Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New announcement: What is PTSD? (Whiteboard Video)

What is PTSD? (Whiteboard Video)

Evidence-based" Treatment: What Does It Mean?

PTSD Treatment: Know Your Options

Prolonged Exposure for PTSD

Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: SITREP - With Pat Stogran

Submit a Report

The Colonel would like to interview people on the front lines, Canadians who can speak about topical issues first person singular: I – Me – My – Mine

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Saturday, December 27, 2014

New announcement: Veterans story being misrepresented

Veterans story being misrepresented

Editor on December 27, 2014.;board=68.0

While I have been the first to admit that more needs to be done for veterans and that there are legitimate issues, Cheryl Meheden and Mark Sandilands (Dec. 16 letter to the editor) should do some independent fact-checking before they sound off.

The veterans story is a good one, but certainly not a perfect one, and it will always be a work in progress. Every issue the Auditor General raised was already being addressed and he also cited examples of things going right. The Liberals lapsed almost $112 million in their last year for the same reasons; where is the outrage over that? The 14 substantive recommendations of the Veterans Affairs Committee are all being addressed, but it doesn't happen overnight.

Major Mark Campbell is receiving his full CAF pension plus substantial monthly financial and support benefits under the New Veterans Charter plus substantial lump sum amounts. They should ask him how much he is receiving. What he is not receiving, in addition to all that, is a pension under the old Pension Act that is no longer in effect, having been replaced under legislation passed by the Liberal government and implemented by the Conservative government. This story truly is being misrepresented.

In response to Richard Gaff (Dec. 23 letter to the editor), please read what I actually say. I have always acknowledged legitimate issues in service to veterans. Injured do have access to lifetime financial benefits in form of Permanent Impairment Allowance (PIAS) and PIAS Supplement. See recommendations of the Committee report – also working on making Earnings Loss Benefit for life; we just don't use the word "pension."

I and others are working hard in public and behind the scenes to make progress; and we are, always with more to do. Any government has to deal with reality and competing legitimate demands. Mr. Gaff is right, I was only a "cold warrior" and while not in combat, I did lose over three dozen friends. I do understand loss. And, yes, I would fly the F-35 anywhere.

Hon. Laurie Hawn, PC, CD, MP

Lieutenant-Colonel (retired)


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New announcement: A Canadian soldier re-learns how to be a civilian

A Canadian soldier re-learns how to be a civilian

Jennifer Scott found returning to non-military life almost as challenging as two tours in Afghanistan

By Yvonne Zacharias, Vancouver Sun December 26, 2014

Jennifer Scott has transitioned from the Canadian military to civilian life as a student at BCIT, which offers a military skills conversion program, giving credit for the skills she learned as a soldier.
Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider , Vancouver Sun

At age 18, Jennifer Scott drove, rifle in hand, in an armoured truck through the war-torn streets of Kabul, transporting soldiers from one place to another.

Three years later, she went back for her second tour of duty as a Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.

Now, soldiers like Scott have come home to build a new life. The transition to civilian life can be difficult. Gone are the structure, the discipline, the chain of command and the close circle of soldier friends.

Scott, who is studying for a marketing communications diploma at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, doesn't seem the type to cry easily.

Yet she chokes up when she describes the return home from her first mission, on a military plane that also carried the bodies of three Canadian soldiers killed in the war.

The plane stopped at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. One by one, the caskets of the three young soldiers were carried to waiting hearses. Scott will never forget the grief on the faces of the families.

Scott said she was sad, and angry. Angry with the Afghans for having taken these young men's lives.

But people change when they go to war. Scott said she developed a closer relationship with Afghans on her second mission. She realized they had lost soldiers, too, and her anger dissipated.

Despite the loss of colleagues in Afghanistan, Scott doesn't regret the near decade she spent in the Canadian military. She seemed destined for it.

Born in Edmonton, she spent 12 years in Las Vegas where her mother worked as a dancer while raising her two daughters as a single parent. Then, deciding it was time for a career change, her mother packed up her family and moved them back to Canada where she became a truck driver.

Unorthodox career paths for women seem to run in Scott's family.

As a 16-year-old high school student in Edmonton, Scott heard from a friend about the military reserves. She went to the recruiting centre, liked what she saw and signed up.

It changed her life.

While completing high school, she spent most weekends learning military skills — how to read maps, how to use a compass, how to use a rifle, how to wear a gas mask. There were drills. There were gruelling pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups.

She loved it all.

While girls her age were off to the beach and parties during the summer break from school, she was taking artillery training.

After she graduated from high school, her path again diverged sharply from her peers. They went to post-secondary schools. She volunteered to go to Afghanistan.

She was sent to Kabul, an urban jungle with many traffic circles, few stop lights and few rules of the road. As a military driver, she learned to navigate this complex landscape quickly. You don't want to be sitting idle anywhere for too long.

