Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Friday, December 27, 2013

1K$ to get help from experts of their choice to finding civilian employment

Anyone in the CTS aware of this or got this benefit?

As of January 1, 2013, the Government changed the Career Transition Services Program to provide $1,000 for eligible Veterans and survivors to get help from experts of their choice to finding civilian employment.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

New announcement: Think of 'brave men and women in uniform,' says Harper in Christmas message

Think of 'brave men and women in uniform,' says Harper in Christmas message

The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, December 25, 2013 9:21AM EST


OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has issued a brief message to mark the Christmas season.

He says it is a time for "joyful reunions with family and friends, a time to reflect on our good fortune, and a time to remember those in our midst who have less."

Harper adds that as Canadians count their "many blessings," he asks that we also "give a moment to our brave men and women in uniform."

Harper asks that we offer a "thought and a prayer for them and their families."

In his Christmas message issued early Wednesday, Governor General David Johnston also aimed his remarks at member of the military and their families.

He said the recent deaths of Forces members are a reminder of the stresses in the military and the mental health challenges personnel can face.

At least four apparent military suicides occurred this month in different parts of the country, reigniting a debate around how Canada treats returning veterans.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

New announcement: Understanding PTSD through Anthropology

In November 2013, I attended the annual conference of the American Anthropological Association, where I chaired a session on "Ethnographies of Mental Health and Mental Health Care", and gave a paper entitield "Let's Talk: Stigma and the Illness Paradigm in Mental Health".

During the conference I was approached and agreed to do an interview for "Anthropod", the podcast of the Society for Cultural Anthropology. That interview has now been made available online, albeit in edited form (it was originally 30-minutes in length).

My interview, "Understanding PTSD through Anthropology", begins at the 22-minute mark.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

New announcement: CVA Mental Health Alert - Suicide prevention - Buddy System Christmas 2013

CVA Mental Health Alert - Suicide prevention - Buddy System

Seasons greetings from Niagara,

I hope that all is well and that you are enjoying the spirit of the holiday season. On behalf of Sylvain, Jerry, Barry and myself, I would extend to you at this time wishes for the very best of times as the year draws to an end, hopefully, you will be bless with the company of family and friends, good health and in the new year, prosperity in heart and soul.

Today, however, I would speak to the wounds of the mind many have experienced as a consequence of their service to Canada and the heightened sense of discord that many experience during the Christmas period. This issue has been identified by many recently, perhaps most noteworthy, General Rick Hillier, who has launched a dedicated PR campaign to encourage those who are suffering and considering suicide to reach out to their buddy's, to Send Up The Count.

This is a admirable course of action and the CVA, dedicated to providing solutions and suicide prevention recourse on a variety of levels, fully supports General Hillier's and others public quest to encourage those suffering from mental wounds to stand forth, reach out for help and, equally important, provide some assistance for those who have been called upon to save lives.

Many of us are not equipped to deal with the mental health wounds our brothers and sisters have sustained, dealing with a potentially suicidal crisis when their brother or sister in arms reaches out for help. Many are not cognizant of the symptoms that would indicate that the problem is more serious that we might expect, symptoms that are oft times inclined to be exacerbated during the festive season. Quite frankly, the experience can be terrifying, emotionally draining and I can assure you, there have been times when I have been left in tears, trembling, unable to sleep for days...

Fortunately, I have been blessed in those who have been attracted to the Canadians Veterans Advocacy's mission and our quest to ensure that compassion, understanding, and the appropriate professional resources, civilian, DND and VAC, are expediently applied to those who have sustained mental wounds.

I am grateful to Doctor Jane Storrie, President -Elect of the Ontario Psychologist Association and Dr Dee Rajska, C. Psych. Clinical Psychologist, who is my friend and author of a popular blog dedicated to military mental trauma. Having experienced a particularly troubling call last evening, I reached out to them this morning defining my concerns about the Send up the Count initiative and the need to present some protocols that those who have been sent the count, who have been called on to render help, some information to cope with and hopefully, effectively deal with situation with the compassion required.

We are a brother/sisterhood in arms, by definition we have been hardened, physically, emotionally, perhaps spiritually, by the journey we have embraced and the sacrifices we have made on behalf of our nation. Many are oblivious to the warning signs of a festering mental wound until the cycle of despair commences or tragically, our friends have taken their lives.

The time for change has come, the sacrifice of five valiant Canadians over the past month leaves us no recourse if we are to fulfill our obligation to the wounded. We must, serving or not, defeat the stigma, embrace the spirit of the warriors code and in that spirit, join together to assist our brothers and sisters who have been wounded of the mind and need our help if they are to heal, to enjoy the quality of life that many of those of us who have been wounded or injured enjoy.

