilian dialogue look like?

For starters, mutual understanding is key. Never in Canada’s history has there ever been such a wide gulf of understanding between civilians and military while civilian compassion and sympathy for our men and women in uniform has reached a post World War II all-time high.

Canadians for Accountability has long shared an internal dialogue between its veteran and civilian members in the hopes of modelling options for improving mutual understanding between the military and Canadian civil society.

Allan Cutler’s Take

I never served in the military. However, my father, uncle, and many others served in uniform during World War II. When they returned to Canada, they did not seem to have the same problems as those serving in Afghanistan. There were problems, but those problems were apparently less severe. Those veterans who had seen war at its worst for up to five years were less affected than our present-day veterans who serve overseas for much shorter durations.

My father was in the First Canadian Tank Corp and had his D-Day in Italy, a year before the ‘official’ D-Day. Afterwards, he remained in his unit with his comrades. They had a long time to talk about their joint experiences. They eventually returned to England where they waited to return to Canada by lengthy boat and rail journeys. By the time they arrived home, they had absorbed and digested their experiences. For them, there was a strong and closed support network—their comrades.

Talking with people who understand and have been through the same thing is strong therapy. By the time they returned to Canada, they were ready to re-enter civilian life. Perhaps that is why these veterans were known to not talk about their experiences. They had the necessary time to process what had happened and were ready to put it behind them.

Contrast that to the present day veteran and the speed of life today. They are sent overseas to places such as Afghanistan by air. Time for mental preparation is minimized and upon arrival, they are often required to be operationally ready.

And the return trip can seem even more drastic. Instead of time spent on a boat, they are flown home with all but cursory time spent in a ‘decompression’ program. Even worse, they are often not surrounded by the same comrades with whom they served in Afghanistan. Some members of the CAF are thrust immediately into civilian life.

I have heard it argued that many of them remain in the Forces and, therefore, still benefit by remaining part of the culture. This is a false argument. They take on new roles with new comrades. The critical links are broken. The necessary time necessary to heal and be able to adapt to the change is missing.

When you think of it, is it any wonder that so many suffer from PTSD and other mental disorders? Is it any wonder that there are suicides?

Sean Bruyea’s Response

Canadians often compare WW II with that of modern military service in attempting to understand the apparent greater suffering of CAF veterans. However, we need to call out some of the potential myths we may have about the World War II experience.

Virtually all World War II veterans had no interest in making the military their career. They wished to return to their civilian life as quickly as possible. Contrast that with modern military service where relatively few members wish to leave the military. Many work towards a military as a lifelong career. Others, once in the military, fear or do not understand the endless opportunities in the civilian world. By default, they wish to stay in uniform rather than risk the unknown. Even those who wish to leave, often attempt to reach milestones such as the previous 20-year pension mark (now 25 years) for an unreduced pension.

Most of those who become disabled are forced out of the military long before they ever intended on leaving. The psychological shock of being forced to give up the military way of life and all its rewards and benefits would cause great distress for the healthiest. Imagine the thunder strike to one’s psyche when this forced change occurs while being physically or psychologically disabled.

Did the WW II veterans “absorb and digest” their experiences? Currently, one of the largest categories of new claims for disabilities by World War II veterans are psychological injuries resulting from World War II service. This indicates that many World War II veterans did not process their war experience fully.

There is little doubt that World War II veterans, on the surface, appeared to suffer less after the war. Why? The answers are closely linked to what Allan Cutler observes, but often for different reasons. Yes, camaraderie was extremely important, but not necessarily to allow for psychological processing. We must remember, open discussion of emotional and psychological troubles has long been a taboo in our society, even after World War II. What camaraderie promoted was a sense of continued belonging for the veteran which helped mitigate the otherwise potential distress of the world having lost its meaning which is the frequent greeting card of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.

In fact, the number one predictor of PTSD becoming chronically debilitating is lack of social support. The close brother and sisterhood of WW II provided a tight protective blanket of meaning to WW II soldiers.

