Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to call the meeting to order. I do apologize that we are running a little late, but we had a couple of votes in the House this afternoon.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted on February 25, the committee resumes its study on service delivery.
Today, we have two organizations: Shaping Purpose, with Andrew Garsch, consultant; and Trauma Healing Centers, with Trevor Bungay, a veteran and VP of veteran relations.
As individuals, we have, in person, Kevin Estabrooks, volunteer peer support adviser, and Fred Doucette, veteran and retired peer support coordinator, by video conference in from Fredericton, New Brunswick.
We're going to start. Each organization and individual will have an introduction of up to 10 minutes. If you don't use your whole 10 minutes, that's fine.
Mr. Doucette, you have the floor.
It's great to be able to present on behalf of the veterans and soldiers who are still serving about some of their concerns. I spent 32 years as a soldier, and then I was employed by the operational stress injury social support program for 10 years. I've seen service delivery before and after the new Veterans Charter. I can say that it's a bit different.
One of the biggest things I noticed with soldiers who are transitioning out of the military into the civilian world, and who are entitled to veterans services, is the lack of knowledge they have of those services once they are out of there. A lot of the information is passed between veterans, and so on. The transition briefings are not up to speed as to what they should be. A lot of the soldiers who are leaving are either physically or mentally injured, and they're not receptive to the changes they're going to go through. A lot of the information that is passed on to them goes over their heads, especially with those who are going out with a mental health concern. The information or education shouldn't just be done in one shot as they transition out. There should be a managing of the individual for maybe up to a year while that veteran accesses all the services that are provided by Veterans Affairs.
Another thing I noticed from the change recently to having Blue Cross take over the service delivery and a lot of aspects of the veterans benefits is that the veterans I know feel they're just dealing with an insurance company, which they are. Before that, when it was managed by case managers, service officers, and so on, it was a lot easier to get stuff across when they were talking to someone face to face. A lot of the veterans feel they're dealing with an insurance company, as if they worked for GM.
One of the biggest things for the vets is what's available and what they may be entitled to. Most of that is handled between veterans. Tonight I'll be attending a support group for a soldier with operational stress injury, PTSD, and there's on average 10 to 15 soldiers at those meetings. The bulk of the discussion is about how to access certain services, because people are not being kept up to speed on things.
The system, as we feel it is now, is more on a pole between pushing stuff forward and the vets who are pulling stuff out to try to get access to it. The delays, the paperwork, and the timeliness of trying to get things done is frustrating for our veterans, especially for those with mental health concerns. I visited vets when I was a peer support coordinator, and I asked them about what was going on with their claims, and did they get a letter or anything. They would say, yes, and that it was on the fridge. I'd go and look at the fridge and there were maybe 10 envelopes unopened there, and I would open them up. The reality between the corporate end of things and the person on the ground is that there's a big void.
Another thing that's frustrating for the veterans is the second-guessing of what they're entitled to. They'll jump through the hoops, it'll go forward, it'll be adjudicated, and then it will be denied for whatever reason. A prime example is about accessing medication that a soldier was receiving in the service when he got out. The classic answer from Blue Cross is, “We don't fund that drug”. It's an approved medication. Now the vet has to work through that to get access to the drug, and so on. During that phase, who knows what's going on with the lack of the medication the vet needs because DND doesn't give you a bag of meds to give you six months once you're out of the military. You're going out cold turkey.
Over the last several years since the new Veterans Charter came in, two things that have happened are the downsizing and the opening of new offices. To my mind, you need the actual person-to-person interaction to get things done. Dealing with the 1-800 number just doesn't work. In fact, if anything, it's going to get a young soldier flagged for being aggressive by arguing with some lady at a call centre. They don't swallow that very well.
The case managers should be involved with every veteran. As they transition through, the ones who have ongoing concerns and problems should remain attached, because not every veteran heading out the door has a ton of problems. Myself, I transitioned quite easy. I waited for things, they came through, and I moved on. It's the troubled cases. A guy is getting out of the military, and by the way, he's getting divorced because of his PTSD and the problems it caused, and now he's trying to split up a household while trying to access benefits. Some of them end up in hospital, plain and simple.
