I'm Dana Batho from Send Up the Count, a Facebook group that was started in December of 2013 in response to a spate of military suicides, one after the other, just before Christmas.
There are six admins. I'm the only one who's a veteran. I released in August of last year. I was medically released; I got a neck injury in training.
Send Up the Count covers all aspects of mental health for the military, veterans, and first responders. That includes depression, PTSD, other OSIs and things like that, relationship issues, and financial issues. We don't really discriminate as long as you're either military or a first responder. We cover any issue. It's basically a sounding board, a peer resource support group. We have a lot of resources listed. A lot of people find that really useful because they can come to our group and see this huge list of resources that they can access in one place instead of having to go all over the place.
As far as the group itself goes, it's apolitical, and we also have nothing to do with money. We've done this completely with no funding. It's literally just people helping each other, people who've been there and want to support each other.
For me, because I'm relatively new into the Veterans Affairs system, I'm still learning a lot of things about the different systems and such. One of my main issues is that there is quite a big discrepancy between what we're told before we release, by the Veterans Affairs staff at the JPSU and in the SCAN seminars and things like that, and the information we're told by Veterans Affairs after we release.
For example, I was told that there was a possibility that I might have to reimburse close to $9,000 of massage therapy that was misallocated to me—nothing to do with my fault—and I was also told before I released that all medications would be covered under my disability award. Again, just yesterday, I paid for some medications that should have been covered. It's quite a hurdle. That's a really big problem when you're already dealing with a lot of issues. You don't need to be told one thing from one side and then something else from somebody else. It makes what you're going through in general very difficult, on top of what's already very difficult.
Another major issue I have is that it can take a very long time to access resources, particularly for mental health issues. Personally, I deal with chronic pain. I was injured four years ago. I asked for some psychological help in November, and I'm still waiting to have an actual appointment with a counsellor. That's a really long time to wait for actual help.
Military members tend not to ask for help that easily, so when they do ask for help, they're pretty much near the end of their rope. This is something that I've noticed very much in the Send Up the Count group. People are pretty much at the end of their rope by the time they do actually think to ask for help, so having a four- or five-month delay between asking for help and actually getting that counsellor's appointment can be highly problematic, I'll say, for many people. It contributes to a lot more stress than is necessary and, in my case, a lot more physical pain.
There are things that they're doing very well. I can tell that the staff of Veterans Affairs are trying really hard to help the people they've been assigned to, but there are a lot of gaps in the system. My case manager retired and I wasn't told who my new case manager was even a month later, so that's a gap in the system.
Things like filling out forms online are very useful for me because I can't write anymore and I can't do a lot of things physically, but there are technology issues. One is that the forms will only open in certain browsers. I'm pretty tech savvy. I was working as an intelligence officer and a cyberthreat analyst for Transport Canada, so I'm pretty tech savvy, and if I'm having issues in accessing some of the online services, I'm sure other people are having issues as well.
Those are pretty much my main concerns for the moment, but also, in regard to accessing your case manager, the online system for contacting case managers isn't great. They apparently don't check their emails that often when it goes through the online system, and phoning them is kind of a pain because you have to go through an operator and tell them basically your entire life history before they connect you. There could be ways to streamline that process a lot.
As I said, I can tell that the staff themselves are trying really hard to help their people, but there seem to be a lot of gaps in how they are able to help their people.
That is all from me for now.
Hello, everyone. This is now the third time I have addressed you, one in paper form last May, and once last April.
The Canadian Caregivers Brigade was started because we found that families were struggling to locate resources. We don't receive any funding from any government or organization. What we have done is provide a website showcasing various resources for caregivers and their families, creating a one-stop resource site.
We hear from and work personally with many families, helping them navigate through Veterans Affairs. We are not here for accolades, awards, or medals. We are here to help improve the quality of life for families that are dealing with disabilities and make it a smoother transition for them. If they have difficulty locating something, we are here. We know how; we have been through the system.
I will give you my background, just so you can understand why I am so passionate about working with this organization and how long I have been living with my injured husband.
I met my husband in 1991. I was 17 years old. He was deployed in 1993 to Bosnia, when I was 19, at which time he was 21, with no rank and no combat training. Oh, sorry, he was sent to Quebec for one month to learn how to use a gun to protect himself.
I married him in 1994, when I was 20. I am now 43 years old. I have been dealing with his psychological condition for 23 years; that is over half my life. It has taken almost that time to get him to recognize he has a condition. When he was released, he was released normal category, even though the paperwork from the doctor said that he was being released for stress and anxiety.
