I call the meeting to order.
Good afternoon, everybody. This is the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs, meeting number 39. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are conducting a study of mental health and suicide prevention among veterans.
There are just a couple of quick housekeeping items today.
We have a new clerk assigned to the committee. Grant McLaughlin has moved on. We'd like to welcome Patrick Williams to the committee today.
We have a new member, David Graham. We'd like to welcome David to the committee today. Also, we have a new parliamentary secretary to the minister, Ms. Romanado, who is familiar to the committee. Welcome back, Sherry.
With that, we'll start with witnesses. Each group can use up to 10 minutes.
We'll start with Ms. Le Scelleur, who is here as an individual.
My thanks also go to all the committee members for inviting me to appear as part of this important study.
My name is Hélène Le Scelleur; I am a retired captain. I joined the Canadian Armed Forces at the age of 17. Belonging to something bigger than myself was what motivated that decision. Basically, I saw myself meeting the challenges shown in the recruiting advertisements.
I started out as a member of the first cohort of women in the infantry reserve, then I joined the regular forces. I committed myself heart and soul. I took my place, and achieved success, in a predominantly male environment. As a soldier, I was always one of the elite and I was rewarded in many ways. During my career, which extended over 26 years, I served in a number of units: twice in the former Yugoslavia and then, in 2007, in Afghanistan. I was also an aide-de-camp to the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada.
My career was full of rich and rewarding moments, both in the ranks and as a commissioned officer.
However, in April 2016, I was discharged from the forces on medical grounds, after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress.
From the time I was put into a permanent medical category until my discharge from the forces, two years and three months went by. The transition period was difficult and marked by times of intense suffering. I had suicidal thoughts. Like a number of my comrades, I went through episodes of suicidal thoughts and, had it not been for my husband and my children, I would not be here to testify before you.
I would like to make it clear to you that the problem is not related to my vocational transition because I have been able to pursue doctoral studies in social work. Nor is the problem because of a lack of health care, which would have made my symptoms worse. I was actually looked after very well by health professionals: the psychiatrists, the psychologists, my psychotherapist and my family doctor.
In my case, as in the cases of all the other veterans I know, and there are hundreds of them, it is the social aspect of the transition that has been completely eliminated from the process.
The 2014 Senate report entitled “The Transition to Civilian Life of Veterans” significantly echoes that discourse. The current trend is to maintain a focus on the vocational aspect of the transition but without considering another aspect inherent to it, namely, the adjustments to one’s identity and interpersonal relationships.
In addition, throughout the work of the Standing Committee on National Defence, despite the many research projects on mental injuries being conducted in the public sector and in universities, the statement is that it remains key to be critical of the medical profession, which is desperately trying to find a biological reason to explain mental conditions. With that in mind, approaches other than medical ones must be considered in the treatment of operational stress injuries, specifically the question of identity in the process.
In the Senate report I mentioned previously, the Standing Committee on National Defence also pointed out that, despite significant efforts at awareness and the range of mental health services in the Canadian Armed Forces, the feeling of lost identity is likely to make itself felt upon leaving the forces, which increases the psychological distress that is already present.
The Canadian Armed Forces have adopted clear policies for the reintegration of soldiers with their families, and with their organizations when they return to their bases after an operational mission. However, their reintegration in other aspects, such as their personal and social identity, after fighting a war, seems to be missing from the current process of transition.
In addition, little research has been done into the subjective experiences of current and former members of the military, into evaluating their process of transition towards their discharge from the Canadian Armed Forces in terms of how their well-being increases or decreases, and into expressing their needs outside the constraints of the prevailing discourse.
Currently, there is no Canadian literature on interpersonal rehabilitation with veterans and their families as they make the transition to civilian life. In his 2012 report, Pierre Daigle, the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, points out that the simple use of the expression “return to civilian life” could in fact be a factor in the suffering.
Finally, the term “return to civilian life” is sometimes employed by CF leaders and administrators. It completely misrepresents the reality facing most members afflicted with OSIs and no longer fit to serve. Though demographics are shifting, a preponderance of CF members still joined the military in early adulthood and know only what it is to be a sailor, soldier or airman/woman. Not only has their military career been the only one they have ever had, but it is a major part of their identity. As a result, the notion of “returning to civilian life” is invariably more complex and cathartic than the term suggests. More often than not it is an arrival to adult civilian life rather than a return, with all the uncertainty and trepidation that such entails.