The good doctors have provided some short guidelines, please, take the five minutes it will take to read to do so, you never know, my brother or sister, when it will be your turn, when your war or peace buddy will turn to you for help.

Will you be ready?

Will you answer the Patriot's call, for their is no greater definition of patriot that one who has sacrificed mind and/or body for his nation in war and peace?

Will have his/her Six?

Once again, special thanks to Doctors Storrie and Rajska for responding to my request in such an expedient manner and providing some guidelines that you might find useful in the near future. Pass the word, lets make this holiday season truly specialy, lets save a life or change a life, together, we can make a difference, we will prevail.

Michael L Blais CD
President/Founder - Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Buddy System guidelines - Suicide prevention information provided by Dr Jane Stprrie and Dr D Rasjka.

Service members and veterans who have experienced traumatic events may have feelings of anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness or isolation. These emotions are common and considered normal and expected responses to extraordinary situations. Some people go on to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, if they don't get the support they need, may become suicidal as they feel there is no escape or help for their symptoms.
Even if you are coping relatively well, you may know someone who isn't doing so good. Here is a list of things that should concern you:

Dramatic changes in mood
Thoughts about hurting or killing him or herself
Withdrawing from family and friends
Talking or writing about death or suicide
Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
Flashbacks or nightmares
Increased alcohol or drug use
Reckless or risky behavior
Poor anger control
Feeling anxious or hopeless.


It isn't easy to talk to someone about their suicidal thoughts and feelings, and some people are afraid that talking about it might push them to do it. Studies have shown, though, that this isn't the case and that talking openly and honestly about suicide has actually led people to reach out for help. Here are some things to remember:
Be yourself. Don't worry about having the right words. If you're concerned, your voice and manner will show it. And that's okay- it's lets the person know you care.
Listen. Be compassionate and non-judgemental. Let the suicidal person unload, vent or rage. Don't worry about how negative the conversation is- that they're talking at all is a positive thing.
Offer hope and reassurance. Help is available. There are people out there who are trained to deal with this- and people do get better.
Avoid arguing, or lecturing, or preaching, or minimizing their suffering.
Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. When a life is at stake, you may need to get help to keep someone safe.

Here are some ways to start a conversation about suicide:

I've been concerned about you lately.
I've noticed some changes in you and wonder how you're doing.
I wanted to check in with you because you haven't seemed yourself lately.
Here are some questions you can ask:
When did you start to feel like this?
Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
How can I best support you right now?
Have you thought about getting help?
Here is some encouragement you can give:
You are not alone in this. I'm here for you.
I know it's hard to believe right now, but the way you're feeling will change.
I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.

Here are some things that won't help:

"Suicide is wrong"
"Suicide is selfish"
"You have so much to live for"
"You don't want to hurt your family"


Help the suicidal person to get professional help. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help to locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor's appointment.

Follow-up. Make sure they're attending treatment sessions and doctor's appointments. If medication has been prescribed, make sure they're taking it as directed.
Be proactive. Don't wait for them to call you- call them, text, drop by.
Encourage positive lifestyle changes: eating well, getting enough sleep, exercise.
Make a safety plan- work with them to come up with a series of steps to follow in the event of a suicidal crisis (what to do, who to call).

If you promise to be there, then be there. Even after the person starts to feel better, stay in touch. Ongoing support is important.

Dr. Jane Storrie, President-Elect, Ontario Psychological Association
Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych, Clinical Psychologist; Blogger,

Michael L Blais CD
President - Founder Canadian Veterans Advocacy
6618 Harper Drive, Niagara Falls, Ontario
905-359-9247 /// hm 905-357-3306

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Friday, December 20, 2013

New announcement: Soldier faces court martial for bringing service dog to work

Soldier faces court martial for bringing service dog to work


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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.



December 2013

Effective January 1, 2014, the dollar limit for benefit code 244987 – Physiotherapist Visit – (subsequent visits) is increased to $60 in the province of Ontario. The dollar limit for the initial visit remains unchanged at $70.

Providers will be reimbursed their usual and customary charges up to a maximum of the dollar limit indicated above. Providers must not charge VAC clients more than other clients who are residents of the province.

Thank you for the ongoing care and service you provide to our Veterans.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New announcement: Earning Loss Replacement/ War Pensioner Allowance Retro-activity Class Action

CVA Situation Report - Earning Loss Replacement/ War Pensioner Allowance Retro-activity Class Action Suit

Sit rep. Over the past year, the CVA has been steadfast in seeking equitable resolution on the issue of retroactivity for those who are covered by the War Pensioners Allowance or Bill C-55's Earning Loss Benefits programs.