Danger lurked everywhere. Suicide bombers regularly hit in the city. "You were watching vehicles, you were watching people, you never felt 100 per cent safe and that's good because once you feel one hundred per cent safe, that is known as complacency."

There were bright moments, too.

Scott was able to visit an orphanage for girls in Kabul that the Canadian Forces advisory team had adopted. It became one of the uniquely Canadian volunteer legacies of the war, with soldiers pitching in to provide some basics in the orphanage.

"They were just a lovely group of kids. They were just so friendly."

They borrowed her camera so they could take pictures of each other. "They were all dressed up with earrings and doing each other's hair like kids do here."

She celebrated her 19th birthday in Afghanistan.

When she started her first tour, she had attitude. She thought she knew everything.

By the end of it, she questioned everything. Her eyes had been opened to the plight of a country where schools had been bombed and where children, girls especially, wanted to learn but were denied a basic education.

At the end of her six-month tour came the rocky path back to civilian life in Edmonton.

She drove with her sister at her side to make sure she didn't run any red lights. "I ran a couple," she said with a laugh.

Whenever she heard a loud bang, she flinched. It reminded her of the frequent rocket attacks and car bombings outside her camp's perimeter. In camp, she dived for cover to avoid shrapnel.

She got a job working at a warehouse and got fired. "It was an awakening."

She didn't belong in a warehouse; she belonged in the military.

So she transferred from the reserves to the regular army.

Suddenly, she was happier.

She immediately signed up to be trained as a tank gunner. She studied distances to develop accuracy. She learned how to repair the tank.

As fate would have it, she never got to use these skills. In 2011, Canada withdrew its combat troops and changed its role to one of training the Afghan National Army. So for her second tour, she was dispatched with the rank of master corporal in a teaching role to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The minute she landed, her gender was an issue. The departing Americans from whom the Canadian team was taking over said they didn't think the Afghan trainees would accept a woman. But her sergeant backed her up.

"The commanders totally took to me. They were very interested in me.""

As for the rest of the soldiers in training, many from remote mountain villages, they couldn't stop staring at her. "It was a little uncomfortable at first."

Some of the Afghans thought she was there to sleep with the Canadian commanders. She learned to fire back with humorous but pointed retorts. She also told everyone she was married even though she wasn't. It saved her a whole lot of trouble.

She commanded respect for the simple reason that she knew her stuff.

When the Canadian male soldiers were trying to teach the Afghans how to do the leopard crawl, the Afghans did what they were told for maybe a minute, then reverted to their old, incorrect ways.

When she dropped to the ground, crawling in the dirt while holding her rifle, they paid attention. They weren't going to be outdone by a woman.

Saving face was really important for the Afghans. It was important for her, too.

At one point, when roughly 3,000 Afghan recruits seemed to be descending on her, their commanders started shouting at her to take cover in a building.

She refused, knowing that if she did, those men would never respect her. She boldly waded through the throng, pushing them aside, asserting her authority, letting them know there was work to be done and she planned to do it.

"I developed a thicker skin."

Then there was life inside the camps, which was its own special world. There were special dinners — Afghan food night, British food night, Canadian food night with, of course, poutine.

On the dark side, there were the racket of rocket attacks and car bombings and the massive protests outside the camp perimeter by Afghans whenever there was a flashpoint, like the infamous incident in early 2012 when American soldiers burned copies of the Qu'ran.

Through it all, she developed an appreciation of the Afghan people and for the intelligence of some of their soldiers.

"They are a very proud people."

Then she was home in Edmonton, again struggling to find her footing.

This time, she found her tolerance level was very low. Her family noticed she was easily irritated.

One day, she went to the counselling offices at CFB Edmonton and asked for help.

"That's the hardest thing to do, to ask for help. We in the military are very proud people."

It was also one of the best things she did.

She was basically in reverse culture shock. When she was working with the Afghans, she was used to pushing her way through crowds. There were times when the Afghan soldiers were constantly taking photos of her, sometimes two inches from her face. This meant that from the moment she left the camp, she was constantly on high alert.

In Afghanistan, the Canadian soldiers had a routine. It helped to keep them focused and mentally healthy. When she returned to Canada, it was very difficult to transition from having such a strict routine to little or no routine.

"I was on edge with my family because they wanted to spend time with me, but I needed time to adjust to my new surroundings."

"Crowds made me nervous and stressed. I always needed to sit facing the door in restaurants. I would double check people's hands as they walked by and I always felt like something was missing: my weapon."

Counselling on the base helped. So did her family.

A year ago, she decided to leave the military. She didn't want to wake up a soldier at the age of 50. Following in the footsteps of her mother, who had become a safety officer in the oilfields, she worked for a time for a First Nations company in that role near Cold Lake.