And camaraderie was just a small part of this blanket. Every single veteran who left the military after WW II received some type of Veterans Affairs monetary, entrepreneurial, and/or vocational assistance to begin life anew in the civilian world. Contrast that with the reality that only 11 per cent of our nearly 700,000 serving and retired CAF members have received any assistance from Veterans Affairs.

It seems absurd that current soldiers who don’t want to leave the military are given stingy and begrudging access to programs but those who were eager to leave after WW II were given every assistance necessary.

Ironically, the key concept missing from Cutler’s take is perhaps the most valuable contributor to the apparent stability of the returning WW II veterans. Cutler clearly shared and contributed to a deep and continued support to his veteran family members even though Allan never served. Almost every Canadian family had someone who served in WW II. This allowed a community and therefore a nationwide acceptance of the veterans as integral to society, disabled or not. Yes, there were many instances of intolerance but by and large, Canadian society provided a sense of meaning, belonging and a second chance to most WW II veterans. This understanding translated into votes and therefore political will.

Today, we have isolated our military away from Canadian society. This is perpetuated by deep indoctrination which often encourages the military member to be strongly ambivalent towards civilians: repeatedly told to distrust civilians because the military is better but then inculcated with a commitment to die at a moment’s notice for those whom they distrust.

We must end this separation whether through indoctrination on the military side or distance and apathy on the civilian side. We must actively involve ourselves in the lives of each and every veteran in our community, normalizing the abnormal effects of war and military service. Just as Allan like so many other Canadians lovingly accepted their veteran fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters after WW II, we must reach out and involve, open a dialogue and learn to actively accept each and every returning Canadian Armed Forces Veteran.

And government has to stop meeting every veteran plea for help with “we are right and you are wrong.” This is not dialogue; it is stomping out the faint last cry of the vulnerable and desperate.

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

The Hill Times


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‘What the Frig is Wrong with that Guy?’

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:47

Without the Veterans Affairs Canada offices, political rhetoric about recognizing sacrifice and the debt owed to our military become as meaningless as graphic designs on cereal boxes.

The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright and Abbas Rana
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino. Veteran Ron Clarke, pictured on the Hill on Jan. 28.
Published: Monday, 02/03/2014 12:00 am EST
Military veteran Alfie Burt recently questioned Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino’s insistence on closing nine Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) offices: “What the frig is wrong with that guy?”

To be fair, the same question can easily be asked of various ministers and of the most senior VAC bureaucrats over the past eight years. However, closure of VAC offices has become another incendiary device condescendingly tossed into the national outrage as to how Canada’s veterans are mistreated by government.

At issue is Ottawa’s effort to balance the books irrespective of veteran outcry. Problematically, Veterans Affairs, unlike most other federal departments, did not have a significant hiring surge when the Conservatives took power in 2006. In fact, VAC has not only experienced one of the largest employment cuts of any department but the assault on its frontline employees began in 2011, a year before the government-wide downsizing.

At its peak in 2009, VAC was authorized a mere seven per cent increase in employees from 2006 levels. Since that time, employee positions have been consistently cut. Today, the department has almost 10 per cent fewer positions (3,370) than when Harper became Prime Minister. When the axe stops swinging in 2016, VAC will have lost more than a quarter of its workforce or 1,000 positions since the Conservatives took power, not including 800 further positions to be lost when Ste. Anne’s Hospital, the last remaining VAC medical facility, is transferred to Quebec.

After the smoke clears, Veterans Affairs will be the smallest it has ever been since it was formed in the midst of World War II.

However, government assertions of a declining veteran population don’t justify the cutback carnage. VAC’s veteran and family client base has remained about 210,000 over the past decade with department estimates predicting a 10 per cent decline over the next five years.

Government desperately clings to the argument that ageing World War II veterans require fewer VAC workers. Meanwhile, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veteran numbers, at nearly 600,000 with at least as many family members, continue to grow. Citing the rapidly disappearing war veterans requiring geriatric care sidesteps the reality that CAF veterans have an average age of 54 and a large cohort now has geriatric care needs.

