I have been a military spouse for 20 years. My husband is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress and comorbid major depression. He has suicidal and homicidal thoughts. I am testifying today on behalf of a family that is suffering the repercussions of a care system that is, in my opinion, not very effective. I am the mother of three children. My husband has been sent to the battlefield twice. We have also been transferred outside of Canada. Despite the fact that his symptoms were already present, he passed the screening test with flying colours.
In 2007, upon his return, he voluntarily went to seek help by climbing the famous steps that are still today known as “the stairs of shame”, unfortunately. We soon realized that if we continued the process, there would be repercussions on his career; he would have fewer promotions and no more transfers. It would be impossible for him to return to the theatre of operations, which was very important to him.
Most members of the Canadian Armed Forces derive their identity to an extent from belonging to the forces, which was the case for my husband. So he was afraid of losing his identity. In fact, he even got the psychologist he saw to not put any notes in his file. He asked not to receive medication or an orange flag if he ever received a promotion, which was granted. It is not normal for people who need care to have to choose between the shame of being singled out and care to feel better with their families and within themselves.
Afterwards, the symptoms worsened: nightmares, irritability, dissociation, verbal aggression, flashbacks, migraines, depression, hypervigilance, isolation, and so on. I could go on, but I will stop there. They try to make us believe that it's less taboo, but it's not.
Time passed and the impact on my family was disturbing. So I took my spouse to the military hospital. He had physical symptoms that gave me a way in. Once there, he was seen in the emergency department. I took the opportunity to go upstairs, to the mental health services, to ask for help. At first, I was refused help because I was not a serving military member. My spouse had to give his consent so that I could talk about what was going on at home. So I said that I was absolving myself of any responsibility if something happened, because I was talking about risks to his life. My spouse was eventually taken into care, although he did not give his consent.
In the end, what I thought was life-saving was the beginning of the end, in our case. There was a confrontation about his symptoms, and right away, on the first day, he cracked impressively. They had to get us out of the place. Desks went flying. In short, we returned home with a small pamphlet under our arm explaining that my spouse was suffering from post-traumatic stress—it was jargon for us—without giving us any further guidance.
My children suffered collateral damage in several ways. When I asked for support, we were directed to a place that was more than an hour away from my home. I would like to remind you that I am the mother of three children and a full-time social worker in the health field. In addition, we were told that we each had to have a different worker, so I had to drive three hours, three times a week in the same week. It was impossible for me.
Since there is no universality of services in all regions, it is difficult for people who do not live near large bases to access them. Here, I'm talking about families. Certainly there is care for the military member, but for the family, the relatives, the parents and the children, it's more difficult. Moreover, it is very difficult, both for the member of the forces and for the family, to obtain service in their mother tongue. That's something we really need to work on. My spouse had to tell his story in a language that is not his own. It's not always easy to try to express emotions in a language that is not yours. Some things were sometimes misunderstood.
They gave my husband a lot of medication but never really addressed the problem. It was as if they wanted to suppress the symptoms of the soldier to keep him functional until he was medically released, so that the civilian system would take care of him in a slightly more comprehensive way.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are no longer necessarily useful in the workplace, so they are put aside. In fact, something a bit shocking happened in our case. My husband has had to be cared for in psychiatric units several times. We went to the Bellwood Centre, the Douglas Institute and Ste. Anne’s Hospital, which we were told was a specialized hospital for veterans with mental health problems.
During a crisis, they called in the middle of the night to tell me that my spouse's case was too serious for the specialized mental health centre. The solution I was offered was to send him home. They felt that my three children and I were better equipped than the centre, which had had to take over because his case was too serious for me. Today, I still feel some resentment. The therapy was never completed. My spouse was sent home during the stabilization phase. There was never any treatment or psychotherapy phase during this hospitalization.
Why aren't families at the centre of care plans? At the very least, there should be a post-deployment consultation to check for unusual symptoms or abnormal behaviours. Why is it that we are not really consulted during interventions when we could help to create a much more realistic picture of the situation?
Sometimes, the sick person may not want to or simply cannot make people understand the gravity of their symptoms. Moreover, this type of situation is not always adapted to the reality of families. A lot of medication is given to try to maintain a functional level, as I was saying earlier, but there are important consequences for those around them. My husband, for example, developed diabetes. We had consulted the military psychiatrist, who had prescribed medications with drug interactions. The pharmacist pointed out that diabetes could be the result, but we were told the opposite. Eventually the diabetes set in. After hospitalization in another psychiatric centre, the medication was stopped and the diabetes disappeared.