To the government's credit, the Manuge case principles of non inclusion of VAC Pain and Suffering awards were applied to the ELB and, earlier this year, legislated into effect for those who are supported finically through the War Pensioners Act provisions.

The government has ceased deducting these awards in ELB/WPA financial determinations yet has yet to honour the retro-activity protocols accorded to the thousands of veterans affected by the Manuge - SISIP case Retro-activity.

This is, of course, not acceptable and is in direct of the One Veteran, One Standard principles the Canadian Veterans Advocacy has been created to foster. Accordingly, we have engaged with a prominent legal practice to seek resolution through the courts if necessary and are requesting all veterans affected by the unjust policy to contact the Canadian Veterans Advocacy with all due haste.

Your testimony is vital to our success. We merely need your name, contact information and a brief synopsis of how long you have been affected by the respective program clawback and in general figures, if you wish, how much you think you are owed.

The time for action is now, the decision on the ELB/WPA has taken far to long to be delivered, we must prepare for the fact that this prolonged and unnecessary delay signifies denial may very well be the option the government has taken.

Adapt, overcome, prevail.

The CVA will not Pass the Fault. The Sacred Obligation will be restored!

To all veterans, young and old.

Please give this missive maximum dissemination, particularly to those who are, by definitions, older and surviving on the War Pensioners Act provisions. ELB retro-activity will only be few years when the program was implemented, those who are on WPA may very well be entitled to a substantial sum if the date back on retro-activity matches the SISIP decision. Please print off a copy for those not on internet.

Step up, do your part in ensuring this message reaches out to those effected through your social networks and personal friendships. There may be a mêlée looming, we are in the Prepare for Battle zone.

Pro Patria Semper Fidelis

Michael L Blais CD
President/Founder, Canadian Veterans Advocacy

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dr Dee: Suicide Awareness for our CAF Soldiers Lake Street Armoury (31 GBC)

Dr Dee: Suicide Awareness for our CAF Soldiers Lake Street Armoury (31 GBC)

Just recently we have lost four members of our Canadian Armed Forces due to Suicide. Major Carrie Riddell and the 31st Brigade wanted to get an awareness video out to give our returning soldiers who are having problems a chance to get help.;topicseen#msg12900

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

New announcement: Humbling Video of War Told Through the Eyes of a Soldier Wins National Prize

Please take 4 minutes and watch this short film from Australian soldier Tom Abood who shares his new gratitude for life, freedom, education and home. The video is not graphic and does not contain any violence. It does have a powerful message though. I'm sure a lot of our fans can relate to Tom whether through their own experience in war or the experiences of friends and family.

The short film is titled HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE which is an Anglo-Norman phrase that can be translated to "Shamed be he who thinks evil of it." The film was created by Tom Abood of Australia and was the Tropfest Australia 22 2013 Third Prize winner.

After watching this video, it was difficult to get back to work. Usually, I have music playing in the background even while watching videos. Once I heard the narrator begin talking, I paused my Christmas playlist and listened only to the video. Immediately after the video ended, I realized that many soldiers will not get to see their families this Christmas. As I constructed my playlist the day before, I was worried about what songs to pick. Which songs would be good, what songs I would get sick of and if my parents would agree with my taste. Little did I know how little all that matters.

I am now much more grateful I get to simply spend time with my family this Christmas. I'm grateful we will be able to share a meal together and exchange gifts. I'm grateful for all the things I've come to take for granted over the years. I'm sure Tom Abood hopes that the video does the same for you. If you feel the same way, choose a way to be grateful today. Make it a habit and be grateful everyday. I want to say thank you to all of the soldiers overseas. All of you are one more thing I'm not taking for granted anymore.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: Committee from the Senate of Canada - Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs - Dec 11

Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent returns to the committee to answer questions about his report on the New Veterans Charter. Senators had begun their discussion on his report at the previous meeting last week. The ombudsman's report provides recommendations to fix current weaknesses in the Charter. Deputy ombudsman Gary Walbourne also responds to questions. (December 11, 2013)

Please watch:

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rick Hillier calls for public inquiry in wake of soldier suicides

Rick Hillier calls for public inquiry in wake of soldier suicides
Former chief of defence staff worried there could be more suicides during the holidays

By Kristen Everson, CBC News Posted: Dec 14, 2013 6:00 AM ET Last Updated: Dec 13, 2013 11:26 PM ET

Former chief of defence staff Rick Hillier fears more soldiers may take their own lives over this holiday season and is calling for a board of inquiry or Royal Commission into what the military is doing to help those with mental health problems.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, retired general Hillier told host Evan Solomon the recent apparent suicides of four serving Canadian soldiers was a tragic and needless loss of life.