I actually had DND overturn his release and release him disabled. I fought for that so that he could get his pension. When they are released without pension, they have no money and they struggle.
One of the issues we have found, which you will hear from every organization, is paperwork. The answer to the question of whether there have been any changes with regard to improvements in paperwork is no. Even though the number of pages in the paperwork has been reduced, the process of completing the paperwork is still a challenge.
Unless these veterans were clerks in the CF—and I know some of the clerks still have issues trying to figure out the paperwork—they did not fill out much in the way of paperwork. Now the department is asking them, as injured veterans, to complete numerous applications. I know; I have helped fill them out.
The other challenge with these applications is the questions that are asked. The quality-of-life questionnaires may seem like a great idea to gauge how the veteran is doing on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, these are not filled out by medical professionals but the veterans themselves, and they are being used to determine the severity of a medical condition. In other words, veterans are asked to medically diagnose themselves. These applications should be filled out with a medical provider in order to help the veteran understand the wording or the question in general.
That is the veteran's side. Now let's talk about the provider's side.
Believe me, I get an earful from my husband's providers. Physicians are being inundated with paperwork, which is monopolizing the appointment time that should be focused on getting the patient better. There are many physicians I have personally spoken to who are now turning away veterans because they don't have the time or the patience to deal with them. I can read right from a doctor's note on my husband's file. Very briefly, it states,
||I am treating several patients with similar DVA-related issues and my head is sore from “brick wall” trauma!
He also says in his letter:
||I am proceeding with a bite plate with the understanding that the DVA will see sense, in terms of reliving pain and saving themselves money. I do hope to receive the appropriate professional reimbursement before I am too old to enjoy it.
That is on my husband's file, and you are all welcome to see it. It is a letter from his orthodontist.
The provincial health care departments are now attacking providers who are treating veterans. I have spoken to a few family physicians who have received audit review decisions from the department of health in their provinces, and they are now being penalized for general appointments, such as prescription renewals, which are very basic.
The Department of Health is saying that they should be billing VAC. These physicians have now received penalties in amounts over $15,000 for treating veterans. Again, why are practitioners turning away veterans?
Let's talk about wait times. Which one is more important? Is it the initial application approval for health care services? What about the wait time for an assessment? These veterans and their families don't have time to wait. The interruption in health care services can mean the difference between less pain or more pain, between life and death.
Health care providers are filling out extension-of-benefit forms and waiting 30, 60, and 90 days for approvals to continue treatments, causing a break in medical treatment. I spoke with one of my husband's providers. They say that interruption in care can cause more harm to the veteran than good. Providers have told me that a break of more than 21 days can cause regression and require the treatment plan to start from scratch, so how is the department saving money?
The other one is financial security. Veterans do not have financial security, I can tell you that. Right now, I'm living it. I have two kids going into post-secondary education and I'm home. I'm a primary caregiver of my husband. I had to leave a $60,000-a-year job to take care of him because he was calling me from the roof of our house and wanting to jump off.
I have to find some way of paying for my kids' education, but that's not all of it. We also have veterans out there who can't apply for mortgages because by the time they receive any lump sum their credit is so messed up that no one's going to look at them. They don't have financial security. The lump sum payments that are awarded are like a lottery win. Anyone who has worked in the financial sector knows that when a large sum of money is given, the spending habits of that person match the amount of money they've received.
Under the new Veterans Charter, there are a few issues with regard to these lump sums, and every organization that comes in front of you is going to tell you that. One, you are awarded the lump sum. Now yes, there are options, and I do have to agree because I read it on the paper. You can consult a financial adviser; they will pay $500 for that. Yes, you can request that it be broken down in a monthly amount. However, the veteran can also say no to both.
Some veterans, when they receive this money, are in extreme financial distress. Sometimes they're on the verge of bankruptcy or have already gone bankrupt. VAC needs staff that can sit down—similar to a consolidation loan officer—and help these veterans get their finances back on track, because some of them don't know what to do. I'm dealing with one veteran whose wife left him after 40 years of marriage. He doesn't know what to do with his finances. He's gone through three cellphone companies already because he doesn't know when to pay or how to pay. It's something that he's fighting with and struggling with.
As the primary caregiver for my husband, yes, I had to leave my career, where I was making close to $60,000 a year. My income was there for my children to help with their education and their recreational activities, and now it's gone. As for that family caregiver relief benefit, yes, we received it, or I should say that my husband received it, because it's in his name. It goes to him; it doesn't go to me. I don't have a file number. It is for him to access support services if I choose to seek respite. This award does not come in my name. Even though we have a joint bank account, it's his money.