In July 2020, my husband was really not well. I emailed his general practitioner, who works at the centre in the area where we currently live. I wrote to him that although I am not a military doctor—indeed, I normally try not to get involved in that, as we don't really have a place there—I demanded an answer, because I really feared for my husband's life. I wrote this email on July 19 and I didn't receive a response until several days later. Although no one had seen my spouse, I was asked to agree to an increase in his medication. This was the solution that was proposed.
On July 27, my husband attempted suicide. He wanted to die. He was rescued in extremis by police officers as he was about to jump off a bridge in our city. Next to the bridge, there were military things that he had brought. He had folded his clothes, and on the pile of clothes he had put his military ID card. For him, going out in 3B service dress was indeed unacceptable.
The lieutenant of the police department in my area wanted to contact the Canadian Forces on the phone to make a report, because the police officers had been rattled by my husband's comments and his distress. Of course, it didn't work. For my part, I gave my consent and my husband's service number, but the lieutenant was never able to make a report to anyone.
So they sent my husband to a civilian centre for four months, since no one in the military could help us refer him to another centre. His crisis state was too severe for Ste. Anne's Hospital. So we had to stay on the civilian side, although these people are not at all equipped to deal with post-traumatic stress of this kind.
I sought psychological help for my children and me. However, after two sessions, I was told that since my husband was not yet a veteran, I did not have access to refundable care. They demanded that I reimburse them and come back for a consultation when my husband was a veteran. Unfortunately, I did not choose the date of my husband's suicide attempt. Of course, I felt really alone, left to my own devices.
What is even more shocking is that I later found out, after requesting help from the employee assistance program, that the social worker to whom our file was assigned was not allowed to provide us with care because her husband is in the Canadian Forces. She would have been somewhat familiar with our reality. She asked for an exemption to be able to treat us, but her managers refused. She was told that they preferred that services be provided by people who were a little less familiar with military reality in order to maintain impartiality. In my opinion, this is nonsense, because the regular workers have no idea what military life, and life for the families, is like.
Last December, as my husband was about to be given a 3B release, I reported to his team that he suspected he had been sexually assaulted while deployed to an operational theatre. I was told that I had to go to his civilian doctor, as his care was no longer under their purview. We're talking about a sexual assault here. I was a little stunned by this answer.
The new doctor had not built a relationship of trust with my spouse. It was a new transition. I found it completely absurd. They wash their hands of it when they have destroyed a life and a career.
The return to civilian life is hell, especially for sick people. They do not receive enough support. My spouse is completely disabled, and he can't fill out the 88 forms needed to move from one stage to the next. We don't have any help, and I don't know anything about military forms. It has been a very laborious and difficult process.
During my husband's sick leave, they wanted to force him to use his vacation time. He was unable to take a holiday, but they wouldn't pay him back. We had to fight, and we finally won.
You always have to fight. You have to fight with Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces. You have to fight for medication. You have to fight for care in a facility focused on military post-traumatic stress disorder. It is very tiring and it weighs heavily on the shoulders of the loved ones.
Today, my husband is no longer a soldier, but a veteran since December. But he wanted to die because he was ashamed that he could not continue his military career; that's saying something.
The transition is difficult even for people who are not suffering from post-traumatic stress. Try to imagine how difficult it can be for someone who loses their whole identity because of such a severe disorder.
It is imperative that we, as families, become more involved in the care process. We are the ones who live with the consequences on a daily basis. We are the eyes and ears. We are the caregivers.
I don't know if you are aware of this, but the member's spouse must give permission before he or she can receive service. In Valcartier, they even go so far as to ask the member to register his or her spouse to participate in the care. Do you really think that those who wish to hide their health problem, violent spouses or anyone who has any independence will give their consent at the risk of being unmasked? The answer is no, of course not.
I would like to mention, however, that there is an excellent peer support program, the operational stress injury social support group, or OSISS.
The distress of families is real and just as important as the distress of the military member. Access to services must be facilitated. Sometimes, continuity of services is also an issue, whether in terms of reassignment or release. Post-traumatic stress is like a tsunami, it drags everyone along.
This year, I decided to create, on social media, a group for women who live with spouses who are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Five minutes after the creation of the group, it already had 65 members. These are women who, like me, have not found services anywhere else. We feel really alone.