This is another burning point. We have traditional vets and we have the CF veterans, the new veterans. To me, a veteran is a veteran, and the naming of things is wrong. But the new vets, if you want to call them that, understand the Internet. They know how to access documents, websites, and go searching for things that they feel are lacking, that they feel entitled to, or that they're confused about. When they present this stuff, sometimes they're seen as aggressive by dealing with it themselves. People are afraid of the new vets, I think, especially at some of the VAC offices, just because of that. They come in, they want to see somebody, they want to talk about it, and they get shoved off to the system. They have to climb through it and then access the advice they need.
The service delivery across Canada is not consistent. A lot of the vets know guys out in Vancouver, and they'll be on the phone or the Internet talking about service. The Vancouver guy might say he applied for something and got it, no problem, while a guy in St. John's says he did the same thing and they turned him down.
I know there are probably nuances that make a difference. Overall, though, when I was working for Veterans Affairs and DND with OSISS, I noticed a difference in processing between larger centres, smaller centres, and rural areas. The application of the charter is interpreted by the individual dealing with the case. When you start interpreting things, somebody always interprets something in a different way from somebody else down the hall. That adds frustration to the veteran's day-to-day life.
To finish off, what we need is a proper handover from DND to VAC, which is not happening. It's scandalous. They're not realizing that they're dealing with sick and injured soldiers. It'd be nice if they kept you in the military until you were 100% healthy when you walked out the door, but it doesn't work that way. Some people are just starting in therapy, some people are still waiting for operations. It's not the way to hand over a soldier to Veterans Affairs.
There should be detailed briefings, not just one but several over time, as a soldier transitions out and then after he transitions out, on what he's entitled to, what services are available, and how to access them. There should be more case management, face-to-face. The timeliness of initiating or getting the services out to the individual is important. There are some horrible numbers on how long it takes to get something done, and this just adds to the frustration and the feeling of insecurity as the soldier is transitioning out. He wonders how he's going to survive. He wonders about this, and then about that. That's some of the digs in there.
The next thing to see about is the amount of paperwork involved. If we're supposed to be a paperless society, I think we made a wrong turn. It's amazing the amount of paperwork, including the paperwork a soldier has to get signed off by doctors.
I'll tell you now, doctors don't like filling out forms. They like seeing paying customers, not the $50 or whatever it is they're getting to sign a form. The amount of paperwork is ridiculous within the system.
There are a lot of good people working in the veterans world. They're overworked, and they're making things work. When you hear “making things work”, that's not the way it should be. It should be just out there.
The consistency across the country has to be there. You have to start handing out what soldiers or veterans are entitled to.
Thank you very much for having me here today.
To start, I'm going to tell you a little about myself, so you can fully understand how Shaping Purpose would fit into the Canadian Forces and VAC transition.
I was an engineering officer in the Canadian Forces. I was in for 12 years total. When I was in Afghanistan, in 2008, I had a car bomb explode in front of my vehicle. When that happened, I ended up with a concussion which, at the time, I didn't think was very severe. Over the next months and years, I came to find out that I had actually ended up with a seizure disorder from it. Basically, what would happen is I would pretty much black out, as if somebody turned off the lights, and there would be very little, if any, warning.
When I was finally diagnosed, in 2010, I was talking to my neurologist, and he said I should be able to stay in the Canadian Forces. As long as I was medicated and the seizures weren't an issue, it shouldn't be an issue with the universality of service. So, I continued on. My chain of command was perfectly okay with that.
They put me on career courses. I was at a staff course, in Kingston. Basically, I was supposed to be getting promoted that year. I ended up being notified, while I was there, that I was actually being released from the Canadian Forces. That didn't even come from my chain of command, because there was an issue with some paperwork that was lost along the way, so my chain of command was actually blindsided by that as well.
I'm not saying that in order to bring up anything malignant against anyone in the Canadian Forces. It's just a fact that happens. There is a lot of paperwork, and sometimes it goes missing.
The manner in which it was delivered was probably the most traumatic part for me, because I was, in my opinion, moving forward with my career, and the injury wasn't an issue. But when I was notified, it completely blindsided me. It was basically like a bigger explosion than that car bomb went off in my life, and it took everything from me. It took away my career, which I'd had for about 10 or 11 years at that point. It took away my confidence. It took away, basically, everything that I thought I was at that point in time. In doing so, it also isolated me from my peers, because I didn't want to be seen as that broken soldier.
That was really hard on me, and it caused me to spiral into a full-out clinical depression. My life was not very good.
I was seeing the deputy base surgeon, instead of seeing a psychologist, just because it was a better fit for me. He was the one who actually told me I was clinically depressed. I could go a lot further into that, but I'm going to move forward in the interest of bringing up Shaping Purpose.