Soldiers join forces to combat suicide and PTSD

"What a tragedy it is and I really do worry about this next period of time, as we head into the Christmas season, that we could in fact see more," because personnel may feel more alone in the Christmas season as they are away from their combat units and comrades.

The recent apparent suicides within days of each other at the end of November and early December have thrown a spotlight on the military and government programs around supporting members with PTSD and other mental health illnesses.

According to recently released statistics by National Defence, 10 regular forces members have taken their own life this year. That is on par with past years. In 2012, 13 regular force members took their own lives. In 2011, 22 regular force soldiers committed suicide.

The military does not track the number of reservists who commit suicide.

Hillier said while the military has taken action on this and there are good programs available, more needs to be done and confidence in the system needs to be restored.

He said stigma around mental health illnesses in the military is what prevented many people from coming forward in the past, and there is still a fear by some soldiers their careers will suffer if they come forward with a problem.

"I think that now this is beyond the medical issue. I think that many of our young men and women have lost confidence in our country to support them," he said.

'I don't think we had any idea of the scale and scope of what the impact [of Afghanistan] would be. I truly do not.'- Retired General Rick Hillier

Hillier suggested that confidence could be restored through some kind of public inquiry into how mental health illnesses are treated and what is being done to support soldiers who are struggling.

"I think we have to have a big change here to restore that confidence. I actually think we have a public board of inquiry..... or even something like a Royal Commission to say how are we doing our business in the Canadian Forces.

"How are we building those family teams that allow people to go through the most extreme frightening experience in the world and come out with the best possibility of remaining healthy for the rest of your life," he said.

Veterans Charter needs work

The other area Hillier pointed to for improvement was the new Veterans Charter, in particular the part of the charter that replaced a pension for life or payment system with lump-sum awards and allowances.

"Many of us, certainly, almost all of us, agree that the charter is now lacking," he said.

He said the system now does not provide ill and injured veterans with the support they will need throughout their lives. And it does not go far enough to make sure they are properly taken care of for their entire life.

'This is now a different battlefield ... Go talk to your battle buddies. Talk to them and tell them you've got a problem'- Retired general Rick Hillier

"That is the key point we need to change in that Veterans Charter, to make sure we look after those veterans who've paid an incredible price — a brutal price for us, for our nation — right through 'til when they're 95 years old, and this charter doesn't do it."

The Military and Veterans Ombudsman has warned cases of PTSD and other operational stress injuries could rise as the mission in Afghanistan winds down. Canada's training mission will formally wrap up in March 2014, but the majority of Canadian soldiers have already returned home.

Hillier, who was the chief of defence staff when Canadian troops were sent into combat in Kandahar, said the military did not understand the full scope of the mental impact on the troops fighting there.

"I don't think we had any idea of the scale and scope of what the impact would be. I truly do not."

Hillier, who also served in Afghanistan as the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul in 2004, said he suffered only minuscule symptoms of PTSD when he returned home, having the occasional dream or waking up at night.

He credits his strong circle of friends and family for making him feel healthy and comfortable upon his return, but warns that not all soldiers are so lucky.

His final message to troops is to not be alone this holiday season.

"Don't be alone. Do not be alone over this period of time.

"If you've got a problem, we learned long ago in combat that there is no embarrassment in admitting a weakness. No embarrassment in approaching somebody else," Hillier said.

"You know, we entrust our battle buddies with our very lives on the battlefield, this is now a different battlefield, so trust them. Go talk to your battle buddies. Talk to them and tell them you've got a problem."

Listen to the full interview with retired general Rick Hillier on CBC Radio's The House with Evan Solomon, Saturday at 9 a.m. on CBC Radio One and SiriusXM Ch. 169.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Recent PTSD-Driven Suicides of Four Canadian Soldiers - Service Dogs: Helpmates for Lives in Chaos

The Recent PTSD-Driven Suicides of Four Canadian Soldiers - Service Dogs: Helpmates for Lives in Chaos

Upcoming Documentary to Address Soldiers' Suffering and the Canine Solution

For Immediate release

Ottawa, Ontario, December 11, 2013: The recent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) driven-suicides of four Canadian soldiers underscore the severity of "coming home from war" to an environment with little support for those suffering mentally and physically. This time of year is particularly difficult as these soldiers and their families are far removed from the idyllic "White Christmas" that's playing everywhere. With many case workers taking holidays, the resources so crucial to PTSD sufferers are in short supply as well.