The lack of service, support, access and concerted care defeats too many people. Unfortunately, in our case, my spouse's mental health problems will have undone 20 years of marriage. Although not in conflict, we are currently in the process of separating, and he understands why. I can no longer continue to bear, by myself, the burden of the heavy work he has to do on himself.
Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members.
My name is Hinesh Chauhan. I spent 18 and a half years in the army, an equal combination of full-time and part-time service, as a combat engineer and then an engineer officer. I had very broad experience and exposure to various operations. I gained a lot during my time in the CAF.
From there I moved to the federal public service. My first role was as a senior program analyst with the Treasury Board Secretariat, overseeing the defence portfolio of organizations, high-risk projects, purchases, acquisitions and management practices. I'm currently a director overseeing capital investments and projects for rural property assets at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I am intimately familiar with the defence machine and culture and the federal bureaucracy. I love the work I get to do and very much enjoy bringing value for money to Canadians.
As a secondary duty, I lead a wellness program that has supported substantially raising employee satisfaction based on results measured by the public service employment survey, showing an improvement of 120% over two years. I firmly believe measurement drives behaviour and that success must be quantified.
I'm here today to discuss the circumstances around my brother's death. My brother, Warrant Officer Sanjeev Chauhan, my only sibling, killed himself on October 17, 2020. He disappeared the previous night and was found dead, face down in a field on the base in Petawawa.
My brother was a father, a husband and an army intelligence operator, who spent time in a special operating forces unit with four tours, to Afghanistan, Bali, Latvia and Iraq. He loved being a soldier. He loved his trade and loved what he got to do. He wore his uniform with more pride than I've seen any other member wear a uniform.
The circumstances that led to his suicide are not entirely surprising when broken down. What was known by his chain of command and what was documented within the HR system was sufficient to raise red flags. With an objective lens, I very much believe the system failed him.
In looking at the “2019 Report on Suicide Mortality in the Canadian Armed Forces” and several other findings in reports, he had most of the indicators listed by DND as a factor leading to suicide. He had multiple tours in a short amount of time. He was with the special operations forces unit. He had a brain injury. He had PTSD and other psychological conditions. He had been put in a medical category. He had begun drinking and had alcohol-related incidents. He had been very recently separated. He had a disciplinary issue and a pending court martial. He had a previous suicide attempt. He had a family member who had committed suicide. He had been isolated and removed from his unit after the incident that would lead to a court martial.
The pending court martial, related to a June 2019 incident, was a dark cloud over my brother. It was repeatedly rescheduled and delayed and was far from timely and efficient—an issue identified in the 2018 Auditor General report, “Administration of Justice in the Canadian Armed Forces”.
The purpose of the military justice system is to maintain discipline, efficiency and morale in the CAF. The process my brother faced provided the exact opposite. I worry for other members who face this lack of oversight and lack of time standards, which is what the OAG has recommended is required. Measurement does drive behaviour.
His chain of command also had directed members of his unit to not communicate with him, thereby shunning him from what gave him purpose and his identity. Several of the studies show the impact of losing identity on members who release. Social isolation is another main contributor to increasing odds for suicide. This order, in my opinion, was appalling and inexcusable and goes against all leadership principles. This led to his ostracization and the further deterioration of his mental health. It took away his dignity. I think it violated his human rights.
In trying to understand this direction, I wrote a letter to the , which I shared with this committee. The topic was not addressed in the response. However, immediate denial was provided to a journalist who wrote in asking the same.
How any military leader can issue such a command is beyond me and goes against the Canadian military ethos and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If one leader can issue a command of this nature, which is then followed, it speaks to the unhealthy culture within the organization.
All the factors I listed earlier have repeatedly been identified by both DND and VAC as elements that increase the risk of suicide. At what point do these issues raise a red flag to health services for the chain of command? The majority of these factors were in his personnel file and in the HR system. These factors, when combined, could set up automated flags for his chain of command and health services to take note and take action.
Another question is this: When does psychological-related substance abuse become more closely examined to prevent more serious events? This should be examined from a causal point of view versus a symptomatic point of view. This early warning system, red flags in the system that look at these factors and pop up proactively or are automated, could prevent suicides. At a minimum, it would being attention to members who are at the tipping point and get them the attention they need—immediate intervention.