I fully support that statement. The shaping of a soldier, from the oath of allegiance ceremony, through basic training — which is designed to get the civilian out and put the military unit in — and becoming a trained military member, forms the foundation on which a military identity is built. That identity remains ingrained for the rest of our careers.
We put a lot of effort into training our military, but we forget that we have to detrain them when they leave. The detraining cannot take the form of current transition programs, because they are not designed to consider that aspect. We should invest in training to return to civilian life that would focus on helping us to rediscover ourselves as individuals. It should establish our own values and our own needs, something members of the military have never done, because we think and act as a team in which individualism has no place. We have to learn how to build our own individuality once more.
However, that is not easy when you are going through the transition in isolation, as is the case for all those who are discharged for medical reasons. As soon as the diagnosis is given, a label follows, and a kind of rejection is experienced immediately. We are slowly moved aside, or even transferred to the Joint Personnel Support Team. From that point, the entire process is individual. In a way, we are isolated from and forgotten by the system that shaped us. We feel the burden of our suffering in addition to the burden of this rejection.
We go through the discharge process ourselves, with no social support, no comrades or peers to help. We wear our equipment, an important symbol of identity, and our identity cards, with no thanks, no honours, and no acknowledgement of what we have given. We have to beg to leave with dignity; there are no parades to recognize our service and our sacrifice.
So ask yourselves, when you add all that up, whether it may be normal for a person to have suicidal thoughts.
I would have liked to leave with honour. The current process leaves us with a bitter taste that implies that, because we are wounded, we are no longer worthy enough to be mentioned or respected for what we gave to the fight. Believe you me, that is enough to lead a person who is suffering to suicide.
Once again, Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to testify today. I sincerely believe that changes can be made to support our veterans in an honourable and respectful transition that could, I am convinced, avoid a descent into hell and a fatal act.
I will be pleased to answer your questions about my situation, and I gladly welcome your comments.
Thank you, Chair and committee members, for allowing us to be here to present with regard to a very important topic.
My name is Rae Banwarie. I'm the national president of the Mounted Police Professional Association. We are the group trying to organize and unionize the RCMP. We have with us Mr. Sebastien Anderson, a lawyer who represents a lot of our members in a lot of the cases involving mental health and the fallout. Also with me is Dave Reichert, a retired member who is helping a lot of our members in the transition from currently serving to being retired. As the committee knows, all of our members are veterans who are done with the force.
I've given the clerk copies of my presentation, which has our brief as well as a couple of attachments. One is on an investigation that was done by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada regarding a mental health issue and case. It was very significant. There is also the letter from Blue Cross that was sent to all of our members specifically on health care and the parameters under which our people can get help from it.
Our presentation focuses primarily on four main points: lack of consultation by the RCMP with employees and employee organizations when drafting the mental health strategy that's currently in place; access to Veterans Affairs' occupational stress injuries clinics, which is also regulated by the RCMP health services officer; health services given to our members, which are contingent on the release of members' medical information; and the employer-employee relationship between the RCMP and its psychologists and doctors, which is very problematic.
I'll begin with the mental health strategy—MHS, as it's called—and highlight just a few of the issues.
This process was initiated in 2014 and is a step in the right direction, as it recognizes the importance of mental health for RCMP officers. What is stated in this strategy appears to ensure that the members have the appropriate mental health care necessary to meet the significant demands of police work. However, when you dig deeper into the strategy, you realize that this program was created primarily with the input of sub-group professionals within the organization under contract to the RCMP, unlike the case for other police agencies, such as the city police in Ottawa or Victoria, whose associations' independent bodies are part of these processes.
The RCMP used its own doctors and psychologists from its approved lists, along with the return-to-work coordinators. In all of these situations, right now, in every division across the country, the client of these doctors, physicians, and psychologists is the RCMP. It's not the member; it never has been the member. These groups take their direction from their employer and answer to the RCMP, not to the members whom they're supposed to be assisting.
How much substantial input was sought from the national membership regarding the design and development of this program? Shouldn't our members and their families, the people who would utilize the process and resources, be at the front, as they are the focus of the program? In reality, very little of this was done.
