Thank you for inviting me to appear before the committee today. My name is Denis Beaudin. I am a retired master corporal; I retired from the Canadian Forces for medical reasons. I served from 1977 to 1993. I served in Germany from 1978 to 1981 for NATO, and in Cyprus from March to September 1985 for the United Nations.
I am the founder of Veterans UN-NATO Canada, a private group that I formed on January 4, 2008. I represent approximately 2,000 veterans, both active and retired members, most of whom are dealing with post-traumatic stress. I, myself, was diagnosed with the disorder in 2005.
I came here today to give you some insight into the challenges that a Canadian Forces veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder has to face in order to receive treatment in VAC clinics.
First of all, the challenges vary depending on how remote the person's region is. I am from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. The Ste. Anne clinic is very close, only 70 kilometres away. I have a car, and I can get there easily. But someone living in Rivière-du-Loup or some other remote area of Quebec or another province—because our group has members from across Canada, from the east coast to the west coast—has a much tougher time.
The group's mission is to save lives. We work to take guys off the street and to get them the help they need, after they have given up trying because the system was just too difficult to navigate and too complicated. Just trying to get the department to recognize your illness is a battle that requires a tremendous amount of energy. I take nine pills a day. That gives you an idea of the kind of sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis. I take pills to help with panic attacks. I will try to stay as calm as possible today.
Let me ask you something: Is it normal for a guy, a veteran like myself, who goes off at 17 or 18 to fight for his country, to have to fight his country for treatment when he comes home sick, riddled with problems and trying to get his condition diagnosed?
That is totally unacceptable to me. When a veteran is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, it has taken two years just to have his condition recognized. Sometimes it takes three years, because he might not know he is ill.
We have major health issues, problems with aggressive behaviour and intolerance; we seek out psychiatrists or family doctors because we do not even know we can get help from the forces. We are referred to psychiatrists, private psychologists, for assessment. They are civilians with no knowledge of the military system or what we have gone through. It is extremely difficult to confide in civilians because they do not understand where we are coming from; they do not speak our language.
One of the biggest problems related to my post-traumatic stress is that I do not have any friends who are civilians. And I will never have any because I cannot understand them. There is even a major void when it comes to close family members because I cannot maintain a normal relationship. At parties, I stay in the kitchen and do the dishes. I isolate myself because I have no interest in anything anyone is saying or doing at the party; I am so disconnected from all that. I am in another world. And I am not the only one in that boat. That is how all the veterans I have spoken to in our group feel.
We feel that the system has left us out in the cold because the hoops we have to jump through are absolutely ridiculous. I see my psychiatrist once every two months so she can renew my prescription and check on my transition to daily life as a civilian. I used to have an hour with my psychiatrist, but now I get just a half-hour because of budget cuts at the Ste. Anne clinic. Some of the doctors who have been treating us are at odds with the hospital over those cutbacks and have even chosen to leave.
And the hospital does not replace those doctors, so when you go back, they are simply gone. You are always having to start over again with a new psychologist or doctor. It is incredibly difficult to see a new doctor when you have already confided in another person and finally reached the point of being able to tell that person what you were feeling and what was going on inside of you. And, as a result, you end up isolating yourself, refusing to access help, cutting yourself off from society, becoming very depressed and, in some cases, turning to alcohol or drugs. That was not the case with me; I never took any drugs. And thank God, because I could have easily given myself over to drugs. I probably would not be here today if I had. But I have experienced everything else. What are you to do? Suicide is the last resort, or if you are lucky, you may meet a comrade you served with who has already gone through the process, who can give you advice and try to set you up with people at the clinics or Veterans Affairs. But the people at the department are more used to treating veterans of World War II or the Korean War. I am not talking about the First World War, because as we all know, those veterans are quite old. I do not think any of them are left; God rest their souls.
It is very difficult for VAC officials to see things from the perspective of the new generation of veterans; they are used to taking things lightly with veterans who are older. Today's generation of veterans is 35, 40, 45 and 50 years old. “Veterans” is quite the label, but not even the clinics or department officials see us as veterans. In their opinion, a veteran is 80 years old and needs a walker to get around. I do not know what their image of a veteran is, but we have taken part in missions, given everything we have, sometimes even our lives. Many of my friends, my comrades in arms, are gone. And they deserve just as much care and support as our brothers who fought in World War I, World War II and the Korean War do. We expect the Department of Veterans Affairs to treat us the same way.