When I spoke to my peers in uniform, the overwhelming response about mental health in the forces was that they feel there is still a stigma. It's still viewed as weakness and a burden to the organization. Those who experience psychotic episodes had to wait to get the right services, to get the proper medical or psychological attention.
Based on what I read in the National Defence departmental plan, everything related to mental health, which is only mentioned once and suicide twice, lacks metrics, lacks clear measurable objectives. Despite being a priority of the Clerk of the Privy Council, mental health appearing once in the departmental plan says a lot about the culture and how this is viewed within the organization. Just like harassment training was brought to everybody about 20 years ago, the same should apply for mental health first aid. Just as physical first aid is taught—every year, a refresher is taught—the same should apply to mental health first aid, and it should be incorporated into leadership performance appraisals. Again, measurement drives behaviour.
I'd like to share a really interesting observation I've learned. The countries surrounding the Mediterranean and Red seas, as well as those in Southeast Asia and in the South Pacific, all have the lowest rates of suicide. Remarkably, the Israel Defense Forces have taken action and have reduced their suicide rate to where it's now lower than their civilian rate of suicide, which is not the trend in any other western country or in any other country with an advanced military.
If a soldier goes missing, the IDF, with the press of a button, uses technological means to locate the soldier. In the last year, the IDF has claimed that this has saved four soldiers' lives. If that were the case within Canada, my brother could be alive today and could be getting the help and attention that he needed, but culture is a difficult thing to change. As the adage goes, culture eats strategy for breakfast.
The dichotomy of a soldier is challenging. How do you balance being a warrior, being asked to perform duties no other Canadian is willing to do, and then return home to assimilate and behave conventionally? Switching between these two personas generates serious mental stress. Being able to relate with others and share experiences and challenges is a large part in managing this dichotomy. However, the traditional venues that exist for bonding are the messes and Legions, which revolve around alcohol.
Study after study show that numbing through addiction is counterproductive and very common, and these same studies show that exercise and positive social interaction are the simplest and most effective tools to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve mental health and resiliency.
I firmly believe that this committee, VAC, DND and the Canadian Armed Forces should examine how healthier social interaction can occur, where fitness and movement are encouraged and supported. I believe this would be a catalyst for an organic shift in the warrior culture, where mental illness is viewed as any other physical illness, further decreasing the stigma, and where members of the CAF and their families can develop healthier coping strategies and resilience. This dialogue has to continue. The education awareness must continue.
Quantifying the objectives and outputs must occur. Creating that accountability within the leadership must occur. Meaningful measurement in reporting must occur. Measurement drives behaviour.
Thank you, Madam Chair, for this opportunity.
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my experience with you.
I was a member of the forces. I am a veteran, currently. I worked for 12 years in the Canadian Armed Forces as a supply technician; I worked in several departments.
I now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of psychological harassment. At first, I was told I had an adjustment disorder, but they wanted to put me on programs for post-traumatic stress disorder. I asked them why I would be part of such programs if I didn't have this disorder. It took three years before it was recognized that I had it. I have experienced psychological harassment during my 12-year career.
When you join the army, you are told that you always work in pairs. You always have to take care of your partner. My partner had an incident on the eve of graduation, following a demonstration of power by the master corporal. Afterwards, I was the one who helped his parents get people to recognize that the incident involving my partner was caused by the military.
After two years, a master warrant officer came up to me and told me that if I wanted my career to go well, I'd better leave Plamondon's family alone and get away from them. I told myself that this went against what we were taught in the forces and against the principle of the buddy system. He was asking me to distance myself from this family and my partner, whom I supported, and I didn't do it. Today, after 12 years, I still think of “JP” as my little brother.
Also, at the beginning of my career, I injured my Achilles tendon. As a rookie, you're not allowed to hurt yourself. In fact, in the army, you're not allowed to get injured. If you didn't know about it, I'll let you know. It's frowned upon. I wasn't a runner because I had an Achilles tendon injury. In the army, if you're not a runner, you're less than nothing. That's the way I was perceived, even though I was able to bench press 200 pounds.
During my career, people have taken every opportunity to mentally harass me. At first, I thought the person wasn't doing well and I was being blamed. When we'd finish at noon on Fridays, there had to be someone on duty. They decided that I would stay, and told me that since I had a physiotherapy appointment in the morning, I had to stay until three o'clock in the afternoon. I wondered why I was being penalized for physiotherapy treatments. This was the case for most of my career, right up to the end, where they really tried to get at my self-esteem. I was told that it took me 35 minutes to get from the base to where I had to work, while the warrant officer and another member of the forces did it in 32 minutes. There was a three-minute difference. I was told that I would now shower on site rather than at the base after my workout. These are just a few examples of things that took place.