I'm going to refer to the report that I submitted to this committee on May 27 about a three-tier system for caregivers. There is one. The first one starts with DND. There is an attendant care benefit that is provided. A CF attendant care benefit is provided to those who are deemed caregivers of their spouse. They can receive an amount that is a maximum of $100 a day for 365 days a year, which amounts to $36,000 a year. Then you have the old attendant allowance, for those who are on the old charter. That can amount to a maximum of $21,000 a year—if they qualify. Then there's us, under the new Veterans Charter. I get $7,200 a year. Well, my husband does.
But it doesn't stop there.
When I get to the age where I qualify for CPP, or should qualify for CPP, I'll have no income to qualify for that. I've been without work for the last three years taking care of my husband. CPP is based on your last five years of employment on the date of application, not the last 20, so I don't qualify.
Good day, everyone. First, I would like to thank you all for allowing me to attend this. It's very humbling.
As you said, my name is Matt Harris. I'm an administrator for the 31 CBG Veteran Well-Being Network.
I want to be clear on something. Our group receives no money from any government agency or department, nor do we want any. We're all volunteers. It's a social networking group that began by serving soldiers looking for other soldiers who may have fallen through the cracks. We limited ourselves to veterans who were located in the 31 Brigade area, stretching from Sarnia and Windsor through London to Hamilton and the Niagara region in Ontario.
It was a way for us to look after each other. We thought at first it would be 80 people or so. So far, it's expanded to over 1,200. We were the first to try this model using Facebook. Now it has expanded to all the other brigades as well, as we're witnessing.
A colonel and lieutenant colonel, our leaders, essentially started this. Then they added some sergeants, and away it went. I can only guess that they started it because they would ask, “How is so and so doing? He/she just came back from Afghanistan a few months ago”, and the answers were far too often, “I don't know”, “I don't know where they are”, and “We don't know what they're doing.”
With suicides in the news daily, we wanted to look after ourselves, look after our battle buddies, as we felt that no one else was at the time.
I have no doubt that there were people who did care and who wanted to help, but the feeling was there nonetheless.
Our sole goal is to help out veterans, whether to help someone move, comfort them, guide them to services such as the Royal Canadian Legion or health professionals, or set up an account, for instance. We can guide them to all these various places and help them with paperwork for Veterans Affairs.
Many believe that only soldiers can understand other soldiers. Soldiers can't be weak in front of civilians, as we are taught to be strong in front of them, to protect them, and to face their dangers for them.
“Leave no one behind” quickly became our motto.
I'm not here to complain. I'm just here to pass on some concerns and issues that some of our members have had or are currently experiencing. These are issues that we see on our Facebook page or that are being messaged to us privately.
I'm not a super-educated guy. We don't have malice towards any organization that wants to help us. I just want to give you, in layman's terms, some idea of what the real or perceived issues are.
An example I'll share happened only a few months ago, in February. I think we can all agree that a judge is an educated person with quite a bit of life experience. When a judge speaks, people listen. Now, this judge, while sentencing an ex-soldier who had survived an IED explosion in Afghanistan and ended up being dismissed from the military, told him to “suck it up”.
Yes, the soldier had problems and did something stupid, and he is paying for what he did, but the point here is what the judge said. He spoke to him about the Greatest Generation, a term used to describe, in part, those who fought in the Second World War. He went on to say that many of these veterans came home likely suffering from PTSD-like symptoms, but that they sucked it up as they returned to work, got married, had families, and lived productive lives.
Well, let's look at some of these numbers. Out of a population of 11 million Canadians, 1.6 million went on to serve during World War II.
Out of a population of about 36 million people today, only about 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan. Many of those went on multiple tours, unlike in World War II, when they went and stayed until the war was over.
As you can see, the brotherhood was much larger at the time those guys came home. They were able to find a job—there were a lot of jobs out there—support a family, and most importantly, work with fellow vets and help each other out with any issues they had. They understood each other.
When soldiers get out now, they try to get a job in places all over the country run by people they don't understand and who fail to understand them.
The organizations may have a “support the troops” sticker on their windows, but they certainly don't want one moving in next door or representing their organization, because they believe soldiers have problems and issues. Just ask that judge.
We believe that all soldiers have sucked it up in some very intense situations, situations I'm sure that judge has never encountered. Maybe it's time for others to suck it up and help these veterans.