But through those nights in army barracks, she had long harboured a dream. She wanted to return to school. She found that the B.C. Institute of Technology was one of the few universities offering a military skills conversion program, in conjunction with the Legion, that would credit her for some of her military skills, and provide some support while she attended school.

She said the program has been a lifeline. She often feels she can't relate to the non-military students on campus, given what she went through. The program has given her a refuge and linked her with other ex-military students.

She's hoping for a future in public relations, perhaps with a paramilitary organization like the police. She is finally enjoying life. She commutes to campus from Squamish where she lives with her boyfriend, a commercial fisherman. The pair enjoys spending time on the water, fishing and scuba driving. They, along with her dog, will head back to Edmonton for the Christmas holidays.

She expects she will get together with some military friends, but it won't be the same. Once you leave, you have turned your back on that life forever.

She says she misses the military. But for her, it was time to move on.

on twitter:@yzacharias

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New announcement: Does the Royal Canadian Legion matter anymore?

Does the Royal Canadian Legion matter anymore?

By Robert Smol | Nov 10, 2014 8:57 pm | 3 comments

This year, members of the Royal Canadian Legion will be standing front and center at Remembrance Day ceremonies across the country. Since its founding in 1926, the Royal Canadian Legion has come to embody Canada's veteran community and the need to respect and support those who served in our armed forces.

These days, however, the Legion's image is a false front. Once an outspoken advocate for disabled veterans, the Royal Canadian Legion is now widely perceived by younger veterans as the federal government's lapdog, with an increasingly non-veteran, non-military membership out of touch with the military community and its needs.

Every time I am invited to a Legion branch I see little that might make me feel that this is an organization that truly relates to and understands where a modern veteran like me came from. Today's Legion branches are popular and respected drinking establishments that occasionally do good charity work in the community. But I can't trust that today's Legion will ever be able to advocate for my generation of veterans in the same way they once stood for the soldiers of decades past.

Eighty-eight years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion was founded as a group of veterans helping other veterans. The Legion's original mandate set out its duty to act as an advocacy group for the veterans themselves, especially those suffering from hardship and disability. Politicians in the 1920s were just as willing as contemporary ones to disregard and minimize the health, pension and rehabilitation needs of returning soldiers and their families.

The Legion of my father's and grandfather's generation held the government's feet to the fire, making certain that the disabled soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought for Canada were looked after. Not anymore.

Fast forward to more recent years and you find a Legion that has failed miserably to reach out to the post-Korean War community of veterans. For the most part, what you find in the Legion of today is an increasingly non-veteran collection of military groupies. Just how focused is today's Legion on protesting against and shaming the Harper government for its shabby treatment of veterans? Is helping the struggling, destitute and homeless veterans out there just one of the many good charitable efforts of your local Legion branch — or is it their absolute raison d'etre?

No single decision better represents its institutional ignorance and disconnect with the veteran community than the Legion's support of the much-maligned New Veteran Charter at the time it was being implemented in 2005-6. It may come as a surprise to a lot of people that the Legion actually gave the New Veterans Charter its full support back when the legislation was being introduced in 2005.

As a result of this legislation, soldiers disabled while on duty are no longer entitled to disability pensions, but instead receive a one-time lump-sum payment for their injuries.
The Legion is doomed to irrelevance unless it radically rededicates itself as a modern veteran advocacy group. To survive, it must single-mindedly reach out to younger veterans … and challenge the current government's abandonment of modern veterans.

Knowing full-well what the New Veterans Charter was about, then-president of the Legion, Ms. Mary-Ann Burdett, stated before a Senate Committee on May 11, 2005 that "there should be no doubt that whatsoever that the Royal Canadian Legion fully supports this initiative (the New Veterans Charter). We want this legislation."

And they got it. Now, unlike their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought in the First and Second World Wars, members of today's military who become disabled are no longer entitled to disability pensions. The Legion was far too willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt when the New Veterans Charter was being introduced. And though the Legion has since reversed its support for the New Veterans Charter, the Legion-endorsed damage is there each and every time a younger veteran is forced to make do with one-time lump-sum payments.

How could the Royal Canadian Legion have allowed its leadership to support such legislation? Part of the reason might be that it took way too long for the Legion — obsessed with the legacy of the World War II veteran — to recognize that veterans of my generation are indeed military veterans deserving of the same attention and respect. Refusing for so long to recognize younger veterans, such as myself, as bonafide war veterans made it much easier to say that we should not be entitled to the same benefits.

Perhaps the Legion didn't know any better. Demographically and culturally, its membership increasingly is losing touch with the veteran community. As Second World War and Korean War Legion members die off, they are not being replaced with younger veterans — who increasingly see nothing to be gained from Legion membership.

So in a desperate attempt to fill its ranks with new recruits, Legion membership is now open to non-veterans — a policy that would have been unthinkable in its early years. Increasingly, Legion membership — including many of its administrative positions — are made up of people who never spent a day in a military uniform.