Now that Canada's combat role in Afghanistan is winding down, a more responsible PTSD treatment program is urgently needed. According to a 2011 Parliamentary Report on PTSD and Mental Health in the Canadian Forces, between 25,000 and 35,000 soldiers are expected to be discharged over the next five years. Based on past diagnosis rates, as many as 2,750 of them will suffer from a severe form of PTSD. In a recent report, Canadian Military Ombudsman Pierre Daigle observed that the military's mental health treatment system is 15 to 22 per cent understaffed in some places.

Local producer Deborah Lewis has taken on the challenge of making "A Life of Thai", a documentary that hits home with the strong message: Our service men need help and they need it now in the form of their four-legged friends. It's becoming apparent that trained service animals (dogs and horses) can aid Veterans, RCMP and First Response Emergency Workers dealing with PTSD to cope with everyday situations; assist them in reconnecting with their family members; help reinstate their return to the workforce; and make a positive contribution to their community.

Veterans with service dogs have either reduced or completely eliminated the cocktail of medications used to treat their PTSD. "ZERO" Canadian Veterans that have service dogs have committed suicide.

The documentary will follow two veterans and their families before, during and after their introduction to a service dog. Interviews will be interspersed throughout the documentary that include the Veterans, their families; the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Hon. Julian Fantino; Medric Cousineau (a Veteran who walked from Nova Scotia to Ottawa with his service dog Thai to raise awareness); Kevin Berry, Veteran with Military Minds; Sylvain Chartrand, Veteran with Canadian Veterans Advocacy; MP Jim Karygiannis; Senator Romeo D'Allaire; among a number of other Veterans with PTSD that have service dogs or are service dog trainers.

Fundraising efforts to raise awareness of this "canine solution" in Canada, where 100% of all donations will go toward the documentary's financing are underway with a major push expected in the New Year to ensure the film's anticipated release in summer 2014. Donations can be made directly at


Media Contact: Kita Szpak, KS Communications, #613-725-3063

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Soldier who was told PTSD will end military career no longer facing discharge

Soldier who was told PTSD will end military career no longer facing discharge

By Murray Brewster and Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press December 5, 2013 11:30 AM

OTTAWA - Master Cpl. Kristian Wolowidnyk is no longer facing an imminent discharge from the Canadian Forces because of his post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former combat engineer and Afghan war veteran, who survived a recent suicide attempt, was told this week that he now qualifies to remain in the military as part of a prolonged release process for injured soldiers.

The change of Wolowidnyk's classification means that upon his eventual release, he will have reached the 10-year service mark and will qualify for a fully indexed military pension.

For Wolowidnyk and his wife, Michele, the news eliminated a major source of stress. But more than that, they say it validated his psychological injuries.

"They've recognized his injury, I think is a lot of it," Michele Wolowidnyk said in an interview Thursday.

"Not just that his release is not pending anymore, but that they've recognized this is a very serious injury for him and now he's going to get the proper treatment going forward."

Until Wednesday morning, it appeared Wolowidnyk — father to a two-year-old child — would be discharged, even though he was desperate to stay in the Forces and re-qualify for another military trade.

He tried to kill himself on Nov. 21 — two days after being told he was being discharged.

He spent a week in the mental-health wing of the civilian Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton before being released to his family.

But shortly after The Canadian Press first reported his story, Wolowidnyk was told he qualified for the prolonged-release process.

For now, he says he'll focus on healing. But he hopes to begin training to be a machinist in the new year.

Wolowidnyk says he and his wife have been getting calls, emails and text messages of support from friends and fellow soldiers. Even complete strangers touched by his story have reached out to him through Facebook.

"I think this experience has been good for him and cathartic because there are a lot of other people out there who are undoubtedly going through the same thing and hopefully him speaking out about it lets them know that they're not alone and that they can look for some help, talk to their friends," Michele Wolowidnyk said.

The escalating struggle of soldiers like Wolowidnyk has been resonating across Canada after a number of apparent suicides within the military in recent days.

Veterans advocates say the four apparent suicides since last week may only hint at the magnitude of the problem. For every death by suicide, they warn, as many as 12 others may have sought the same fate.

On Thursday, former soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder pleaded with the federal government to provide more support to veterans suffering from the illness.

A visibly distraught Kate MacEachern told an Ottawa news conference the heart-wrenching story of how she nearly took her own life a little over a year ago after learning that she might be forced out of uniform.

MacEachern said she doesn't believe the prime minister or military brass when they tell soldiers in distress that help is available.