The media deluge reporting suicides and the suffering of young and old CAF veterans appears to be lost on Treasury Board and senior VAC officials. Currently, VAC recognizes more than 17,178 veterans with mental health conditions but just 3,829 are case managed. And VAC only “monitors” those who are case managed. More than 13,349 veterans with mental health conditions (that we know of) are not being monitored.

How will a smaller workforce begin monitoring these veterans, let alone deal with the 89 per cent of CAF veterans who are not receiving any benefits or assistance? The closure of nine offices and losing 80 highly-skilled VAC workers will definitely exacerbate an already worsening situation.

What solution does government offer? According to Fantino, veterans can access 24 joint DND/VAC Integrated Personnel Support Centres and 17 Operational Stress Injury Clinics. These centres could offer some assistance to the almost 20,000 veterans who will no longer have access to the closed offices. Except these centres do not operate anywhere near the closures.

The minister also claims generic Service Canada locations will offer superior service to that which VAC provides. The minister has claimed there are variously 560, 600, 620, and 650 Service Canada locations. The Prime Minister puts the number at 584 and admits they are “less specialized” than VAC offices.

A Saskatchewan resident living in Tisdale used to travel 210 km to the now closing VAC office in Saskatoon. Now, that veteran need travel only 51 km to the Zenon Park Service Canada location. The only problem is Zenon Park is only open every second Thursday of the each month from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and is closed during lunch.

In fact, the vast majority of so-called Service Canada centres to which politicians refer are not actually centres but “outreach sites,” often operating infrequently or, with no published hours, like Attawapiskat in Ontario. As for quality of service, veterans will discover that Service Canada is little more than a brochure and referral service for veterans. The workers will not know how to fill out forms, access veterans’ case files, or apply for benefits and treatment.

Meanwhile, VAC client service agents and case managers must be familiar with dozens of acts and regulations. They personally assist veterans through complex VAC bureaucracy. Employees must navigate 59 policy manuals such as the 418-page Table of Disabilities, crucial to ensuring adequate awards for pain and suffering. The Veterans Program Policy Manual, with five volumes and about 2,500 pages, is essential to receive medical and other benefits.

How will the Service Canada employee, knowing nothing of PTSD, military culture, or employment conditions in the military, comfort a distressed veteran? Where will the veterans speak about their suicidal thoughts, erectile dysfunction, marital breakup, need for compression socks, or purchasing adult diapers when some Service Canada locations require three months’ notice to book a private room? All this must be discussed in public cubicles while the veteran awaits his or her number to be called only to find out that the well-intentioned Service Canada worker is no more effective than the confusing VAC website.

Veterans understand calls to make VAC more efficient. What perplexes many is why frontline workers were the first and still the only area to experience significant cutbacks. Since 2011, service delivery positions have been slashed 17 per cent. The nine offices represent a further five per cent cut. Significant cuts have yet to occur in VAC’s head office. In fact, the deputy minister has not lost a single position but has increased her head count by a whopping 500 per cent. The minister’s office has increased his head count 63 per cent since 2011.

In speaking out, Ron Clarke, Paul Davis, Roy Lamore, Bruce Moncur and Alfie Burt must overcome a most intense military indoctrination, which cements the idea that veterans cannot criticize government. The media and unions are agitating, former military MPs such as Laurie Hawn claim. Hawn was a senior military officer and levelling such accusations reeks of intimidation. Equally appalling is how government has belittled and refused to act on the cries for help from not just veterans, but even the Royal Canadian Legion.

Jerry Kovacs of Canadian Veterans Advocacy puts Hawn’s accusation into context: “pretty soon the communist party will be accused of agitating the veterans for political gain.” Kovacs, also a veteran, was present at the now infamous Jan. 28 meeting between Fantino and these veterans when the minister exchanged testy words, attempting to do damage control on the office closures. Kovacs approached the minister with his experience of receiving no help at multiple Ottawa Service Canada locations. While on camera, the minister brushed aside the veteran.