The government, via VAC, has said that they want to set the standard and hire veterans. I haven't seen any numbers regarding this. Is it successful? Is it working? Are veterans actually being hired throughout the federal public service? From what I've been seeing, the answer is, unfortunately, no.
Some soldiers want to continue to serve, both with the Primary Reserve as well as through a federal government job, believing they can do both. There is a military paid leave in the system, so they can still go and train and not lose a lot of money, but that is not always the case. Even our own government departments that support the troops are refusing to provide military leave with pay. Once again, this shows the soldier that his support is now dwindling. Soldiers are feeling pushed aside, and they believe they must suck it up. Sucking it up means to shut up and bury your emotions deep inside, and that in turn appears as an explosion of uncontrolled vented emotion, because they get a little frustrated.
For veterans who have released from the military, as well as those with a medical release, who would like to go into the federal public service, we are seeing their pensions stopped because they are in the federal public service. It seems that their pensions stop because they go into the federal public service. I'm not sure if that's accurate, and I'm not sure how it all works, but it's something that we're coming across quite often. It doesn't seem fair.
Also, there is a strong need to speak to other vets and not get some impersonal letter from VAC denying their claim, as they feel that someone is calling them a liar and that their honour is being questioned by a civilian, or so it seems to them. Reality doesn't matter if perception is so strong that it becomes your reality.
This all comes together for the service delivery. A decision needs to come quickly with regard to benefits, without a doubt, but it needs to be more personal, with a phone call at the very least. Speaking with other veterans and having a good transition with the help of other veterans will help keep the issues smaller so they don't turn into an explosion of vented emotion. They deal with every issue, navigating the paperwork and helping at every stage, as it is the duty of the soldiers to help other soldiers and to leave no one behind. That's the service. I think a lot more veterans could get good jobs at VAC.
Something else that comes up is the perceived difference with regard to reservists getting help. I have class A reservists. They're part time, and as for the support and transition they require, I'm not aware of any class A reservists in a JPSU. Essentially, when the time comes, they're gone. If they were class B or class C, they get pushed to class A, and then there's no support for them. It should be one standard and one veteran, but they are quickly put on category and then released.
My last point is one that came up just recently. It's that the children of soldiers who were KIA in Afghanistan apparently don't get free post-secondary education. This has come as a surprise to many who believe that if a soldier is killed, his or her kids are provided with an education and taken care of.
We have one right now, a kid whose father, my friend, died in Afghanistan. He's struggling financially through university and is being told that he's not covered at all. As a matter of fact, the claim this university had was that they supported veterans' kids through some kind of donations. I think it was called “Project Hero”. They reneged on that.
Veterans Affairs Canada did give him some money, through quite a lot of jumping through some hoops—or, rather, it paid for his education; they didn't give him a cheque. It wasn't enough, but even that money is causing issues now. He got a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency saying that it was income and he has to pay back $1,400. There's something wrong here. He did call the Canada Revenue Agency and they told him to call back. He's a 19-year-old kid. He's the oldest of his two brothers. His brother is going to go through this very soon.
His mother can't talk for him anymore because he's an adult, and he's obviously frustrated with paying back over a thousand dollars to the CRA when he was told by VAC at the time of his father's death that his schooling would be taken care. He does not have a case manager. He should. He doesn't understand the system. To top it off, he has joined the military. He's a class A reservist like his father. He's a smart and kind young man who now finds himself unable to pay for university. His brother and stepsister will undoubtably go through this mess as well.
Adding to this disappointment, he and his brothers don't have any medical coverage. I don't know why that is.
I certainly hope that this statement is surprising to you. Was it because his father was a reservist, or class C? Was it because paperwork was missing? Was it because a mistake was made by VAC? I hope so.
Their father was killed by an IED. Their father was brave, dedicated, and honourable. He was my friend.
I know that like myself, he would be shocked to find out what is happening to his kids. If it is true that kids don’t get medical and dental coverage if we are killed overseas, then we need to know that before we go over so that we can properly plan for things like that. I certainly hope that this is not the case and that this will be fixed. If there is one thing that I would like to see change immediately, it is for the kids of the fallen to be looked after.
To the Canadian people, he was a hero. To most, he is a picture, a name on the wall. He was more than that to his kids. He was a hero to them since they were born. He was their father, who loved them very much, and now he is gone forever.
In conclusion, I will say this.
Soldiers have the ability to step off on that patrol or go on that mission knowing the dangers that lie ahead. They do it knowing—or rather, believing—that if anything happens to them, they and their families will be taken care of. If that belief isn’t there, then soldiers may be more reluctant to go, not because they are afraid—they are afraid regardless—but because they need to protect their families.