"Lots of words are now being spoken, but it's too late for some," she said. "Why did we have to wait until now?"

The government says soldiers and their families trying to cope with PTSD can call a confidential toll-free referral service at 1-800-268-7708.

But another veteran, Mike Cole from Trenton, Ont., said soldiers are telling him that when they call, they get put on hold, or are simply told to go to the hospital.

MacEachern is a former corporal who quit the military last summer after being ordered not to repeat a 2012 fundraising walk in aid of injured soldiers.

She called on the government — and Canadians at large — to do everything possible to prevent further deaths.

"The conversation needs to happen," she pleaded tearfully. "Please, no more of my brothers and sisters. We can't lose any more. One is too many. Four is a national tragedy."

MacEachern says former defence minister Peter MacKay offered words of encouragement when she completed her first fundraising walk, but they now ring hollow.

"He told me that day that if I ever needed anything to contact his office," she said. "2,080 miles later, and many more tears than that, I never saw nor heard from him again."

The news conference took place as a funeral was held in Truro, N.S., for one of the four suicides.

A coffin with the body of Warrant Officer Michael McNeil, 39, was carried into the town's armoury by comrades from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regimen, his brother Kevin and cousin Tim McNeil.

The younger McNeil brother said members of the military who are suffering need to know help is available.


The Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program's confidential 24/7 toll-free telephone advisory and referral service for all military personnel and their families can be reached at 1-800-268-7708.


—With files from Steve Rennie

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Campaign update: Minister Fantino's plan backfires

Campaign update: Minister Fantino's plan backfires

Minister Fantino's plan backfires

An attempt by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to quell growing outrage over VAC office closures appears to have backfired, leaving veterans even more determined to stop the closures.

Fantino announced last Thursday that Veterans Affairs offices in eight communities will close their doors to veterans on January 31 next year. In an attempt to allay concern about the impact of the closures, he announced what he called an "enhancement" that would leave a single Veterans Affairs worker in a Service Canada outlet in each of the communities to "assist with the transition".

It appears the so-called "enhancement" will be short lived – our component that represents Service Canada workers tells us they've heard the move is a temporary one.

The minister's ill-conceived scenario said nothing about Prince George, where veterans lost their office last January.

Veterans quickly spoke out against the scenario, asking how eight workers placed in could make up for the loss of veterans-only spaces and almost a hundred front line workers.

As PEI Legion Command President Gilles Painchaud wrote in this letter in the Charlottetown Guardian, one Client Service Agent cannot possible serve all of PEI's veterans and the same is true across the country.

Columnist Leroy Peach weighed in on the issue too, calling on Nova Scotia MLAs Alfie MacLeod and Eddie Orrell – who once supported the idea – to help stop the closures.

This Cape Breton Post editorial says Fantino's scenario has "backfired" and calls on local politicians to stop skating around the issue. Cape Breton mayor Cecil Clarke, says the Post, has been "politically smooth on the file, vocalizing his support for veterans, but avoiding public criticism of the federal Conservatives, with whom he is aligned."

The editorial goes on to say that "if this is supposed to be the feds' final offer, there will likely be increasing pressure on politicians such as Cecil Clarke, MacLeod and Orrell to dispense with diplomacy and sing more stridently from the same hymn sheet as most of their constituents."

On Saturday Cape Breton veteran Ron Clarke teamed up with frontline Veterans Affairs workers to meet with Orrell and MacLeod and urge them to do just that. They asked the MLAs to go back to Minister Fantino and tell him the plan just won't work and that veterans need the offices to stay open.

Our news release opposing the plan is here.

Opposition critics blast Fantino's proposal

Opposition critics were also quick to criticize the proposal during Question Period on November 29. The NDP's Peter Stoffer called the idea "unconscionable" and asked the government to reverse what he called "hazardous cuts" and reopen the offices.

Stoffer also asked why veterans were having trouble accessing services in Halifax, citing the story of one couple who had been waiting weeks for assistance. That situation is likely to get much worse if the closures go ahead: Halifax workers are expected to take on 4,200 files from Sydney without getting additional staff to help with the increased caseload.

The same is true across the country. When office closures go ahead, files are being transferred to other offices where in most cases, staffing levels will remain the same or have been cut. That means longer wait times for veterans in those communities too – not just in communities where offices are closing.

Liberal Veterans Affairs critic Jim Karigiannis also spoke out in Question Period, saying recent suicides by returning soldiers show we are not doing enough to care for our military. He asked how putting one worker in a Service Canada office was going to help when veterans are already being told there is no-one to talk to them.