If you fast-forward.... Basically, I got that release message in January 2012. I was actually released in June 2013. I wasn't offered a three-year retention period, because the manning levels in my trade were basically at maximum capacity, so there was no desire to retain me for anything longer than six months.
At that point in time, in June 2013, I started seeing a counsellor at the OSI clinic. I saw them for a good nine months, in addition to the time with the deputy base surgeon.
I had been making gains in trying to put my life back together, but I just couldn't manage it. It got to the point where, when I was seeing the psychologist at the OSI clinic, I was rehashing the same things, and I was coming out almost more depressed than when I went in, at times, because I was still sitting in that depressive hole.
April 2014 is when Shaping Purpose came into my life, through a family friend, who suggested that I check it out. They were at my house, discussing it with my wife and telling her about it. I said, “You have no idea what this would do for military guys.” I explained my whole situation, and they said, “Why don't you come and try it out, and see if it can actually help you out at all.”
So, I went to the session—it's a four-day session—and on the very first day the facilitator said, “You're going to use your inner compass to find your gifts, passions, and values. That will help you plan your life forward.”
I was sitting there thinking, “I have no inner compass. That's why I'm here.”
I thought I was going to fail at that also, but by the second day of the course I was able to realize that I did have an inner compass and I was able to start realizing what my gifts, passions, and values were, by going through an activity binder that's individualized for each person. You all fill it out, but it's done in a group setting of 21 people. Through group conversation and small group discussion, and being facilitated, you start to gain a lot of valuable insight from each other and you get valuable feedback from the other veterans who are there.
By the end of the four days, they take you through a couple of other external factors that can influence your life as you go forward, such as geographical considerations, where you live; financial considerations; social considerations; as well as employment.
Later on, and I'm sorry I'm jumping ahead, we ran one for the Canadian Forces and we actually brought in a Canadian Forces transition adviser who gave a full brief on all the services that are out there through the Canadian Forces that they can access through VAC.
Going back to my situation, I came out of there with a life plan, which was the culmination of the four days. It's basically a set of smart goals, with which I'm sure you are very familiar. It maps your way forward. It uses your gifts, passions, and values and allows you to plan your way forward, because what you are basically coming away with is the idea of what your ideal life would be by allowing you to distinguish situations or opportunities that would provide you with fulfilling activities. Then by doing so, it can allow you to start moving forward in your life.
For me it was very successful. I did the course in July 2014. By September 2014 I told my psychologist I wanted to stop going to see her because I felt I was moving forward in my life. They supported it. At that point in time I went to the founder of Shaping Purpose and suggested that they seek to work with serving members as well as veterans. They were very supportive of that, and they wanted to move forward, so at that point we began engaging with the Canadian Forces transition adviser, Major Jo-Anne Flawn-LaForge, and she helped us to get approval from the director of casualty support management to run five pilot sessions for the Canadian Forces and veterans.
Once we were able to obtain approval for that, we recruited for about four days and we had 85 applicants, but we could only take 21 applicants. We ran that session. The reason that we ran it was in order to basically conduct a research study to show that the program works and is needed for veterans who are transitioning out, because the life plan actually provides a bridge between the Canadian Forces and when they go to VAC. The idea behind that is, if veterans or Canadian Forces members are being released and don't know what they are going to be afterwards.... The whole focus up to this point has been to get people jobs, to get people employment, and get them out of the system, but unless those leaving the Forces find meaningful employment, they are going to stay in the system and they won't be able to move forward. They need meaningful employment. They need something that will bring them from the black hole they are in and help them move forward, whatever the case would be.
In keeping with that, we took measurements using validated psychological measurements—so two survey tools—and we actually did the surveys before and after the session. We did follow-up with the soldiers as well in order to gain the metrics to provide some data to Veterans Affairs and DND. Since that point in time, we've been trying to raise the remaining funds to run the next four sessions. We've almost secured enough funds to run the remaining sessions. That has been done through corporate sponsorship as well as through the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.
The reason I think Shaping Purpose is so valid is because 27% of the 5,000 regular force members who release every single year report a difficult transition, and I believe a major part in that is that they don't know what they want to move forward to in their lives.
Thank you very much for having me here today. My name is Trev Bungay and I served 18 years in the Canadian Forces in the infantry. I conducted seven international tours, four in combat in Afghanistan.