VAC is supposed to be the saviour of soldiers, not an endless quagmire of paperwork and seemingly impersonal personnel, which is likely due to being overworked. It is like the other members here.... Everybody we have talked to has been nice, but this is just difficult. When soldiers and ex-soldiers need help, like all humans, they need other like-minded humans to talk to; another soldier would be great.
That is all I have.
My name is Michael Blais. I'm the president and founder of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy. Today I am very pleased to be accompanied by our director, Sylvain Chartrand, who, I might add, serves on the minister's service delivery advisory group.
I want to thank you for the invitation to join you today to speak about the department's service delivery issues. As an advocacy group, we have become all too familiar with the problems plaguing the department as a consequential impact of accelerated staff cutbacks that ravaged the department and left the remaining staff overburdened and, in many instances, incapable of attaining performance standards established by the government as benchmarks of excellence.
Let there be no illusions: the department's ability to provide expedient and effective service has been degraded, and it deteriorated in annual incremental measurements during the previous government's zeal to, as some veterans would claim, balance the budget on the backs of the wounded and disabled veterans.
The consequences of these draconian staffing cuts upon Canada's sons and daughters, those who have selflessly offered uncommon sacrifice on behalf of Canada, have been profound, and catastrophically profound when one considers the tragic suicide of Master Corporal Leona MacEachern and the heart-rending note defining her unbearable frustration with a system that she felt abandoned her and her family in time of need.
Many, many others have also suffered, their voices of frustration rising as each year passed and more staffing positions were slashed. Until last year, prior to an election, their voices were ignored. Since then, both governments have taken significant efforts to redress the inevitable adverse situation created when insufficient manpower and resources are applied to serious, if not life-threatening, problems.
This week at the veterans summit I spoke with the president of the Union of Veterans' Affairs Employees about what I believe is one of the most important reforms: redressing the department's manning crisis.
The numbers are impressive. The prospective of having over 300 additional front-line staff actually deployed is certain to have a definite impact in resolving many of the service delivery problems that have been identified in reference to expedient and quality care.
Unfortunately, this is more than an effort just to staunch the bleeding. Our obligation transcends just hiring new staff. Training must be enhanced. New case managers and client service agents must have extensive knowledge of every nuance of departmental programs. Once they are so informed, they must be proactive on ensuring that every veteran to whom they have been entrusted is regularly engaged and that appropriate follow-up is conducted to ensure that the provided support has been effective.
Now, today we have heard from Matthew, Kimberly, and Dana about paperwork delays, about the difficulties they've been experiencing. It is not the client's responsibility to be aware of all the entitlements or supplementary programs that are available to them. In many cases, the client—the wounded soldier or the bereaved widow—remains clueless in regard to valuable resources that would improve the quality of their lives. The obligation is not upon them. No, the obligation is upon the department to ensure each individual is fully apprised of the entitlements and that they are fully explained and provided when appropriate. This has been an ongoing problem, and it is one that is often detrimental to well-being and contrary to the quality of care standards.
We also believe that performance benchmarks for staff, including regular resilience training and realistic workloads, must be implemented and upheld. The proposed case manager ratio is a perfect example: the provision of a realistic number of clients. The ratio of 25 to 1 is acceptable. What was not acceptable is case managers phoning us in the middle of the night, completely stressed out due to an overburdensome caseload, an inability to cope, and, of course, being subject to the frustration of their clients as veterans demanded the standard of care promised by the government. I believe that once these case managers are trained and deployed, they will have a definite impact on the quality of care standards.
Most recently, this committee has borne witness to the consequential impact of these cuts. These are the individuals, the voices of the wounded and the disabled, the voices of their loved ones. I found the testimony provided on May 3 particularly poignant. Listening at home to ParlVU, I was struck by the testimony of individual witnesses, as I was today: Deanna, Jody, Alannah, Jenny, Carla. The list is long, and there are more to be called. We must listen to them. I can tell you that as a veterans advocate these past six years, I have heard dozens if not hundreds of similar testimonials by veterans, spouses, their children, or the children of Korean and WWII veterans who are standing proud now for their mothers and fathers.
These are the voices that must be paramount in your mind during your deliberations. While I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of veterans who are supportive of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, I pray that the emotion, often raw and heart-wrenching, touches your hearts as it did mine. I pray that when these individuals who are called before you speak, their words are heard without reservation, resentment, or anger; that they are accepted with compassion and the understanding that they are not alone and their stories are not unique; and that our obligation to serve them now, as they have so selflessly served Parliament and the nation in uniform, takes precedence.