Members of Parliament asked to help stop the closures

The same day Fantino made his announcement, Ron Clarke and a group of veterans travelled to Conservative MP Peter MacKay's constituency office in Antigonish. They spent the afternoon hosting a "postcard signing" and talking to passers-by about the closures. That was covered with a great photo and article in the local paper here.

Peter MacKay is one of 26 Members of Parliament we have asked for meetings with – each is being asked to go on the record opposing the closures and to help us stop them. We asked for that meeting in October, but MacKay has so far been unable to find time to meet, something Ron Clarke took up with staff in his office while they were there.

You can see the full list of MPs we are approaching for meetings here. So far we have scheduled meetings with Kelowna MP Ron Cannan, Prince George MP Richard Harris and some MPs who are themselves veterans: Gordon O'Connor, Laurie Hawn and Corneliu Chisu. We are working on scheduling meetings with a few more and will be sure to pass on a full report on our lobbying efforts as they go forward.

What you can do

Please help us keep showing that momentum is growing.
• Send a letter in to the editor of your local newspaper.
• Help us reach out to veterans in the ridings of MPs we are lobbying.
• If you live in any of those MPs' ridings – especially Saskatoon and Kelowna – please let us know as soon as possible.
• Let us know if you want to organize "postcard signings" in your community.
• Be sure to pass along this link to our campaign page and keep sharing our YouTube video.
I'm attaching our updated Questions and Answers sheet here, along with the full transcript of questions raised by opposition critics – and the minister's responses.

Kerry Pither
National Campaigns Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada


Veterans Affairs office closures
Questions and Answers

Can't veterans get the services they need from Service Canada locations, as well as online and through the phone, when these offices close,

• Veterans Affairs workers receive specialized, ongoing training because Veterans Affairs services and programs, like the needs of veterans, are vast and complex and always evolving. Service Canada workers have received very limited training about Veterans Affairs services and programs, so can only answer general questions and supply and receive forms. They cannot sit down with veterans to help them fill out their applications for benefits and services or check to ensure that forms are properly completed. One mistake can result in the denial of benefits to a veteran.

• Service Canada workers cannot access veterans' files and therefore cannot give advice or guidance related to individual cases. Veterans Affairs workers do access those files and have often built long term relationships with clients so are much more able to understand and respond to their needs. This is especially important for veterans with complex physical and mental health conditions.

• PSAC represents the workers at Service Canada too. They'd like to do more for our veterans, but it is unrealistic to expect them to have the same degree of expertise. They are often left with no choice but to point veterans to the computer or the toll-free phone line for help. Veterans tell us the phone line and internet are problematic, especially for those who are older or living with PTSD and other mental health challenges.

What about the Minister's plan to place a Veterans Affairs worker in the Service Canada outlets where Veterans Affairs offices are closing?

• It just isn't possible for one worker to make up for the number of front line workers being lost when these offices close. Closing the Sydney office, for example, means losing 13 front line workers. In Thunder Bay, the closure means losing seven front line workers. Plus, it appears this plan may be a temporary one.

• Veterans say they need their own space in which to access these services. These offices have been set up with veterans' needs in mind. They have reception areas designed for veterans and their families and private interview rooms for meetings with Client Service Agents and Case Managers. They also have examination rooms where veterans can meet with nurses and other healthcare practitioners.

If a veteran has trouble travelling to a VAC office, medical or other facilities, can't doctors, nurses or case workers go to the residence of the veteran?

• Only veterans who have Case Managers receive home visits from Veterans Affairs. Clients without case-managed files will have to travel to the closest remaining Veterans Affairs office for in-person services that require access to their file or expertise in Veterans Affairs programs and services. With the exception of travel for pension-related medical appointments, veterans must cover their own travel costs.

• For veterans in Thunder Bay, the office closure means traveling to North Bay, 13 hours away. For veterans in Sydney, the closure means a five to six hour drive to Halifax. For veterans in Corner Brook, it means an eight hour drive to St. John's. For veterans in Charlottetown, it would mean traveling out of province to Saint John. Given these distances, and given that there will be fewer Case Managers working once the offices close, it is unlikely veterans will still receive the home visits they need when they need them.

• The government has not committed to adding staff to the offices taking on clients from offices they want to close. This means increased caseloads, longer wait times for home visits and less service for all the veterans being served by those offices. If the government goes ahead with the Sydney closure, for example, more than 4,200 client files, including 120 case-managed files, will be transferred to Halifax.

Don't veterans have access to Operational Stress Injury Clinics and Integrated Personnel Support Centres too?