At the end, they wrote false reports about me. I contested them until I was forced to file a complaint. You know, in the army, they say nice things to you. Every year we have to go through mandatory programs that talk to us about mental health and harassment. They tell us that we have to mention it when we have problems. I did that, but it did not go for the best in my case. The harassment continued and it got worse.
I was denied my vacation. My major refused to let me visit my family, even though my doctor and the psychologist recommended it. At one point I mentioned that I was going to do magic, since that's what my major wanted. The health care contact asked what I meant by “doing magic”. You can't mention that you have suicidal thoughts because they will lock you up or shove you in a corner. In Valcartier, we call it “going to the second floor”.
Going to the second floor is frowned upon. Still today, seeking help is frowned upon in the forces. I left the forces in 2019, so it's still fresh.
Every day is a struggle. Every morning, it's a struggle to get out of bed. I'm 43 years old. I take 11 pills every night to keep the nightmares and anxiety at bay, so I can get some sleep.
I was harassed. I was never able to prove it was them, but the people from the base called me three times a day, after the major denied the doctor's request to allow me to spend time with my family. They would come to my street. I live in a neighbourhood where you really have to try hard to find my house. It still gives me nightmares. They calculated how long it would take me….
I left the Canadian Forces; they say that, in order to take care of yourself, you have to move on. One of my colleagues is still having problems with Manulife, unfortunately. On December 31, she vented her frustration to me.
I bought the cat café Ma langue aux chats in Quebec City. It was my third form of therapy. It had four cats already, and we bought 10 purebred cats to help us stand out from other cafés. The cat you saw a moment ago is named Karine. Five of the cats are named after six comrades who passed away, either in action or by suicide. Karine was named after Karine Blais, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.
Now I'm trying to pay for my third form of therapy. I want to share my café and my cats. I want to provide animal therapy to my friends who are still serving and those who are veterans, as well as the public, to help them with their mental health problems. It's a subject we don't talk enough about; all too often, it's still seen as a bad thing. Since June, I've been sharing my story at the café, telling people that every day is a struggle.
Talking to you today is very gruelling for me, but I'm proud to do it; I want things to improve. The café is closed now, unfortunately, but when it was open, I would talk about my story every day. It gave me the motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I take pills, yes, but I'm not down on life.
Getting help is what matters. There isn't any in the armed forces. They can say what they want, but there isn't any. Even when you leave the armed forces, there is no one to help or guide you. I was told by the ombudsman that, when you leave the armed forces, no one is there to take you by the hand anymore, unlike in the armed forces. I left the armed forces with post-traumatic stress.
I had tons of forms to fill out and I needed help. I couldn't do it, but I was left to my own devices. If there is any help, they send you from one place to another. Whether it's Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Forces or Manulife, every single one passes the buck back and forth. Manulife is asking me to pay back $27,000 because I bought a business to help me with my mental health issues while helping others.
As a sidebar, I should mention that you have to submit an application to Veterans Affairs Canada when you leave the Canadian Forces. I just found out that, for the past year and few months, I lost 15% of my pay. Now the dilemma is who is going to authorize Veterans Affairs Canada to reimburse me for my year of lost pay. The amount for that year includes the $27,000 I owe Manulife. Veterans Affairs Canada told me that, had I been in the rehabilitation program, they would have reimbursed me the $27,000 and my pay wouldn't have been cut by 15% for a year.
I was supposed to know that. They're telling me that I received training. Yes, I received training in March and I left the armed forces in September.
I'm not sure whether you know this, but when you have post-traumatic stress disorder, you forget things. You are not entirely present. The woman who spoke about her husband earlier knows what I mean. Even though I know what I want to say to you today, I brought notes because I have trouble getting the words out. My house is a real mess. I know what I need to do, but I just can't put it into action.
That's what happens when you have post-traumatic stress disorder. You have suicidal thoughts and your family members do their best to understand what you're going through, but they can't. You are suspicious of people and you are extremely anxious. I don't trust anyone anymore. I try, but I can't. I'm shattered inside. They say you have to keep fighting and move forward. Easier said than done.