It all started after my combat tour in 2007. Back then there was such stigma that you didn't say anything. You bottled it up and you carried on, so I did another two tours on top of that. In 2010, I lost my family. In 2012, I lost my job. I started back with nothing.
When I left I didn't even know that I was supposed to have medical coverage. I didn't know how to get it. I didn't know who I was supposed to see. I had been to all the proper places. I'd been dragged through the MIR a thousand times. I'd been dragged through the psychologist on base. I was given 22 pills a day and told to go home for six months and to see what would happen. What happened was that I attempted suicide.
That day was huge for me. There was a light that turned on that day. Unfortunately, it wasn't bright enough, so three months later, I attempted again. From that day forward, I realized that suicide wasn't the answer. I had lost 15 of my own friends to suicide that year. I watched their children crying on their caskets.
For me to be released as quickly as I was, there was absolutely no need. I needed to be retained. I needed to be able to be there and to have somebody watch me. I was in no state of mind to leave and carry on a new life.
I was starting from scratch. I have a grade 12 education. I'd been in the military since I was 19. I was 37 at the time, with no education and nothing to fall back on.
Things started to really change for me when I decided that I needed to get off those drugs. I needed to get my own help in my own way. I started researching what I needed to do. I determined that I needed a multidisciplinary approach to healing. Yes, I had my medications and I used them properly. I did my psychology every single week. I did massage therapy. I went and saw a nutritionist. I talked to dieticians. I did whatever I had to do because I felt that if I had a healthy body that would result in a healthy mind and I was going to get back on my feet.
Within six months of getting off those medications, I was running two companies. It was all because of that multidisciplinary approach. Back in January 2015, we opened our very first clinic in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. We now have one in Moncton, one in Fredericton, and one right here in Ottawa. We're about to open a second one in Halifax and hopefully others in Charlottetown and Sydney this year.
In that little amount of time, that year and half, we've helped 3,000 people. Many of them are veterans from either the military or the RCMP. They come in and they are broken. We put them back on their feet using that approach. Every single one of my clinics has a medical doctor, a psychologist, a massage therapist, a dietician, and a nutritionist. Some of my clinics have occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and chiropractors. We have the whole gamut.
Veterans love the fact that they come into that building and they get to do whatever they need to do for their treatment, and they can go home at the end of the day. All of our services are billed right now through Veterans Affairs Canada, but for some reason, Veterans Affairs Canada will not recognize what we are doing.
There is your first problem. We're helping 3,000 people in a year and a half, and nobody from Veterans' Affairs Canada will say, “Hey, Trauma Healing Centers is down the road, they will help you.” Go to the OSI; nobody wants to go to the OSI. That was the whole point of getting out, they didn't want to be around it anymore. Now they're being forced to go into centres, and they're seeing their buddies in there, and they're going, “Argh”. They're sitting down, and they're having to do 30-minute surveys on an iPad with a pen that's so small they can't hit the button, and if you hit the wrong one, it erases everything and sends it back.
All I'm asking for here is for somebody to come in and give us a shot. We're helping these people. We're giving them their lives back. I can give you testimonials; you can watch videos on it; we've done it all. We educate. I go around all year long and speak to Corrections Services Canada, the RCMP, and veterans. They love it. I asked to go into JPSU and just talk to the soldiers who are leaving and say, “You don't have to go out and be alone, there's help.” I was shut down immediately.
One of the biggest services that we offer is our peer support. Our peer support is huge for us because the veterans tell us that they're very happy to have somebody who has been through the motions, somebody who they can call 24 hours a day, somebody who can help them with their paperwork because a VAC can't get to it. The case manager has 700 files on his desk, and there's no way that's going to happen this year.
I guess the biggest point for me to bring up today is that the services are out there to help veterans. Nobody's out there to hurt veterans. I'm a veteran. I'll be the last person on earth who will ever hurt any veteran. We are here to help, and we're going to expand, and we're going to grow with or without you. But we really, really want your support.
The military briefs its members on a lot of things in the run of a year. It's a continuation training on things like general awareness, harassment, first aid, quitting smoking, and things like that, but oddly enough there is no formal briefing or discussion of the mental health side of things, none at all, and I can't understand why. I think that has to be built into the yearly training so they are thinking about their mental health and thinking, “If I end up being released, then at least I have some knowledge of what I'm going into”.