When I was admitted to the Ste. Anne clinic, I had to sign a lot of forms. I had to promise not to be violent or impolite, not to break the rules. With those kinds of conditions in place, the Ste. Anne hospital, as well as all the other clinics in Canada, are relieved of any obligation to treat a veteran whose case is serious but who cannot respect the rules. That is why you do not see the clinics dealing with serious cases, just light ones, where guys like me go in once every couple of months or every three weeks. The clinics are not equipped to deal with any severe cases; they do not have the space, the beds, to care for those veterans. When a bed is available, as soon as the veteran breaks any of the rules or becomes the slightest bit intolerant, he is kicked out the clinic for being violent or disruptive. Then the province steps in. In Quebec, the provincial medicare system takes care of those veterans, and that does not factor into the department's statistics. The number of veterans who receive care through the civilian health care system is not recorded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which distorts the figures and makes them inaccurate.
Personally, I think my case was severe enough that I could have stayed at the clinic. But I felt so uncomfortable with all of the restrictions I was under there that I chose to go home, because I was scared that I would be denied treatment. And that goes for many of my fellow veterans as well; they decide not to stay in hospital because they fear that if they ever lost control of their emotions, they would be kicked out and would lose their place in the system, making them ineligible to receive treatment in the future. So they take all their little problems home with them in the hope that the clinic will continue to treat them.
When someone is diagnosed with PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder—the doctor who has been treating the patient for a year at one of the clinics across Canada, sends a report to the Veterans Affairs office in Charlottetown. For example, a doctor in a private practice may say that he has assessed the level of your disability resulting from PTSD at 50%, that it is categorical and that it is related to military service. He will then send the file to the officials in Charlottetown. Who are those officials? I have no idea. Are they doctors? I have no idea. It takes six months, a year or even a year and a half before they send the reports back. In more than 95% of cases, their determination is negative; the officials disagree with the doctor's assessment. Does that mean that the patient was treated for nothing, that they took medication for a year and a half for no reason, that the doctor was incompetent and misdiagnosed the patient? Who are these department officials in Charlottetown to change the diagnosis of health professionals, whom we had trusted for the first time?
Veterans are told to file an appeal. In 95% of cases, veterans have to appeal the department's decision. In many cases, patients have to obtain a second medical assessment and opinion. I challenge you to find a doctor today! It takes six or eight months just to find one who will accept you as a patient. As soon as the department deems the PTSD diagnosis invalid and the patient appeals that decision, the person ceases to receive treatment. That is one of the major roadblocks. The file goes back to Charlottetown, and the case goes to appeal.
When your appeal is heard, you must appear in a room about this size in front of two people whom you do not know and who barely introduce themselves. They say they are there to make a decision. You have to start from scratch and retell your whole story. You have been struggling for three or four years, so you are burnt out, exhausted. You are taking seven or eight pills a day, and you still have to prove that you are sick. The power is in these people's hands.
In 70% of cases, the decision is favourable. Strangely enough, your appeal is successful. But instead of 50%, they determine that your level of disability is 10%, which makes a difference—a 40% difference. That is just one example. Some people are originally diagnosed with a disability assessment of 70% or 80%, but end up with an assessment of 15%, when all is said and done. Then there is another problem: the percentage is split up. That is something new. For 20 years, that was not the case. I received a pension award further to a disability assessment of 25% related to back problems. In 1995, the award was not split as it is today. Now it is doled out in fractions. They split up your 10%. They acknowledge that the system is responsible for two-fifths of that 10%. So the person gets 4% of their pension. They are sitting at home and receive 4% of their pension. And now, under the 2006 charter, they also get a little bit of money. In real terms, 4% of a pension is equivalent to about $10,000. Thank you very much and good riddance to you.
So you end up with another veteran in a homeless shelter, such as Maison du Père, or some other establishment with a soup kitchen. That is unacceptable, and that is what I came here to tell you. That is the problem encountered by 99.9% of veterans who are currently trying to obtain their pension or a disability award from Veterans Affairs.
Do I still have time?