In the face of cutbacks, frontline employees have shown an unusual and touching loyalty to veterans. In Sydney, N.S., not one of the five qualified VAC workers accepted a temporary stopgap measure to be placed with Service Canada. They reportedly believe that this will do more harm than good. Given that Cape Breton has a winter unemployment rate of about 16 per cent, this is not about unions, employment, or media.

The one accusation on many veterans’ minds: why do Hawn and the rest of the Conservative caucus allow Treasury Board and VAC senior bureaucracy to run roughshod over veterans’ rights to “be treated with respect, dignity, fairness and courtesy?”

There are two likely answers to this. In spite of Harper’s reputation of stepping all over the bureaucracy, he has been troublingly incapable of standing up to the most senior planners in all departments, but especially VAC. The other possibility is an ideologically disturbing one: that the Conservatives believe disabled veterans are milking the system. By making programs increasingly harder to access, as veteran Bruce Moncur laments, government has a policy of “delay, deny, and die” for veterans.

Veterans Affairs offices offer more than just nuts and bolts services. For Canada’s veterans and their families who sacrifice careers, families, control over their futures as well as broken bodies and broken minds, these offices and workers are tangible commitments from Canadians to repay our debt to veterans. Without such offices, political rhetoric about recognizing sacrifice and the debt owed to our military become as meaningless as graphic designs on cereal boxes.

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

The Hill Times


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How Veterans Shoot Themselves in the Foot While Government Hits Them over the Head

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:49

There is little doubt as to the good intentions of most veterans’ organizations in providing quotes to government. However, government has clearly been quite astute at using veterans’ good intentions to further a PR war that does little but says much about caring for veterans.

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
Media relations teams in the minister’s and Prime Minister’s Office as well as Veterans Affairs Canada have spun facts to portray government as doing more than it actually is. Take, for example, the $2-billion waved about in 2011 as government’s claimed commitment to ‘enhance’ the New Veterans Charter, the controversial veterans’ legislation. Closer examination revealed that $2-billion was actually $40-million annually over 50 years.

THE HILL TIMES Published: Monday, 02/24/2014 12:00 am EST

The current government has come under intense criticism for failing veterans while doggedly pursuing a relentless public relations campaign claiming the opposite. Sadly, veterans’ organizations have been unwittingly co-opted into this PR war, effectively supporting government propaganda.

Media relations teams in the minister’s and Prime Minister’s Office as well as Veterans Affairs Canada have spun facts to portray government as doing more than it actually is. Take, for example, the $2-billion waved about in 2011 as government’s claimed commitment to “enhance” the New Veterans Charter, the controversial veterans’ legislation. Closer examination revealed that $2-billion was actually $40-million annually over 50 years

Such audacious ‘truthiness’ has contributed to the increasing skepticism amongst the public, the media, and, hopefully, veterans about claims by elected and unelected officials about veterans’ benefits. Consequently, former Veterans Affairs minister Steven Blaney changed tactics in early 2012. Until that point, media releases from VAC contained scripted quotes attributed mainly to ministers. Veterans were rarely quoted.

The one exception occurred in the fall of 2010. Widespread privacy breaches targeting me became public just after devastating claims by the first veterans ombudsman of pervasive bureaucratic failures and just before the first nationwide public protests by veterans in more than 90 years. Government was losing the PR war badly. Ottawa quickly tabled three changes to the NVC, and included the following in a media release:

“Dominion President, Mrs. Patricia Varga, of The Royal Canadian Legion stated, ‘This bill, as a first step, makes great strides in improving the New Veterans Charter and encompasses many of the recommendations made by the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group and the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs.’ ”

And: “ ‘With this bill, we applaud the government for keeping its promise that the New Veterans Charter is truly a living document,’ said Ray Kokkonen, president of the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association. ‘Naturally, we are pleased to have had a role in this matter and that our advice and recommendations have been heard.””

Two years previously, both organizations signed off on the Advisory Group report, which stressed urgent changes to the New Veterans Charter. The report contained 86 specific recommended changes in 17 areas. The standing committee stressed the urgency to act on the NVC report as well as 17 additional recommendations.