The transition is completely from black to white. There's no grey area where you cruise through. A lot of the fellows, as you heard Trevor Bungay say, lose their identities, lose their jobs, they may lose their families, and so on, and now they're standing there not even knowing that they need a health card and things like that.
I think the idea of transitioning should be talked about a lot more. It's no longer a 35-year job like when I joined. There are things that may happen to you where you will not be able to serve anymore. We can't hide the injured fellows like we used to in the 1970s. If a guy had 30 years in, broke his leg, and couldn't go to the field, then they put him on a base job. DND doesn't do that anymore. They track you down because they have a computer system. They find you.
I was a classic case: diagnosed, 18 months, civilian, done, and away you go. No transition, nothing. A few brochures and that was it.
They have to look at it as a whole. If you have 30 years of service, then you should be serving about 31 or 32, and for the last two years you should be going through all the stuff you require to become a civilian.
They do run medical scans, where it's briefings and so on, and it's interesting because a lot of the fellows who go are told, “Bring your wife with you because she will remember what's being said”. You wouldn't write it down, and so on. We're putting the onus on a lot of people to try to help this guy through, and it's sometimes doing more harm than good.
I think in most cases within the district office, things are pretty well squared away.
However, then you go from the district office, say out of Saint John, and you go to the one—there's none in Charlottetown anymore—in Halifax. Well, they may have another take on certain services. They may know a way of getting something for a veteran that...I wouldn't say it's easier, but less administratively bungled up. I've had veterans say that when they were in Quebec City they applied for this and that and they denied it, and then they moved to New Brunswick and applied again and got it. What went on there?
There are a lot of personal things that come in to working on it. I had a fellow who had to give up the rehab programming because he was too old. He had waited that long. He said, “Maybe I can get three years of good work in.” Then he called me and said, “Fred I'm out of it.” I asked what he meant. He said “I'm going to be 60. I'm not going to go to work now. I started when I was 55.”
A lot of it had to do with his area counsellor. His area counsellor was really PO'd, “Oh, you guys get this support. You get this money. What about us?” The fellow reported him through the system, but the guy is still working there.
It just shows that there are people within the organization who can hold you up if they want. It's horrible to say. However, the lion's share are there to get things through for you as best they can.
I took the new Veterans Charter training in Halifax when it first popped out. I was the only person there who didn't work for VAC specifically. There were about 50 of us, and two things kept coming up, “Who has the signing authority for this part that says you're entitled? Who signs that?” It was, “Well, we are working on that.”
I actually heard some of the people there say, “Well, I've got three more years to serve for pension, I'm not going to get involved in this crap. I'm not going to learn all this here. I'm gone in two or three years.” That whole resistance to change is there, and it was a big change.
It's accessing, hitting the right button, having the right tone, and so on.
There are what we call local initiatives. In Valcartier, the brigade there has all kinds of initiatives that they've built and have in position. They've been really proactive with a lot of things that go on. Other bases like Petawawa and Gagetown are big army units, but the people are changing all the time. When I was working for OSISS, I would go see the new base commander, and I'd get a chance to brief him and make my inroads. Then two years later I would start all over again. Even at the upper levels of DND, I think a lot of the leadership isn't aware exactly what the details are of these soldiers who are going out.
One defence minister told me several years ago that they were dragging them through the front door and throwing them out the back. That was his comment, literally, throwing them out.
There are people who have a lot of education who could probably answer your question and tell you what to do where. The more preparation you give for that individual leaving, the better chance he's going to be able to move on successfully, and so on. It's not to say that everybody is like that. I know a lot of guys who have transitioned out, spent two years in community college, and are working full-time in jobs that they're enjoying. They were just as injured as anybody when they moved out. I think there has to be more push of their information forward. I don't know why it's not being done.
Here's an example. In 1985 they told us we had to start paying long-term disability. You have to have it, no choice. Before, you could opt in and out of it. I said, “Good stuff, long-term disability.” Those are the words. When I began working for OSISS, I was talking to a veteran, and he said, “Oh yeah, I've got to get this back to the insurance company, SISIP, because they're going to cut me off, it's been two years.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I have to go see a doctor, get this filled out, and then my long-term disability will be able to carry on.” I said, “No.” He said, “Yes, it's two years and they come knocking, and if you can't back it up, then they cut it out.”
Here's something I had believed, that I was going to be taken care of as other soldiers would be on this long-term disability, but it had all these caveats. Nobody told us. We just assumed that it was long term.