We must effect positive change. There must be a reset, not only through the infusion of staff but also culturally. We are the wounded, the disabled. We are Canada's sons and daughters, those who have volunteered, if necessary, to offer our very lives on behalf of Canada. There must be respect. There must be acknowledgement of sacrifice. There must be a level of care provided by the department that reflects this all-too-sacred obligation. Hopefully, the steps this committee takes in the future will restore the standards that existed prior to a decade of neglect and, as we work together and collectively to improve the standards, surpass them.
I will close by thanking you for the invitation to meet with you today, and I welcome your questions.
Mr. Harris's story about the veteran who passed away is one of my fears for my children. If the veteran is still alive, families receive medical benefits only if the veteran approves it. We don't have independent medical benefits and we don't have independent dental benefits; when I quit my job, I left all that behind. Family members don't receive a VAC file number. We should have a VAC file number. Children of deceased veterans, spouses, and widows should all be given a VAC file number. If something were to happen.... It's a gauntlet for us families if something.... Heaven forbid that sometime it's my husband, because we don't have access.
For their entire lives, our children have grown up with a father who has PTSD. Everyone wonders how this affects them. There's a research paper. Ironically, it was written out of Bosnia. These children struggle, but no one knows what impact having a father with PTSD has on them. I'll briefly read this to you. It says:
||...children of the veterans reported significantly higher levels of conflict in their families; families of veterans with PTSD experienced more problems in parenting as well as marital relationships [and] children of veterans with PTSD showed more behavioural problems than children of veterans without PTSD, including aggression, delinquency, hyperactivity, and difficulty in developing and maintaining close friendships.
||...In conclusion, the influence of secondary traumatization of wives is significant.
Yet for me to get my kids help, I have to go through my husband, through his case manager. I'll tell you right now that we stopped case management. We deal with resolution officers. The last time we dealt with a case manager was the day I was sitting at my dining room table and my husband took off for 45 minutes. I didn't know if he was ever coming back. I had that case manager call me. I was crying to him, saying, “I need help, I don't know where he went.” He'd left his keys, his phone, and his wallet on the dining room table, and took off. We live in the middle of 80 acres of woods. Where could he go?
The response I got out of his case manager, and why we don't deal with him anymore, was, “Oh well, you can call the RCMP. There's nothing I can do. I can't help you.”
The RCMP will only get involved if they're gone for 24 hours, yet I'm sitting there thinking the worst-case scenario about my husband. What am I going to tell my kids when they come home if their father is not here? This is what we struggle with as primary caregivers: the what-if scenarios. He disappears in the woods, and I think he's gone to kill himself, because you don't know what their headspace is.
For these children to not be able to have access to basic medical services.... I had to fight for my daughter to get psychological services. These children are vulnerable. You don't see that. VAC doesn't see that until I'm sitting in a case manager's office crying because my daughter got caught up with an online predator because she was vulnerable. She was looking for a father figure because her father is injured. He has issues with interpersonal relationships.
I picked up and moved my family. We moved. I put in the plans to build a new house and we moved and built the house in four months, just so my husband could have a sanctuary that will help him. We have horses. They help him, but he still has issues. He doesn't want to deal with people. He can't. If he gets into a confrontation.... Do you know what his psychiatrist said? The psychiatrist said to him, “If you find yourself in a confrontation where you feel that you're going to become aggressive, call the police to protect the other person.” When he goes into a rage, he blacks out. He doesn't know when he comes out of that rage what has happened.
I have broken doors in my brand new house. I had a hole in the wall in my brand new house. The house wasn't even a year old. They go into rages because they are frustrated. Now my husband has lost his licence. He can't drive anymore.
We are playing with medications, trying to figure out what works for him. Well, one medication made him think he was Superman: “Oh, I can move a refrigerator off the back of a pickup truck in flip-flops.” Yes. He fell off the back of that truck, with the refrigerator landing on him. He ended up with a subdural hematoma—a bleed in the brain—and a severe concussion. He was hospitalized for 24 hours. The only reason they released him after 24 hours was that he was coming home to me, or else they would have kept him in for a week.
It's not a problem. Just to clarify, I actually don't get a normal pension. I didn't serve for 10 years. I served for seven, so that doesn't entitle me to any kind of pension.
Currently, I'm on long-term disability for the first two years. After that, I'm really not sure what's going to happen or whether I'll be able to work. Nobody has really explained fully how that gets assessed. The connection between SISIP, Manulife, and VAC is really unclear to me even now.