A June 2013 report issued by the veterans ombudsman concluded that the federal government failed to implement many of the Advisory Group’s recommendations (my assessment is that 100 recommendations remain[ed] unaddressed from these two bodies alone). In this context, three changes were hardly “great strides.” So few changes six years after the original legislation was passed hardly justifies the claim that “the New Veterans Charter is a truly living document” especially when the government had committed to reviews every two to three months and comprehensive reviews every two years.

Media, veterans, and most Canadians upon reading such quotes would be forgiven for believing that government had actually addressed complaints about the NVC. In effect, these two organizations helped the government in public relations victory, allowing the “living charter” to enter yet another coma of government inaction.

It would be almost 18 months before government would solicit another veteran organization’s quote. In 2012, the government was in the midst of an intense PR campaign. Called “Cutting Red Tape for Veterans,” the campaign claimed that cutting services in many areas was somehow an improvement.

On April 3,  Veterans Affairs Canada included the following in a media release: “ ‘The changes to the VIP [Veterans Independence Program] program [sic] announced by Minister Blaney will make life easier for Veterans,’ said Gordon Jenkins, president of the NATO Veterans Organization of Canada. ‘Instead of having to submit individual receipts and burn up bureaucratic processing time, veterans will now receive a grant to cover the cost. This benefits everyone.’ ”

This was a new initiative and therefore impossible for anyone to know whether this change would benefit anyone, let alone “everyone.” The initiative has since caused problems for a growing number of veterans. Meanwhile, the public could be forgiven in forgetting the Conservatives have yet to fulfill their promise to make VIP available to all widows of war veterans.

Veterans Affairs Canada expanded the venues where veterans are quoted. The fall 2012 issue of the VAC newsletter to veterans, known as Salute, prepared the way for closing Veterans Affairs offices by sending veterans to Service Canada locations. Salute is often criticized for its PR and bureaucratic fluff. However, quoting veterans on any change usually lends more credibility: “ ‘Veterans now have much more access to services and information no matter where they are located,’ said Ron Griffis, national president of the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping. ‘The ability to now receive assistance completing and submitting VAC disability benefit applications through Service Canada centres will benefit many.’ ”

More than a year later, most, if not all, Service Canada locations cannot provide any information to veterans about benefits. Service Canada personnel will not have the training to provide veterans with the “ability to now receive assistance completing and submitting VAC disability benefit applications.” Such applications are notoriously complex. Furthermore, most of the Service Canada locations are actually “outreach sites” which have irregular hours such that many are open only once a month.

In spite of widespread criticism of the recent federal budget’s failure to address veterans’ issues, the federal government looked to a statement by the Royal Canadian Legion to give the impression most veterans supported the budget initiatives.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino stood in the House the day after the budget under heavy opposition criticism: “In economic action plan 2014, we are expanding the funeral and burial benefits to ensure that modern day veterans of modest means can have a dignified burial. Do not only take my word for it. The Royal Canadian Legion just yesterday said that it was ‘…very pleased that the issue of a dignified funeral for the most vulnerable, low income Veterans has finally been resolved…. [T]he government lived up to their commitment.’ ”

There has been no change in the qualifying criteria: deceased married veterans cannot have more than $12,015 in their joint estate and single veterans must be absolutely destitute or government will deduct funeral reimbursement from any additional assets. The issue is far from “finally [being] resolved.”

There is little doubt as to the good intentions of most veterans’ organizations in providing quotes to government. However, government has clearly been quite astute at using veterans’ good intentions to further a PR war that does little but says much about caring for veterans. These quotes benefit government first, not veterans.

By contributing to such propaganda, veterans are influencing change that affects veterans who do not belong to their organizations. Quoted veterans become ‘pseudo-proxies’ convincing a public with a limited attention span that all veterans are happy with the change. However, 90 per cent of Canada’s almost 700,000 serving and retired CAF members do not belong to any veteran organization.