What about our association, which has been advocating for and representing members since 1994? We've had very little, if any, input into this process. We have had little or no input into these processes although we have been the members on the front lines helping and providing physical and emotional support for hundreds of members suffering from the myriad issues occurring in the RCMP, including harassment, bullying, intimidation, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and addictions.
Along with many of the other national officers, I have been providing emotional and physical support for these members and their families on a national scale. The primary thing for a lot of our members—even those going into retirement, at which point Veterans Affairs takes over from our employer-controlled program for currently serving members—is that our people trust us. Right now, as far as a lot of our members are concerned, there's no trust in the employer, especially on the medical side. Sadly, we've lost many good people to suicide. My brief references a study on occupational health and safety that says we have had more than 31 suicides of current and retired RCMP members since 2006. That's a significant number, and that's once they started counting. How many were there before? We don't know.
If our organization were truly committed to the mental health of our people, they would embrace any and all support from any mechanism, including us, to help. I was the one who reached out to our CO, or commanding officer, in the biggest division, E division, and offered assistance in an unofficial capacity to help with outstanding grievance and harassment complaints, usually the precursors that can snowball into worse and worse situations—PTSD, anxiety, OSI, all kinds of issues.
To his credit, he did accept the offer, but this is off the corner of our desk and never in a full-time capacity. Since we have been engaged in this work, we're batting at least a 90% success rate. A lot of it comes down to the fact that we're independent and the members trust us. We need to be able to move on this full time to reduce the harm and reduce all of the issues that are happening in our organization.
I have shared with this committee just a brief overview of one of the points contained in the brief. When the brief is translated and you have it, please take the time to go over it in more detail. We're prepared, and I'm prepared, to present more information to the committee at any time.
I will turn the presentation over now to Dave Reichert, from the Retired Members Alliance. As a retired member, he can talk to the issues from that side of the house.
My name is Dave Reichert. I spent 35 years in the RCMP and I've been retired now for the last two years.
The RCMP is a large organization, which has grown and evolved to the point where the needs of management have minimized the needs and health of its members. An RCMP officer who declares they have health problems, PTSD, or other ailments is stigmatized and soon develops into a person who is ostracized by others within the organization. He or she begins to seek support to overcome these issues and related stigma.
The RCMP becomes the client, and the member participates helplessly under its direction. It is the RCMP health service that decides which medical doctors, psychologists, and other specialists are approved. These doctors participate with the affected member, while agreeing to follow the rules and direction of RCMP management. They accept this knowing that they will receive other referrals and become the doctor of choice.
This control by the RCMP has escalated to the point where doctors are told what to do, what the desired outcomes are, what they can say about the treatments, and how the treatments are done. In some cases, the member never knows what is happening.
The RCMP uses bullying tactics, including having officers attend physicians' offices and tell the doctors what to do. They have letters of conduct forwarded to the college of specialists to complain about the actions of the doctors, and they outright refuse doctors and access by members to those doctors. RCMP health services has had its own doctors tell the doctors paid by the force to return people to work without doing any consultation whatsoever with the members.
Trust of the RCMP management is quickly waning. Personal health information is often shared by others. The RCMP has removed doctors from RCMP patients and has failed to follow up to ensure their safety and their health. It has done this without their knowledge and while knowing that some of the people they removed the doctors from were suicidal. Again, there was no follow-up, no phone call, no referral to any doctor. They just left them alone.
The privacy breach that occurred across Canada, mainly in British Columbia, involved the RCMP taking the files of members under the care of a particular psychologist and forwarding them to the college of physicians and sharing them with the membership. The privacy breach was that the information was shared when all the names and everything else remained in the files.
Grievances pertaining to this breach were not replied to by the RCMP. We sent in numerous letters and gave them numerous opportunities to deal with this. I was involved with this particular case, and I gave them every opportunity for change. All I wanted was change. I was forced to go through the court process. I paid for the lawyer myself out of my own money, while the force, or members who were involved or implicated in this, went and used the public purse for their defence and for the actual action. Basically, it's very expensive and it's very cumbersome to deal with.
The RCMP preaches about its core values of honesty, integrity, compassion, accountability, and professionalism on a regular basis, but once a member sees these values violated and sees the outright disregard for the health of the members, the member becomes and feels very isolated.