I joined the armed forces as a supply technician. I have a bachelor's degree in psychology, French and nursing. A leader to me is someone who tries to lift up others. I wanted to join the armed forces as a soldier to eventually become an officer, because I wanted to learn the basics first. What I learned, though, is that the armed forces is a far cry from what I thought it was. The armed forces is not about leaders. It's about gangs, and if you don't belong to the gang, they crush you and relegate you to the corner. That is the reality in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mental health issues are frowned upon. Going to the second floor is frowned upon. That's what you experience as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. You're treated as though you've done something wrong, you're cast aside, you're looked at sideways and you're harassed. People hear a lot about the sexual harassment in the armed forces, but they don't hear about the psychological harassment.
When I filed a complaint, the decision came back in my favour, and my six allegations were recognized. All I got from the Canadian Armed Forces was a letter, and it wasn't even given to me by my commander. It was sent to me in an envelope. It said that the decision regarding my six allegations was in my favour and that I could challenge the decision if I was not satisfied. No one apologized to me on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces for how I had been treated. I never received an apology. I was treated as though I had done something wrong.
After that, someone said that I was going to get farther than others had, so the harassment continued, even after my complaint had been upheld. That is how it goes. I wasn't going to file a new complaint against the people who kept harassing me because there was no point. They can say that we receive mandated program training, that we are informed, that members are encouraged to file complaints, but it's just talk. You can complain all you want, but it's useless.
The people at 5 Service Battalion, in Valcartier, are experts at harassment. They treat people as though they are stupid and they destroy the lives of members and their families. They are experts at it.
Being here today is hard, but I'm proud that I am finally able to tell my story. I hope you listened carefully.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to take a moment as well to thank all three witnesses for their heartfelt, compelling and quite thought-disturbing comments here today.
As a quick backdrop, I've been an MP for a year. Before here, I was the mayor of a community that encompasses Base Borden, one of the largest training bases in Canada. I worked closely with the base during my years municipally. One of the things I noticed, and certainly a lot of the people in our community noticed, was some of what has come out in comments here today.
The military police would come off the base. A lot of the individuals don't live on that base anymore. They've become part of our community, which is fantastic. They're our hockey coaches, soccer coaches or are getting involved in whatever it might be. However, a lot of times, they'll come off the base for different things. I know some of them unfortunately are suicides, but it could be assaults or whatever it might be. You were talking earlier about drug addiction, alcohol abuse and things of that nature. Even I, in regard to the suicides, unless the hospital told me, these were not things we really knew in the community.
I know last week we had Bell Let's Talk Day. Basically, the premise is, let us talk about these issues that are affecting people. As a past mayor I wonder, do all three of you think we can do a better job?
Let's talk about this. We have the 2017 suicide strategy, together with Veterans Affairs, and I thank Randall for asking that question, because it's something I want to know constantly: Where are we at? Are we improving? Where will we be? Do you think we need to find a way for the military to stress what's going on in people? That's the first question.
I'm going to ask both questions, because we have only five minutes. You can answer the second one as well.
The second question goes to the fact that you're saying you often have to travel far for help. I've stated that before. If you have mental issues, you have to drive, from where I am, an hour and a half to Toronto in traffic. It's just not good. Do you think it's something that we should really invest in, perhaps with private enterprise, on the base?
Investing in those types of agencies or institutions that can help people immediately, and veterans after the fact because a lot of them continue to live around here, do you think that is one of the key elements that could help save lives and perhaps save relationships as well?
Immediately, the notification.... I'm in Ottawa, my parents are in Ottawa, my sister-in-law is in Petawawa and my brother was in Petawawa. His CO and my sister-in-law called to inform me as soon as he was discovered. That was quick, and a team was being sent to notify my parents. I raced over to see my parents to let them know before the team got there. It was definitely the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
The following day, I went to Petawawa to help my sister-in-law. There were departmental or designated assistants who were fantastic. Everything in terms of the red tape, the bureaucracy, the process—that was hard. It wasn't as if someone sat us down and said, hey, this is the list of things to do. It was only because I was in the military and a bureaucrat and know how poorly websites and information are laid out that I was able to hunt it down, reach out to a friend to get an information booklet on it and guide her through it.
The frustration of trying to find his body, that was extremely disappointing. He died on base. It was the military police who were called. They should have been able to tell me—it's within their jurisdiction—but nobody could.
