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Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2018-05-22 11:28
Initially when I started four years ago talking about the rangers, it was great news to me that the army had finally taken over the ranger program. That's a very unique program, and it should have been under the army because the rangers are doing army work. That gave them the ability to become and to be classed as reserve soldiers, therefore providing them with Veterans Affairs services, etc.
One of the things for communications—I worked a bit in the north visiting communities and teaching up there—is that there was already a connection up there with the military. The military travels the north quite extensively.
We have a suicide prevention program between DND and VAC. I've brought this up before. Is there a possibility for the senior NCOs or the NCOs who visit these communities to have a sit-down with the veterans of that community and talk about the benefits that Veterans Affairs has? In other words, can we design a package that you can take up north into each community? That's a start, but for that outreach, some of the communities there may not be.... There may be veterans in other communities. The army probably looks after only those communities where they have those rangers who come in, and there may be other communities out there that don't have the access.
I really get troubled when I start thinking about the Internet. I talked to a young Mohawk out there. When he was up in the north, if you got Internet, you were working on slow time, very slow time. That's if you have it. Some communities in the first nations, I believe, may not have the ability to have it, because they're so far into the remote area. If they do have it, it may be in only one location and there's a priority of use.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:14
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, good morning.
I wish to acknowledge that we meet today on Algonquin territory, land that has never been ceded or surrendered. I think the Algonquin nation for the privilege to meet here to speak to all of our warrior veterans, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal. I wish to also acknowledge a personal friend and comrade, Mr. Bill Black, a Korean veteran well respected in the veterans community.
As president of the Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones, I once again appear here to represent the aboriginal veterans from my organization as well as veterans from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. I take my responsibility very seriously and thank the committee members for allowing me once again to speak on veterans' issues.
I'm here to discuss the delivery of services for veterans. I will speak only on matters that I feel need to be addressed, only on issues that need to be mentioned on behalf of aboriginal veterans from coast to coast to coast. We do not wish to be classed only as veterans. Rather, we take pride in our service to Canada and our service with all Canadian veterans. With them we stand united.
A decade ago, Veterans Affairs introduced the veterans transition action plan, which was designed to assist veterans leaving the Canadian Armed Forces and moving into civilian life. This plan has certainly had its challenges, but for the most part it has provided the help veterans needed to transition out of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Many veterans moved smoothly through the programs and received the entitlements and benefits. There were some, though, who faced obstacles. The delay of services or benefits may well have been concentrated in the transfer of medical documents between the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. I am not aware if this problem has been rectified, but I know that coordination and effective communication between release sections and Veterans Affairs caseworkers will certainly help to alleviate any problems.
Veterans Affairs announced recently that it will be hiring enough new caseworkers to reduce the caseworker-to-client ratio to 25:1. This could be a positive factor in improving wait times and document transfers.
The closing of offices by the previous government had an adverse effect on some of our aboriginal veterans, notably those in the Saskatoon area. This was the only office that was reasonably close to our first nations or to rural communities where Métis lived as well, although in some cases the drive to get to that location was four hours. When the office closed, veterans were forced to deal with Veterans Affairs online—if they had that capability—or by phone. With the reopening of this office, we hope that caseworkers will also be required to visit face to face for consultations.
I would add that the vast majority of veterans in Canada did not support the move to Service Canada for veterans' services. The main reason was that the person on the phone was not conversant with our policies and procedures, nor did they understand the scope of any of the veterans' issues.
On the issue of reaching out to less populated areas—our remote first nations, rural communities, and communities in the north—in the four years I've been involved with this committee, I haven't seen much movement on the key issues put forward by my organization, by the Legion, or by other veterans' groups.
For example, I advocated for veterans in our rural and isolated communities, communicating with them on benefits and entitlements. I explained that the technology enjoyed by mainstream Canadians is not necessarily the norm in remote communities and that we needed to develop a better plan to deal with the issues. I was happy to hear last week at the minister's summit that there is apparently a plan to answer the communication problems in the north. Although we did not hear specifics, it would appear that somebody has put it on the table, and my hope is that there will be no delays in the implementation of this plan, which has to include face-to-face consultation.
When we speak of post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health in general, I believe that OSISS offices across the country are in most cases meeting the needs of those veterans who have sought help. I can only hope more injured service personnel take advantage of these offices.
Families of veterans who are suffering must be included in the treatment of the veteran, because they are the ones closest to the veteran and are also affected by that injury. Our aboriginal communities see post-traumatic stress disorder, and those affected by it, as being disconnected from mother earth. The warrior needs to be reconnected, and our ceremonies such as sweat lodges help our wounded warriors to cope and to and move on down the path of healing to deal with those demons and eventually reconnect with mother earth, their families, their friends, and all relations.
The vocational rehabilitation program appears to have a great deal of positive components to assist not only the veteran but also the families of veterans, depending on the degree of injury. It is not reasonable to have a policy that must be activated after release within two years of that release date. Veterans need to be healed before they can do any type of vocational rehab, or any type of program, or even apply for it. You must take into account that with some of the more severe cases, be they physical or mental injuries or a combination of the two, it may be wise to consider interaction with caseworkers, health care professionals, and others involved directly with the veteran and the veteran's family to decide if and when rehabilitation is practical. It may very well be longer than the current two-year policy.