However, veterans can beat the government at their own PR war. First, veterans’ organizations can refuse to provide media quotes. Second, organizations, just like government, can stick to media lines such as: “until government enacts recommendations from the veterans ombudsman and veterans’ consultation group to improve the NVC, veterans will not provide positive quotes about government.”

Otherwise, by supporting government announcements, especially before the details of any initiative are known, veteran organizations only play into the hands of government’s long history of doing far too little, far too slowly, to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

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

The Hill Times

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Mock Consultation: Subjecting Veterans to an Ugly Political Game

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:52

For 50 years, veterans have largely permitted government to choose the game,  dictate the rules, rig the arena, and select the players on the veterans’ team. If veterans allow this to continue, they should not be surprised that they score few, if any, goals.

Photo courtesy of Cpl Roxanne Shewchuk, Valcartier Imaging Section
Veterans, pictured Nov. 11, 2011, at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Sacrifice Cross in Quebec City.
THE HILL TIMES-Published: Monday, 03/03/2014 12:00 am EST
OTTAWA—There has been no shortage of excuses and red herrings from government to avoid making substantive improvements in the lives of Canada’s veterans and their families. This inaction has catalyzed veterans’ communities to forge a near unanimous game plan. Government has merely chosen to play another sport.

Once upon a time, government had an easy game going. It could count on the deep rivalry between veterans’ organizations to divide and conquer. Groups were quite willing to side with government against other organizations as each lobbied for their special interests behind closed doors. In the end, government was free to do little in pushing through a 50-year agenda which essentially abandoned Canadian Forces veterans and their families.

Unsightly infighting was greatly aggravated by dozens of policies and programs which each created multiple classes and subclasses of veterans. The veterans ombudsman has identified 15 categories of veterans in the long-term care program alone. The much-revered military comradeship often drove veterans of one military campaign to disparage those from other campaigns. In this hostile environment, CF veterans remained further relegated to a policy backseat.

The passage of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) in 2005 promised to change this. Government explicitly guaranteed that the legislation was a “living charter” with regular reviews and improvements to follow. In the nine years since its passage, just three modest legislative changes have been enacted even though Veterans Affairs Canada-funded advisory groups, Parliamentary committees, and internal reports have generated more than 380 recommendations, many of which require legislated and regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, government asked veterans to whittle down their demands. Two years ago, a not-so-small miracle took place. During what was called a Veterans Stakeholder Committee meeting in February 2012, 20 veterans representing 11 organizations and four experts unanimously endorsed three resolutions. They called for the immediate implementation of the above recommendations as well as those from the Gerontological Advisory Council. This was the first time since World War II that so many veteran organizations were unanimously clear and specific on their demands.

In response, not one change to legislation has since occurred in spite of VAC’s own terms of reference for the committee as “an action-oriented committee, at which issues of common interest to all participants will be identified for joint and collective action, in the best interest of veterans and their families.”

What has changed is the heavy-handed character of the Stakeholder Committee meetings. Veterans could previously receive immediate feedback from their organizations via Twitter and emails or electronically take notes, a necessity for the more disabled veterans. The meeting on Dec. 6, 2012 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., put an end to this. Veterans were instructed to relinquish their cellphones, not merely turn them off, and were not permitted to use their laptops.

“It’s childish and demeaning,” Don Leonardo, national president of, an active online community of more than 7,300 veterans, told me on the phone last week. “It shows lack of trust with stakeholders. They say they want to partner with us but they don’t treat us as equals but treat us like a child :‘put your phones in the box boys and girls.’ ”

Surprisingly, most veterans in attendance complied, veterans who sacrificed defending cherished rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression.

Prior meetings and VAC’s terms of reference allowed two individuals per organization. For the disabled veterans, sharing the burden of concentration and feedback allowed for more effective representation of disabled veterans and their families.

“Support. Absolutely,” retired major Bruce Henwood, double amputee and chair of the Special Needs Advisory Group which VAC suspended one year prior, told me last week. “Two heads are better than one. It is easy to forget to say or remember important things.”