The process.... The first thing I asked on the first day was to get the paperwork for the continuation of the medical plan services. That didn't come until I wrote a letter to the minister's office and she got that paperwork, which was over a month later. There was no one at any point who was able to hold our hand, a single point of contact to walk us through the process and to make sure everything was okay. Don't get me wrong; the designated assistants are there to do that, but they are members in trade, the same trade as my brother. They're not administrative clerks. They're not people who understand the release process, so they're just playing the middle man. It is difficult. It is frustrating, and even on release.... For my release, I was quickly shown the door. It was a medical release, and once it was recognized that I was gainfully employed—I was in the reserves at the time— it was, “Oh, you've got a good job, fare thee well.”
In the case of my brother, it was pretty similar. There were other complications. For example, he had a pending court martial. He wasn't convicted. It didn't go through. In trying to gain him access to the National Military Cemetery, we got a response saying, no, he couldn't access the cemetery because he had a pending court martial, yet he wasn't convicted. Again, I had to fight for that, for him to gain access.
There's no real single point of contact. Having a single point of contact with a single list that tells you what to do and who to call—you have to go to CRA for this, you have to go to the funeral home for this, you have to contact Veterans Affairs for that, you have to contact the transition centre for this, you have to contact....There are so many different parties you need to contact. There should be a single point of contact in the administration who is knowledgeable. That's where the solution is.
Having the designated assistant is a step in the right direction, but there's more to do. There was no social worker or psychologist who was there to provide support to my sister-in-law and my nephews. The chaplain was there the whole way through and, again, was a very caring individual who provided excellent service, the same as the designated assistants.
As I explained to you earlier, pet therapy is really the third type of therapy for which I paid. In 2015, when the harassment was at its peak, a small dog, a Yorkshire Terrier, came into my life. I thank him every day for saving my life. My dog follows me everywhere. He allows me to go shopping and to go on a few outings.
Opening a café with cats was a great opportunity. It is the only café where there is one dog among 14 cats. Pet therapy has allowed us to honour our friends who lost their fight to suicide. For me, it was very important to think of my friends who lost their fight by taking their own lives or when fighting in Afghanistan. They did not know how to, or were not able to, find the help they needed when they needed it, and then found that there was no other way out.
In my opinion, pet therapy should be a part of everyone's life. Everyone should have a pet therapy café in their community. We are also giving kids with autism the opportunity to do internships by working with us. We also give veterans who are in transition the opportunity to volunteer. Through pet therapy, we are very non-judgmental. In our café, you can hold a cat in your arms and cry if you need to. The important thing is to be who you really are and to let your emotions out. That is what we stand for. You can also sit in a corner with your coffee, panini, soup or dessert.
The atmosphere we have created in our café is sort of like a cottage. We don't just have tables, like in a regular café. We also have loveseats, rocking chairs and low tables with cushions. When you enter our café, you take off your shoes to feel at home. Right away, we destabilize you so that you can be even more yourself, in contact with yourself. In our café, the clocks always indicate 11:11. Why is that? It's very important to us. On November 11 at 11 o'clock we have to observe a minute of silence to honour the people who fought for us. So in our café you can see two clocks that always show 11:11.
There is also a bright star. It reminds us that there is a star shining for us in the sky. Someone is there for us, be it our brothers who lost their fight or members of our family. It can also symbolize the small light that people need to carry on. That's what we want to offer in our coffee shop. People love the fact that our cats are named after our friends. They have a history. They are purebred cats, which is not the case elsewhere. It's good to rescue cats, but it's hard to do pet therapy properly with cats that come from a shelter. We saved one cat, whose name is Karine. Karine suffers a bit from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has been through some difficult things and has an anxious side. I like to make the connection between her and us. We can identify with her. We can see in her what we are feeling ourselves. When people come to our café, they can make a connection between the cats and their own emotions.
We try to provide a little more peace, support and freedom to the people who come to our café. We are known in many parts of the world, which makes us happy. When it was allowed, we welcomed people from Australia, Brazil and many other places. People came to the café because it was a really unusual concept. There are a lot of cafés with cats, but we are proud to say that our concept, our mission and what we do, is really unique. It's pet therapy.
However, since our café is considered a restaurant, we are not allowed to apply for the necessary funds from the government, either for mental health or anything else, because we have not yet created a foundation or a non-profit organization. It's a little frustrating. Because our café is considered a restaurant, we have to support ourselves. So my pension income is invested in my café, in my therapy and in the therapy of my clients.