• There are no Operational Stress Injury Clinics or Integrated Personnel Support Centres in the communities where the government wants to shut down Veterans Affairs offices.

Don't these closures reflect the changing demographics of Canada's veterans?

• Altogether the nine offices the government wants to close serve more than 17,000 veterans and their family members. Those numbers demonstrate the closures simply don't make sense.
• In the last two years, the number of traditional veterans served by Veterans Affairs has decreased from 63,000 to 49,000. But the number of Regular Force Veterans served by Veterans Affairs has increased from 68,000 to 76,000. That number will continue to increase. In 2013, the average age of the 594,300 Canadian Forces veterans is 56. And none of these numbers include family members, survivors and the RCMP who are served by Veterans' Affairs.

• As older veterans age they require more care and services. Younger veterans, such as those returning from Afghanistan, tend to have more complex needs, such as those who have been diagnosed with serious mental health conditions as a result of their deployment.

The government says it has invested almost $5 billion in new funding to improve Veterans benefits, programs and services,and that close to 90% of the department's budget goes towards direct services and support for Veterans. Isn't this enough?

• Any investments this government has made are spread over many years and don't make up for cuts to front-line services for veterans. In fact, the government has cut the budget for Veterans Affairs by $129 million since 2011. A further $132 million in cuts are planned by 2016. In total 784 jobs will be cut including case managers, client service agents, disability pension officers, nurses and administrative staff who process all the claims. Veterans and their families must be able to access the benefits and services available or the investment is meaningless.


November 29, 2013

Veterans Affairs

Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, January 31 of next year will be very sad day for veterans and their families from across this country. That is the day the government announced for the closure of all eight district affairs offices for veterans and their families across the country.
However, the government has a plan, and I love this. It will take one person from each office and will put them in a Service Canada office. In Sydney, Cape Breton, for example, which Mr. Ron Clarke pointed out, an honoured veteran from Cape Breton, what took 13 officers to do the job will now be done by one person in a Service Canada office.
That is simply unconscionable. We ask the government to reverse these hazardous cuts and to reopen those offices to ensure that all our veterans and their families, and RCMP members and their families, get the one-on-one service they so rightfully deserve.


Mr. Sylvain Chicoine (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, too many of our valiant veterans have to fight for the benefits and the services they are entitled to.
The Conservatives have closed nine regional offices and slashed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Veterans Affairs' budget, thus forcing veterans to use online services instead of being given the personal help they deserve.
How can the Conservatives be so indifferent towards our veterans?

Mr. Parm Gill (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, our government has made substantial investments to support Canada's veterans, including almost $5 billion in new additional dollars since taking office.
This funding has been put towards improved financial benefits, world-class rehabilitation and tuition costs to help veterans transition to civilian life. While our government is making improvements to veterans' benefits, the Liberals and the NDP voted against this new funding for mental health treatment, financial support and home care services.

Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Eastern Shore, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I was wondering if the parliamentary secretary would like to tell Kim and Blair Davis of Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia that, because they have sent us all a very disturbing email about what is going on in the Veterans Affairs office in Halifax.
For weeks and weeks, they have tried to get assistance but to no avail. Mr. Davis is in a very precarious situation. His wife Kim is very worried about her husband. In fact, she even fears going back to work when she does not know the state of mind he may be in.
The parliamentary secretary is fully aware of this file. Can he please advise the House exactly what the government is going to do to assist this family and this hero of our country to immediately get the help he needs?

Mr. Parm Gill (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me thank my colleague from the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs for bringing this issue to my attention. Veterans Affairs officials were immediately directed to undertake a review of the circumstances. I can assure the House that, today, directions have been given to the Veterans Affairs officials to reach out to the veteran and his family.
We will continue to ensure that veterans have the programs and services that they need, even if the member opposite and his party continue to vote against every measure.

December 2, 2013
Veterans Affairs
Hon. Jim Karygiannis (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, last week we had three members of the military who committed suicide. Clearly, we are not looking after our military. Nine veterans affairs centres will be closed by the end of January and 17,000 veterans will be deprived of their case managers.
The minister is letting one case manager per centre move into the local Service Canada office. With veterans already being told that there is no one to talk to them, how does the minister expect veterans to get the services they need, the services we owe them and they deserve?

Hon. Julian Fantino (Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, among the variety of options available to veterans, Veterans Affairs Canada case workers and nurses do personalized home visits for those who need them. While the member opposite engages in scare tactics, we will continue to deliver services and support our veterans no matter where they live and will do that ongoing. If they need assistance among many services, we will cut their grass, shovel their snow and clean their homes. That is our commitment to veterans and that good work continues.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.