Conversely, the department and the minister are sure to bring a dozen or more staff, all supporting one another.

“Permitting only one person to attend is a control issue,” said Jerry Kovacs, director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA), in an email to me. He points out that during an October 2013 meeting, “ministerial and departmental staff almost outnumbered veterans in the room.”

Also in contravention of the terms of reference, after February 2012, VAC terminated the participation of four chairs of Advisory Groups and the Croatia Board of Inquiry. “We were uninvited,” said Bruce Henwood. “VAC adopted the ostrich syndrome. They didn’t want to hear the problems, so they didn’t want to hear from their own advisors.”

Meanwhile, another miracle occurred during a spring 2012 veterans-only meeting hosted by the Royal Canadian Legion. The organizations chose to call the government’s bluff as they put forward three specific recommendations from the hundreds outstanding. Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw, seconded from DND to a VAC assistant deputy minister position, took control of the December 2012 stakeholder meeting.

“Walter Semianiw asked veterans stakeholders for our three priorities from three studies,” Leonardo told me last week. “We played their game. We gave them three priorities. They did nothing. They pulled the wool over our eyes”

It all seems to be about government controlling the message, the meetings, and the veterans. The one subsequent meeting held on Oct. 2, 2013 was attended by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and chaired by Semianiw. The general wore his uniform amongst retired members, all who had a lower rank during their military service. This was hardly a meeting of “equals.” Cellphones were once again confiscated and observers were prohibited. The Royal Canadian Legion president, “Gord Moore was going to walk out of the meeting when Brad [White, dominion secretary] was refused to attend as an observer,” Kovacs wrote to me in an email.

The government rightly caved. The legion and Kovacs were allowed to stay. Sadly, no other veteran organization was given the opportunity to include observers or two-member participation.

VAC wrote in an email to me that the October 2013 meeting was a “stakeholder meeting” and claimed the “[VAC] engages regularly with veterans’ organizations and other stakeholders to help ensure that VAC services and benefits meet the needs of veterans and their families.”

Janice Summersby continued in the email, “VAC recognizes the value of ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and their input and feedback is used to inform decision making.”

“[T]his is a bullshit response,” said Kovacs. “There was never a list of ‘action items’ or ‘priorities’ drafted for review and discussion…which confirms that [Oct. 2, 2013] was a minister’s invitation meeting to meet some veterans organizations and not a ‘Departmental Stakeholders Meeting.’”

VAC has not held a semblance of a stakeholder meeting since December 2012 or arguably since February 2012. However, terms of reference state, “The committee will meet at least twice per year, face-to-face, in the fall and spring. Other meetings may be organized, as required, throughout the year including by way of tele- or video-conferencing.”  There has never been “tele-or video-conferencing.”

What is the intention of the meetings? “[T]hese have ceased becoming consultation meetings but demands by VAC to repeat their media lines to our organizations. I am not a paid advertiser for VAC. I am there to represent the needs of the members of my organization,” said Don Leonardo.

In spite of government’s relentless ‘control’ issues vis-à-vis veterans, there is hope. Last-minute assertiveness by the Royal Canadian Legion underlines that veterans do have clout and need to exercise it if they ever wish to be treated as equal partners. Veterans have much to learn from the aboriginal community. Sadly, Canada’s First Nations have gone to court repeatedly to receive respect. After years of being given the short shrift by the federal government, aboriginal peoples now have a legal framework for meaningful two-way equal partner consultation. Government needs to declare that veterans deserve no less.

For 50 years, veterans have largely permitted government to choose the game, dictate the rules, rig the arena, and select the players on the veterans’ team. If veterans allow this to continue, they should not be surprised that they score few, if any, goals.

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

The Hill Times


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Mental health care in Forces: Let’s clear a few trees to see forest

Post by Guest on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 13:55

When it comes to mental health and suicides in the military, the Canadian Armed Forces can do much to come clean and diminish the self-serving rhetoric.
By SEAN BRUYEA THE HILL TIMES-Published: Monday, 03/10/2014 12:00 am EDT

When it comes to mental health and suicides in the military, the Canadian Armed Forces can do much to come clean and diminish the self-serving rhetoric.