Veterans within my organization living in Quebec, as well as other veterans' groups, were disappointed to see that the Ste. Anne's Hospital was transferred to provincial control. The so-called traditional veterans are few in number, and the government feels it's time to change the way it deals with veterans seeking long-term care. There will be no veteran-specific floors in the provinces, and the fear is that obtaining space in the provincial system will be slow at best and that veterans will be treated like other people seeking the same type of care.
The department must remember that we still have veterans and that facilities for long-term care should be available for veterans, at least as a first option. It may be felt that at this time the need may not be critical, but the future will see veterans counting on these facilities to be there when they feel the need. There may very well be a tidal wave of veterans coming near the time they will require long-term care facilities. How will the government cope with this reality when that time comes?
Effective communication is the cornerstone to ensure success. If you can communicate your message to everyone, and it is understood, then you have achieved the first and most important step in providing care to veterans.
I recently sat with two retired chief warrant officers, with a combined service of approximately 65 years of regular force service. Their response to communicating with service personnel was to go through the leadership that is already there in the Canadian Armed Forces.
One of their suggestions was—of course, being chief warrant officers they would use this one—that if Veterans Affairs Canada wants to ensure information regarding benefits and programs are available, chair a base chief warrant officers' conference once a year for three to five days and give them the information on all of the programs and benefits and entitlements that Canadian Armed Forces members may be entitled to once they move from the military. Then have those chief warrant officers, when they go back to those bases, deliver or disseminate the information to the units within their base structure.
I am quite sure there are other ways to do this, but as a soldier and as a leader of soldiers, I was responsible for the welfare for those under my command. Leaders will always look after their soldiers, and that includes communication.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, and fellow veterans, thank you. Meegwetch, marsi, merci, qujannamiik, all my relations.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:37
“Could be” is if you hire the right people, number one, and the training that those individuals will receive.
When you're going to a remote community that is a first nations, Métis, or Inuit community, you also have to understand that you're entering another culture. As veterans, we're a culture of our own; however, there is a unique culture that existed prior to my becoming a part of the veteran family. There is a unique culture in some communities that you have to respect and you have to understand.
It's the same thing that our recruiters do in the Canadian military. They have to take aboriginal awareness training in order to deal with people appropriately and understand the significant differences and uniqueness of some of the communities that they go into.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:38
Yes. I have a couple of names if you....
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:39
What we're dealing with now is something that we've only started dealing with, and that was with the transfer of the Canadian Rangers to the army. Prior to that, they fell under D Cadets in Ottawa.
Because of that, they weren't necessarily considered as military members. Now they are. They're considered to be in the same class as a reservist, with some differences that I'm not 100% sure about.
My question some time ago was about how we get information to the Rangers who are serving and some of the veterans who may have been in the regular force or a reserve force in southern Canada when they go back home? How do we get that information out?
My response at that time was that we have regular force cadres who work with the Rangers. They're the ones who go into the Ranger communities year round, because that's their area of responsibility. As I say, if you have a caseworker with 25 people, we also have a Ranger cadre that has x number of people they're responsible for. They go into those communities. Why can we not attach either a Veterans Affairs caseworker or provide the information to those regular force people going into the communities to provide the information to those people in the north?
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:41
I will state what I believe is the situation now.
Most of the indigenous communities—my sister is living in the first nations community in Oromocto First Nations—do have a health centre with a mental health component to it. I would suggest to you that the same thing is happening through most of the communities in first nations for sure. The Mi'kmaq community in Nova Scotia has actually done something for their mental health program.
I talked a little bit about traditional healing methods. First nations, Métis, and the Inuit have their own ways of dealing with it. Eskasoni, for example, has actually brought in health care workers who are going through university. They're non-aboriginal and they're bringing them into the health services centre on their reserve to deal with the problems that they would actually see in a reserve environment, and that will be everything from suicide to other mental health issues. They get to see that first-hand, so now they're getting into that understanding component of what those communities go through.
The problem that you'll have is that in remote communities, and not only in the north.... Let's talk about what you have in some of the provinces, such as the reserve where Tommy Prince was. I consider that to be a remote community. The suicide rates and those kinds of things are ever on the rise.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:50
Actually, I can honestly say no, and I'll tell you why.
As far as I'm concerned, I did 38 years of service to this country as a native. I have a great number of friends who have spent that much time in as well, and there may have been undertones of racism, but I was in combat arms, and as far as I'm concerned, racism didn't exist. That's because as a combat arms soldier, you rely on the person standing beside you, regardless of skin colour or race, because we all bleed the same colour of blood. It doesn't matter.
In dealings with Veterans Affairs Canada, it's the same. You're dealing with a veteran, so there has never been, in my estimation, any racism within Veterans Affairs, nor have I heard of any. I'm certainly glad you brought up the point about racism, though. It's certainly something that's still out there in the Canadian public.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:52
In terms of what I'd like to see, I can give you an example of what Veterans Affairs did.