Accountablility for that breach of trust and privacy was perhaps best demonstrated in a recent court decision that awarded $100 million to the abused female members of the RCMP. This was a great decision, but on one side it wasn't. In that decision, nobody was held accountable. Not one change was required to be made by the force, and no one was held accountable. Again, the $100 million didn't come out of the RCMP budget; it came out of the public purse. That made it very, very difficult for members to swallow that.
Several members are now removing themselves from the process of helping members, citing that it is becoming too political or too much work. The delayed-payment structure in the force is also causing problems.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee today. It's my privilege to appear today to give voice to those RCMP members suffering from mental disabilities who are reluctant to speak for themselves publicly as a result of the risk of the stigma associated with mental illness and for fear of repercussions.
There is no meaningful mental health strategy within the RCMP. As a result of the amendments to the RCMP Act sought by the RCMP commissioner, the implementation by the Conservative government of the enhancement to the RCMP Act accountability, and section 6 of the commissioner's standing orders, RCMP members with a physical or mental disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, are being medically discharged with no meaningful attempt to accommodate their respective disabilities. In reality, the RCMP's mental health strategy is nothing more than meaningless platitudes.
Rather than fulfilling their legal duty to accommodate disabled RCMP members by attempting to relocate or retrain them, the RCMP's health services officers have engaged in a widespread campaign throughout the force to declare them totally disabled from performing any RCMP work, resulting in medical discharge.
Consequently, too many disabled RCMP members to count are finding themselves summarily discharged to the scrap heap of humanity by the force. The RCMP's conduct with respect to disabled RCMP members is unconscionable. The RCMP's harsh conduct not only aggravates any underlying mental health issues for disabled RCMP members but can also lead to suicide.
I point out in my speaking notes that the vocational rehab services that are typically available to members of the Armed Forces are not available to RCMP members, and there's no explanation for that other than the RCMP opting not to engage those services for their members.
I've cited in my speaking notes and in the appendices two case studies. I won't go into them now, but they will illustrate two of our current cases that we have undertaken on behalf of individual RCMP members, and they're illustrative of cases that we've handled on behalf of RCMP members across Canada. We're a virtual law office operating out of Coquitlam. We represent RCMP members in every province of Canada except Quebec, and it's against that background that I make these statements.
Unlike the Canadian Armed Forces or the provincial workers' compensation regimes, the RCMP does not have a vocational rehabilitation program. However, a vocational rehabilitation program is absolutely necessary to accommodate sworn RCMP members suffering from a properly diagnosed mental or physical disability such as PTSD, either to another meaningful law enforcement role or to alternative employment as a civilian employee, so that they can continue to contribute as valuable members of society at work, at home, and in the community. A vocational rehabilitation program should include benefits such as career transition services, relocation, and retraining, including priority hiring within the federal public service.
Vocational rehabilitation benefits and programs ought to be available to current and former RCMP members prior to the RCMP initiating a medical discharge, similar to the vocational rehabilitation benefits and programs available through the various workers' compensation regimes available to municipal and provincial police officers and most other employees in the federal, provincial, and private sectors.
Those are my comments.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and committee members.
It's my pleasure to be here before you today. My name is Debbie Lowther, and I am the chair and co-founder of Veterans Emergency Transition Services, VETS Canada, but I'm also the spouse of a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, a man who served this country proudly for 15 years until his career was cut short due to injuries, both physical and psychological. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2002 and was released in 2005. We founded VETS Canada together in 2010.
VETS Canada is an organization dedicated to assisting veterans who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or are in crisis. To date we've assisted over 1,400 veterans across the country; the vast majority of those veterans have struggled with mental health issues, some diagnosed and some not yet diagnosed. While some of our volunteers have health care backgrounds, we as a whole are not a health care organization, and we are not researchers. We are simply a group of over 500 volunteers who work closely with these veterans who, for one reason or another, have found themselves in crisis.
To that end, I'd like to share some of our observations with you as they relate to mental health and suicide prevention. I would also like to point out that the majority of our volunteer base is made up of still-serving members and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces and RCMP, as well as their family members. Many of these volunteers have also dealt with or are still dealing with mental health issues. These common bonds of military service and mental health struggles lend themselves to wonderful peer support, which we have learned is a key component in the successful transition from both military life to civilian life and from a life of crisis to a stable life.