Basically, when I released I went to the SCAN seminars. You learn a lot of things. I was posted to the JPSU for my last year of service, and they help you speak to some VAC officers there. They helped me with my disability award, and I received that before I released. I think I only got 10%, because apparently living with chronic pain that's never going to get better is less severe than losing a limb that you learn to work around, so I'm not quite sure how those tables are working. Right now I literally live across the street from this conference centre. I was barely able to cross the street. That's how bad my neck injury is, and it's getting worse, so, yes, those tables for the disability award are a little messed up. I'm not sure who decided on those.
As for the transition, I specifically remember being told by the JPSU VAC officer that anything to do with my disability claim would be completely covered, so all my medications and all of my massage therapy would be completely covered, no question. At the time I was paying $3,000 a year for my own massage therapy. On a second lieutenant's income, that's a lot of money, but that was literally the only therapy I was getting because of the inconsistency in treatments. I was getting 10 sessions of something, and then a break of six months waiting for approval for more, and then 10 sessions. It was pointless. I got so frustrated I had to give up because I just couldn't mentally cope with it anymore, and it wasn't physically helping me.
When I was releasing, I thought, “Okay, well, at least that stuff is going to be covered. At least now I don't have to pay out of my own income for my massage therapy or whatever else I need.” Then, when I released, I was told I was entitled to, I think, about 10 to 20 massage appointments a year and that medications may be covered. It's really confusing. I'm still learning how to do things.
My previous case manager approved unlimited massage for me up until June, so I was going to see the massage therapist. When he retired, the new interim case manager called me and said that I had had 89 massages that weren't authorized, and that those were $100 each—
Well, that's the question. If you go back and look at the list, how many of us have been witness to these meetings? How many more meetings do we have to be witness to?
Last year, I was flown up there. I sat in front of the committee and told them my story. I told them the stories of families that were going through situations similar to the ones my family was going through, if not worse ones. What are we supposed to do?
Then I was asked to comment on Bill for the committee. I drew up a report and submitted it electronically to the committee. I never heard anything about it. I never heard why it wasn't considered. Why did we still end up getting the $7,200 family caregiver relief benefit when it was broken down? Why are we doing algebraic equations for a retirement income security benefit?
You are asking veterans, some of whom can't fill out applications because just reading one question sets them off, to calculate an algebraic equation as to what they are going to get when they are 65. How does that make sense?
That's not to mention my algebraic equation if my husband passes, and what I might get. Well, first you have to calculate 75% of this, minus this, plus this, and oh, then divided by this. Really? It doesn't make sense. Why can we not make this stuff simple? It is not rocket science. It is not brain surgery. It is taking care of the veterans that this country sent overseas to give us our rights and freedoms. Why does it have to be so difficult?
Dana was talking about her 10, 20, and 80 sessions. I go through that every 20 sessions with my husband. His physiotherapist, his chiropractor, his massage therapist.... This is all for pain management. The pain is never going away. It is management. He goes through his granted 20 sessions in the first part of the year. He is going to two to three appointments a week. Well, how long do 20 sessions last if you are going to two to three appointments a week? They might last seven to 10 weeks in a 52-week period. The providers have to complete five to eight extension requests in order to properly treat their veteran.
A year ago, I asked the department to review my husband's paramedicine file, look at how many physiotherapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy sessions he has gone through in the last three years, and please grant him the amount that would help him manage his pain instead of having this break in treatment.
I know exactly what Dana is going through, because I go through this frustration with my husband every seven to 10 weeks.
Yes, I can speak about that with some specificity, because I am going through it myself.
In the Send Up the Count group, we do talk about the OSI clinics and the OSISS groups. We do have numbers and contact information for all of that in the big document I was referring to.
Personally, I was referred to the OSI clinic in Vancouver and to the OSISS group last November, when I called my case manager and asked for help.
As you have heard, it is quite common for military members not to want to ask for help until they really are aware that they need help, and that is where the social support groups come into play, because they can tell you, “Yeah, you need to go ask for some help now. Go call somebody.”
When I called Veterans Affairs and said to my case manager, “I really need some help. I am having a really hard time”, because I wasn't.... Even now, my care is really not that coordinated. You basically get released, and there is no doctor or appointment set up. There is nothing set up. You have to do it all yourself. With the lack of doctors in the area, it is really difficult.
The problem with the referrals from VAC is that you get referred to the OSI clinic and.... I phoned in November, and I got to the OSI clinic at the end of March. That is a really long time to wait just for an assessment. Then it takes them three to four weeks to send that assessment to VAC to process. Only now are things starting to go into place. On Monday, I have an appointment with my doctor so that she can refer me to a counsellor.