An individual who's part of my organization was in the navy. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, to the point where he had to be released. He was very angry when he got out. He was very angry for about two years afterward. A close friend of mine got hold of Veterans Affairs and suggested that they might want to send this guy back to his community. He was in Nova Scotia, but he was an Ojibwa from either Manitoba or northern Ontario. Veterans Affairs paid his way back. They paid for the two weeks he was there. The processes he went through with his elders and the community assisted him in becoming a better person. The healing process for him was significant because of it.
I think that's a very good success story. It's also something that Veterans Affairs Canada should be acknowledged for in going outside the box in for the healing process.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 11:55
Okay.
The infrastructure in most of those remote communities certainly does need to be upgraded. You still have boiled water advisories in effect in some of these places.
However, yes, it would certainly help. If the veteran can't use the item, the grandchildren or children can. They can assist. Yes, you have to educate communities on the technology.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:00
When you talk about veterans in a community, whether it's first nations, Métis, or to some extent the Inuit—the Inuit weren't engaged as much in the first, second, or Korean wars—they are held in the highest regard. If you go to any type of a ceremony where there's a grand entry, the veterans lead, followed by the elders, so that's the respect they have received.
First of all, when you say “warrior”, it does not indicate or even suggest that all our indigenous people are a warrior culture. The warrior culture has been taken falsely. When a conflict between nations took place, ceremonial dances were done to ask for protection before warriors went into battle. That's no different from any Christian going to church and asking for protection from God Almighty when they go into battle. We have to make sure that we label a warrior in the right context.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:03
When you do that, you have actually said to the veteran, “We are interested in you now.”
I want to go back and just touch on this very briefly. I want you to understand that.... I teach aboriginal awareness, and I talk about the military component of awareness and the fact that the highest percentage of ethnic groups that entered any of the war campaigns were aboriginals from Canada, who did not have to serve. In most of the treaties, there was a clause that said they would never have to pick up arms to fight for queen and country, or king and country.
Then I go back to a true story. An individual was fighting on the battlefields in France or Germany during the Second World War. The mother was at home with the five-year-old child, with the Indian agent and the policeman showed up to take that child away to residential school.
You ask why those first nations or those indigenous people actually picked up arms to fight for this country. In their mind, they thought things were going to improve.
I listen to everything that goes on with all the consultations and all the groups, and I say, “Welcome to the real world, folks.” We have been behind the eight ball for a long time. Are things getting better? I think so. However, it is you guys who are going to make it work.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:15
They did talk about the opening of the offices, and they did mention about going out face to face. That was when he talked about the northern communities. I think face to face is probably the most important element of any organization, especially when you're dealing with veterans. We know that probably about 75% of the veterans don't necessarily need to have that much interaction, but they still should have the opportunity. For the other 25%, that's probably your main group, and they should be the priority.
Having said that, I don't recall anything coming out regarding that.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:17
I'm surprised to hear that there was no OSI clinic in Saskatchewan, based on the number of aboriginals who actually enrol in Saskatchewan. I would take it that some of these remote communities may be handling their PTSD through their cultural ceremonial aspects. I know there's one in Manitoba that has a PTSD ceremonial or cultural program, not necessarily for military people, for three or four days. That could be the case in Saskatchewan.
I'm certainly going to ask my director in Saskatchewan and find out if he has statistics or information regarding.... I haven't heard anybody ask for that type of thing. I was just surprised that OSISS wasn't there in Saskatchewan.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:19
I've listened to Mr. Black. When I joined the army, the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary was alive and well and full of veterans. Of course, that's gone by the wayside now. You brought up a good point when you said you are concerned about today's veterans—the modern-day veterans, if you will. There may not be the requirement today for those beds, but there certainly will be a requirement. That's something that I think Veterans Affairs and the federal government have to keep in the back of their mind.
Although the closures are certainly saving a lot of money, I'm not sure that's the right approach. I think there's going to be an influx or at some point in time there's going to be a surprise, and veterans will be looking for that support.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:23
Because of my parachuting activities and other things, I've certainly got a few bumps and bruises, but I'm extremely well looked after.
There was a case when something was denied, and while I was standing there I was adamant that the prescription was what I needed, because it was sanctioned before, but for the most part it has been very good.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:24
Once again I'd like to thank the committee—the new committee, as Mr. Leonardo mentioned. It's a new committee, and a new broom sweeps clean.
It appears to me that things are moving in the right direction. Although there may have been a lot of negative comments that came from the summit, personally, as a former member of the military for many years and now as a veteran, I look at it as being very positive that we sat in a room as veterans having a voice directly with the minister and the deputy minister.
I think that was an important step, because it tells me that veterans will now have a say in some of the policy-making decisions that the committee will be asked to work on.
I look forward to the future too.
Robert Thibeau
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Robert Thibeau
2016-05-19 12:25
Again, don't ask me to stand in front of a camera. I won't do it, because I'm a no party guy—I mean, no affiliation party guy—but I certainly respect the work that all of you do, and for the sake of our group, I hope that your good work continues.
Thank you.
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