As I said earlier, the majority of the veterans we serve are struggling with poor mental health. Many end up on the street due to lack of medical attention for their mental illness. This lack of medical attention seems to occur either because the member or the veteran did not seek help or because the help they received was insufficient: there are long wait times to see mental health care practitioners, and there is difficulty finding mental health care providers who have experience and knowledge in dealing with PTSD.
The veterans community has been asking for quite some time for a veteran-specific treatment facility. Veterans can go to Homewood and they can go to Bellwood, and we've had veterans go through those programs successfully, so I'm not criticizing them. These facilities depend heavily on group therapy, which is great if the group has some common ground, aside from the fact that they all have mental illnesses.
To give you an example, I'd like to relay what a veteran who had been to Homewood explained to me. This veteran had deployed twice, once to Bosnia and once to Afghanistan, and had witnessed horrific things. While at Homewood he was participating in group therapy, and what he said to me was this: “How am I going to talk about finding mass graves in bloody combat when the girl next to me is talking about her mummy-and-daddy issues?” He certainly was not intending to diminish the importance of her issues; rather, he was more concerned about putting the thoughts and visions that he had in his own mind into someone else's.
I know this to be a common concern for veterans suffering from PTSD. My own husband was very reluctant to open up in the beginning of his treatment for PTSD for fear of transferring his torment into the mind of the psychologist that he was seeing at the time. A treatment centre specifically for veterans would most definitely be more effective, as we know that veterans will be more open to treatment if they are surrounded by their peers, people who understand them.
We're seeing that men and women who wear the uniform are often forced to take it off before they're ready, both mentally and financially. We've been hearing for a long time about closing the seam, but it still isn't closed. These situations are what could be referred to as a domino effect. In the cases of medical releases, the member is dealing with an injury, either physical or mental, so there is stress number one. They're losing their career, their sense of purpose, and their support system, so there's stress number two. They're waiting unacceptable amounts of time for their pensions and benefits to kick in, their savings are being depleted, and their credit cards are being maxed out; there's stress number three. We all know that financial issues often lead to marital breakdown, or at least marital discord; there's stress number four.
Imagine dealing with all of this while struggling with mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety. All these stresses tend to intensify one another, and they affect coping abilities. Mental health is impacted by each of those factors of job loss, financial hardship, and marital or familial breakdown. I think even a person who doesn't have mental health issues would have a hard time dealing with this domino effect of one stressful situation after another.
I would also like to point out that the member isn't just losing a job or a career: serving in the military is a way of life, a culture all its own, and it is the member's identity. If you were to ask my husband which branch of the military he was in, he wouldn't tell you that he was in the army. He would say, “I was army.”
Our men and women who join the military go through basic training to learn this new culture or way of life. They're stripped down and turned into soldiers. Perhaps at the end of their career there should be an exit boot camp to teach that soldier, sailor, airman, or airwoman how to be a civilian.
Another thing that would be helpful would be to have the releasing member assigned a peer, someone who has already gone through the process, to provide them with support. As I mentioned earlier, we know that peer support is a crucial piece in a successful transition.
I'd like to go back to the medical release process for a minute, as it relates back to that seam that remains unclosed.
When a member is released from the military due to an injury—a physical or mental injury sustained as a result of service—that has been diagnosed by a Canadian Armed Forces medical officer, the member has to deal with a new department, Veterans Affairs Canada. You would think that they would accept the diagnosis of the Canadian Armed Forces medical officer, but no, that is not the case. They then have to be evaluated by a Veterans Affairs-approved physician. That physician may not agree with the diagnosis of the Canadian Armed Forces medical officer, so then what? Based on this new physician's opinion, the member does not receive a disability award—more financial stress. They can appeal the decision—more mental stress.
I know that this is not news to any of you. You've heard it all before. In fact, I brought it up myself the last time I was here. This process is a bureaucratic waste of time and money, but most importantly, it causes undue stress to the injured member.
In closing, I will mention suicide prevention. I don't think there's a concrete method of prevention, but I do think that we can put things in place to reduce the number of suicides. The first would be to keep the member in until things are lined up for them to transition seamlessly from DND to VAC. Maybe there needs to be a transition case manager who ensures that all paperwork is completed properly and who also ensures that the paperwork is not lost, as this seems to be a common problem. This process should include applications for benefits through VAC and SISIP before the member is released. A strong peer support network would also be very beneficial in suicide prevention. This would also include the veteran's specific treatment program.
Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.
Thanks to all of you for coming today and for what we again get to hear.
Debbie, you are correct: we have heard many of these things many, many times. In all honesty, if I look back to previous committees, they have been heard many, many times. There's trouble pulling the trigger, it would appear.
The things you suggest are simple in many ways, and so clear and specific, and I'm pleased to say that a lot of them are in our report. However, the challenge, of course, is to see them actually happen and close that seam, which I truly believe everybody in this room really wants to see. The more that I have the opportunity to be here.... I mean, having been in business, I'd like to fire everybody and start over sometimes, quite honestly, but that's enough of my ranting.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mrs. Cathay Wagantall: Hélène, I'd like it if you could talk a bit more about the process of deconstruction, because this is something I brought up right near the beginning.
We know what goes into creating our soldiers. I just spoke with the parents of Patrick Rushowick from my riding. He committed suicide. You're right: they didn't have a clue as to what his life was about. I know that information isn't shared with their families, with people who possibly.... When you talk about a deconstruction program, can you envision a bit more of what that would look like? That's also for anyone else who would like to share.
Thank you very much for your question.
In practice, if an RCMP member is required to see a psychologist outside of the Blue Cross program that's offered, their only choice is to select one of the psychologists that the RCMP has on its list as an approved service provider. They have to go to that approved service provider. Service providers are allotted 10 counselling hours at a time, and in order to get another slate of 10 hours, they have to submit detailed briefing notes that include the diagnosis and what was talked about in counselling. All of that is disclosed to the health services office by the service provider. If that information isn't provided, and if the member refuses to allow the psychologist to disclose that information, then the service is cut off. They're cut off treatment. That happened in the two cases that I cited in the case study.
The first one was a member dealing with PTSD. He was on a graduated return-to-work program that was approved by the RCMP. His health care provider, a psychologist, was approved by the RCMP and the member. The RCMP dropped the ball at every step of the graduated return-to-work program, starting with the security clearance that took several months to complete. They put him through the long form that a new employee has to complete, rather than the short form. Next they provided him with a laptop, but to this day, the laptop doesn't have a functional battery; it has to be plugged in. It took three months for the security key to be provided to him. When all of those things were in place, they failed to provide him with any meaningful RCMP work to perform during the graduated return-to-work program.
A line manager then directed him to report to work, in violation of the graduated return-to-work program, and he would have faced discipline if he failed to do that. Ultimately, three years ago, the RCMP cancelled its funding for the treatment being provided by the psychologist. The member remains on sick leave.
I find it very strange what the RCMP does. If you get into a car accident, they send out an investigator, they send out an analyst, and they take measurements and photos. They take statements from everybody involved and they find out what the cause of that accident was.
If you're involved in a shooting or you're involved in any use of force, they create an investigation. They do it. They do everything possible to come to a resolution and see if the person needs more training or what they can do to deal with the situation.
When it comes to workplace injuries involving PTSD and everything else, there's no investigation. All that happens is you come into the office and they tell you you're going to see a psychologist by policy, and that's the end of it. A number of times what they do is send you to your doctor, and he sends you back to work in the same environment that you were having issues with.
There's a very common factor here that when you speak to lawyers, doctors, psychologists, and treating physicians, the same names of people involved in these issues keep coming up, and unless you know what the problem is, how do you treat? You can't send the same person back to the same environment unless there's change, and the responsibility lies not only with the employer but also with the employee. They have to work together to resolve the issue, but right now it's all on the employee, and it's very difficult for that employee to return to that environment.
Right now, you do have the ability through Veterans Affairs to go to an OSI clinic, depending on a diagnosis for whatever it may be, whether it's PTSD or anxiety and depression and that type of thing. From what I understand, the process has changed. Before now, you could get referred by just your GP. Now it has to be a referral from your doctor and health services through the RCMP. That is a huge issue for a lot of people.
Again I have to come back to the point on the trust issue. This is part of the whole problem: being seen as the weak link. The stigma is still there, and especially in our organization, for mental health. There are a lot of platitudes, a lot of paper, and a lot of documents, but when you start digging deeper to see how well it works, it's not working very well at all.