I still haven't seen a counsellor. I know nothing about the support group, the OSISS group, that I was supposedly referred to. I don't know whether I am supposed to contact them or VAC is supposed to contact them. I was told I was referred to them. I don't know how any of that works.
I have been literally months without any kind of treatment or help. Even though I have kind of gone through the system, I am still not getting any actual help. That is where a lot of people seem to find themselves as they reach out for help. There are such delays between things happening, such as the time it takes to get a referral from this person to that person or the recommendations from the OSI clinic to VAC and to your doctor and all that. The trickle-down takes a very long time, and nothing is really explained to you, such as how the connection between the OSI clinic and the OSISS group works, how you can contact those people, and what kind of support they offer.
I mean, you know a little bit about it from your time serving—they tell you a little bit—but you don't really know much in practice. Especially if you are not doing so well and you are actually asking for help, you are probably not remembering a lot of what you learned previously anyway.
Absolutely. The situation now is a result of the rapid influx of new employees. They're being peer-trained, as they call it. You'll be assigned to a CSA or a case manager, and they will train you. I think that's okay in the sense of on-the-job training, but I also believe that there must be formal training. The protocols and documents of Veterans Affairs Canada are way too complicated to be passed on to another person while they're serving a client.
It's okay. Don't get me wrong. We have to do what we have to do in order to get these people online quickly, but I believe personally that there must be a dedicated training format for Veterans Affairs Canada. I have listened to half the problems that have been identified, some serious, that would have been resolved or negated had there been proactive engagement by their CSA or case manager.
We have to identify veterans in need. This is another thing. Not everyone needs that level of care, but there are those who need that reassurance on a monthly basis, those who have sustained mental wounds and whose wives are bearing the brunt and trying to deal with the enormity of the situation by themselves.
We have issues, and proactive engagement could resolve some of them, but unless these case managers and CSAs are completely trained, sometimes proactive engagement is counterproductive.
Suppose you get someone who is untrained. She tells Kimberly, “Okay, we're going to do this.” Then it goes up the chain. “Oh, you made a mistake. We can't do that.” Maybe she tells someone they have x amount of physiotherapy or massage therapy. Then it's, “Oh, you're 18 over. We can't do that.” A lot of these issues can be resolved through dialogue and proactive engagement by the department.
It extends to peer support too. I'm not saying to bring these guys in formally, because Kimberly has a brilliant point there, but you should know and the department should know when they have an issue and they don't have boots on the ground, with Send Up the Count, they do. At a brigade level, they do. At Kimberly's level for caregivers, they do. We must have that connection, formal or informal. When a case manager gets an emergency call when she or he is frustrated or does not have that resource, they may be able to step in and save that person's life.
I think it's vital that the training be brought up to a level where every case manager and every CSA is completely familiar with the book—which is yay thick, by the way.
I was in Bosnia in 1998, and then I did two back-to-back Afghanistan ones. I came home for just about a year, and then I went again. It was very difficult for my family for me to go back.
It was selfish, I guess, on my part to want to go back. I volunteered to go back. I wasn't made to go back. A lot of people think that we are made or forced to go back, but as reservists, we are not. We volunteer to go back.
It was difficult for my family. They didn't understand why I wanted to or needed to. I needed to go back. This is me personally, but from talking with others, it seems to be the case all the time. There is always that. You want to go back. The job doesn't feel finished, or you feel you are doing something fantastic, bigger. Everything is real. When you come home and you work, doing anything, it doesn't really seem that real. Everything can wait. You can put things aside. You can call a doctor, rearrange a schedule. There, it was very real.
Yes, it is very difficult for the families. I know kids have been diagnosed with PTSD, and you think, “Why?” The kids, the children, didn't serve.
Imagine a six-year-old kid whose father is in Afghanistan, or any place far away, and his imagination. The images in that kid's head every day are that his dad is being killed. Those images, although they were made up in his own head, become real every day and every night. Every morning he wakes up, it's “Is a person going to be knocking on my door to tell me my daddy is dead or my mom is dead?” It is extremely difficult for them.
Then, when these soldiers come home, they are having issues or what have you, and those kids are having issues. You wonder, “What happened while I was gone? Why has the kid changed?” Then, of course, they get diagnosed with PTSD, and they get nothing. There's no coverage.
I am thankful that I have a federal government job in the public service in my real life, so I have other avenues, but I shouldn't have to use those avenues for my kids.