Chief of the Defence Staff Tom Lawson claims the public focus on military suicides could be aggravating the crisis in having “brought a slight honour to the act of suicide.” This unfortunate attempt to closet away debate on an extremely serious issue has little basis in scientific research. The ‘suicide contagion’ effect has been validated amongst hyper-connected and highly self-conscious teens, with the greatest vulnerability amongst 12 to 13-year-olds. There is scant basis to believe that mature professional adults in the military may be subject to this contagion.

Even with unprecedented public attention on the issue, the military still drags its heels in both hiring sufficient mental health-care staff as well as completing outstanding suicide investigations. Nevertheless, the CAF’s director of mental health, Scott McLeod claims “no other organization in Canada, and probably the world, has got a program that intensive to learn from these suicides.”

One month later in January 2014, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson announced that the military was finally going to clear a backlog of 50 uncompleted suicide investigations. There are approximately 50 suicides every five years in the regular force population. How could the military “intensive[ly] learn” from any suicides over the previous five years if apparently none of the investigations are complete?

In May 2012, the military cut almost half the research staff and epidemiologists who analyze mental health issues such as depression, PTSD and suicide. Instead, the Forces would rely on research from Veterans Affairs Canada. VAC has a directorate of 11 employees representing an annual expenditure of perhaps $1.5-million. The last research report available on the internet is dated 2011. The US Department of Veterans Affairs had a research budget of over $1-billion in 2012.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the 2008 suicide of Corporal Stuart Langridge languished for years before a Military Police Complaints Commission was initiated in 2011. It has yet to release its findings.

The military maintains that Langridge’s suicide was not due to military service or PTSD in spite of testimony from his closest relatives and friends to the contrary. The military insists that substance abuse was the cause. Amongst the American veteran population, 91 per cent of inpatient PTSD sufferers experienced substance abuse and 73 per cent of Vietnam veterans with PTSD suffered alcohol abuse.

The Langride case shows military culture intent upon blaming the victim and defending the perceived institution’s reputation rather than addressing the large gaps in mental health care. This is perpetuated by senior officers such as the chief psychiatrist, Rakesh Jetly who claims some soldiers are not coming forward because they are “self-stigmatizing.” Most research into self-stigma and mental illness focuses upon sufferers of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia: the military screens out such serious mental illnesses. The research jury is still out when it comes to self-stigma as it relates to PTSD and depression. The shame and low self-esteem of self-stigma are also key symptoms of these two conditions; separating the stigma from the illness is difficult if not irrelevant.

Soldiers already experience much shame in their condition but now it is their “self-stigma” which prevents them from seeking help. Surely this is a recipe for negatively affecting their willingness to come forward. Self-stigma cannot exist without external stigma. When soldiers suffering psychological injuries know that they could be booted from the military, this is known as “structural stigma” writ large. An institution that refuses to employ certain psychologically injured is clearly stigmatizing.

The military indoctrinates its employees unlike any other secular institution. It refers to itself as the “military family” and calls its employees “members.” Most of all, the Forces persistently and vehemently reinforce an ethos of “mission, soldier, self,” a deep psychological commitment by each and every member to place the institution and its goals first, care of one’s fellow soldiers second and then care of oneself last.

How do psychologically-injured soldiers come forward for personal care let alone experience success after being kicked out of this all-encompassing military ‘family’ when their own care has been the last thing on their mind for sometimes decades?

In this military-first culture, is it surprising that sending uniformed individuals to investigate suicides fails to find a link between uniformed service, PTSD and suicide? The military link is crucial to receiving veterans’ benefits.

If military service is not to blame, why would any soldier come forward for help if both the illness is the soldier’s fault but also their reluctance in coming forward? How can any soldier trust an institution, which even after witnessing shame-filled self-destructive deaths would completely absolve itself of any responsibility?

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

The Hill Times


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