I've also been diagnosed with an OSI, and I know how hard it is and how that affects you in so many different ways. There are a lot of issues or problems, and I'm looking for the solutions as well, because I'm a very solution-driven individual. I look to see what else is happening. What's happening in the policing world with other agencies? A big part of it is that an independent body like the police association works collaboratively with the employer to address a lot of the falling-downs and shortcomings.
In terms of this change to needing to have the approval of the health services officer, a lot of the time it's just a commissioned officer who's working in conjunction with the doctors and psychologists who are paid by the force and who report to the force.
Let's give a practical example. You go in. You've been exposed to so much stuff. You're diagnosed with an occupational stress injury, whether it's PTSD or anxiety or depression or whatever it may be. The current process we have through Blue Cross gives you six hours to go and see any psychologist. After that, you have to apply to get the okay from health services to be able to continue getting treatment.
In my brief, you'll see an actual letter that was sent to every single member from Blue Cross, and I must share this with you, because it's pretty significant. It says that when you use the program, the “legislative and regulatory authorities to collect, use, and disclose your personal information is contained in” the new act that my colleague Mr. Anderson spoke about. It states, “By using this card, you are authorizing the RCMP, Medavie Blue Cross, its agents and service providers to collect, use, and disclose information about you for the purpose of RCMP Supplemental and Occupational Health Care benefits....” The only way you can get this is if you agree to share your information.
I also have in the brief the letter that I wrote to the privacy officer at Blue Cross asking who these agents are. Who are these other people? In any situation, the privacy.... It would be no different from you going to see your doctor and then finding out after you've seen your doctor that your employer knows everything about you and everything about your situation. Right away, the red flags go up. That's just the way it is for the members who call us and who reach out to us. That's just the simplest piece, the starting point.
There are many things you have to consider. I'm a proud member of the organization, still a serving current member, and I am leading the charge to bring about a lot of changes. At the end of the day, when you cut everything aside, put everything off the table, it's control and putting out what people want to hear and what people want to see versus what is actually happening.
The case that was cited, the privacy breach, is a clear indicator of that in terms of the stigma. We have been actively helping our members. They're turning to us. The trust component is there for us. We are not being given the ability to do this work full time to save, to reach out, to make differences in people's lives.
You will always get management telling you about all these great programs, all these great processes. I've had the same discussion with several senior officers. I've said that you can put however many programs and however many processes in place, but none of it is going to matter if you don't have the trust. That is a key piece that is missing.
Dr. Webster is one of the psychologists. There's another one, Dr. Passey, a well-known psychologist in B.C. who has spoken out against the same issues, who's also in the same situation. Just by looking at this idea or problem as a different concept, I became aware in different provinces—Ontario, Manitoba, and I think Alberta—of presumptive legislation for PTSD. The biggest division in the country, British Columbia, does not have that for all first responders. It's not only police; it's military, it's firefighters, it's ambulances. Those basic things must be in place.
An NDP member in British Columbia, Shane Simpson, was the one who entered a private member's bill—I don't have the number in front of me—to try to get that recognized in the province of B.C. It didn't go anywhere.
Absolutely, yes, but we're here and we recognize in an organization as big as ours we're always going to have these issues, but not to the extent that they should be happening.
If you're being offered help and resolutions and solutions to reduce the harm, why would you not accept it? The only reason you would not accept the help is control. With that, you've touched on a very key part about the lack of accountability. That is a very big issue.
If you want to take other agencies—for example, big agencies, police agencies—and if you want to be specific just for our organization, how are they managing? What are they doing differently? How come you don't see all these issues happening in metro Toronto or the OPP?
A very simple piece of this is that it is because they have an independent body there that is holding management accountable. There's also a collective bargaining agreement that lays out the framework for the responsibilities of the management as well as the members, and if there are issues, this is how they're addressed and they're addressed in a timely fashion.
That's all part of the process. That's all part of what keeps the members and those agencies healthy and helps toward their overall wellness, because they know if issues occur and things happen, they're going to be addressed and they're going to be addressed impartially. That is what is missing out of all of this. You fix that and you will change the culture. You change the culture and you're going to change the RCMP. That's the solution, and that's why this work is so important.
The files and the investigations and all that stuff—that's important, but your people are more important than all of that.