Almost any adult resident of Canada can be a member of the Royal Canadian Legion. Anyone who is the child, stepchild, adopted child, grandchild, sibling, niece/nephew, widower, parent or spouse of someone who had served in the military, Coast Guard, RCMP or municipal police forces of Canada can become a Legion member themselves. Even those without relatives who had served in the military, police or Coast Guard can still apply to be affiliate voting members of the Legion. People who are not citizens of Canada can apply to be affiliate non-voting members of the Canadian Legion.

Non-veteran members can still wear the Legion 'uniform' and are entitled to receive special merit and service medals produced solely by the Legion — medals which often can be mistaken by those outside the military for authentic military medals.

Today, younger veterans in need of help increasingly are turning towards a growing number of non-Legion charitable and advocacy groups popping up across the country, formed solely for the assistance of veterans.

As for the Legion, it's doomed to irrelevance unless it radically rededicates itself as a modern veteran advocacy group. To survive, it must single-mindedly reach out to younger veterans, and commit its capital, financial and personnel resources to helping them and their families. More importantly, the Legion needs to aggressively challenge the current government's abandonment of modern veterans.

Only then could the Legion reach its centennial in 2026 with the same status, purpose and respectability among veterans that it enjoyed at its founding.

Robert Smol is a freelance journalist, a teacher and retired Canadian Armed Forces intelligence officer. He lives in Toronto.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author's alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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Sunday, December 14, 2014

New announcement: Harper must accept responsibility for the poor treatment of veterans, says vet

Stephen Harper must accept responsibility for the poor treatment of veterans, says veteran

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: December 13, 2014Last Updated: December 13, 2014 10:09 PM EST

By Dennis Manuge

Defence Watch Guest Writer

Dear Prime Minister Harper

Subject: Call for VAC Minister Fantino's Resignation

The time is long overdue for you to ask for, and accept, VAC minister Fantino's resignation and for you to accept responsibility for the systemic failures with in the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada; specifically, the treatment of injured and ill service men and women and veterans who have become disabled during their service.

This last slap in the face to our veterans community, and the over one billion dollars that has been rolled over from the VAC budget, truly illustrates your government's commitment to seeing off disabled service men and women.

A very small portion of that amount of money, your numbers said $200 million, could have been easily used and marked for those of us disabled veterans who have been given a paltry retroactivity settlement under the New Veterans Charter's (NVC) Earnings Loss Benefit (ELB) program.


"Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney announced Wednesday that effective immediately, veterans will no longer have the amount of their earnings loss benefit and their Canadian Forces Income Support benefit reduced because they're also receiving a disability pension.

Blaney told reporters that the government is going "even farther than what the court required," saying the Harper government had "no obligation" to make today's move but it is committed to "harmonizing" its system and ending deductions for complementary programs."

"Former veterans minister Steven Blaney also ended the practice for programs in his department, but his successor has yet to open discussions about compensation for what was deducted prior to the decision."

Guess what your government's and Fantino's decision was?

VAC has decided in all of its generosity and wisdom to give us, approximately 2000 disabled veterans and our families, roughly "one tenth", in my case, of what we are owed retroactively.

Your government went back from October 2012 to only May 2012 in your calculations, a paltry 4 months in actual compensation, rather than go back to the beginning of this program in 2006.

In comparison, my case, Manuge vs Her Majesty the Queen, Federal Court Justice Barnes, stated in his decision, ref :

"[63] It seems to me that to ask these questions is to answer them. Giving effect to the SISIP offset of Pension Act disability benefits wholly deprives disabled veterans of an important financial award intended to compensate for disabling injuries suffered in the service of Canadians. The SISIP offset effectively defeats the Parliamentary intent that is inherent in thePension Act which is to provide modest financial solace to disabled CF members for their non-financial losses. The approach adopted by the Defendant does not lead to a fair or sensible commercial result and defeats the reasonable expectation of CF members. CF members looking at the SISIP Policy and, in particular Article 24, would expect that they were obtaining a meaningful and not illusory LTD benefit payable over and above their Pension Act disability entitlement for the loss of personal amenities. This view is enhanced by the fact that disabled CF members who continue with their active service are entitled to be paid and to keep theirPension Act disability benefits and by the fact that they lose their right of action against the Crown to pursue claims to damages (including income losses) if a Pension Act benefit is payable: see Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, RSC 1985, c C-50, s 9. The practical consequence of the claimed offset is to substantially reduce or to extinguish the LTD coverage promised to members of the Class by the SISIP Policy with particularly harsh effect on the most seriously disabled CF members who have been released from active service. That is an outcome that could not reasonably have been intended and I reject it unreservedly."

Read the paragraph again and simply substitute ELB for SISIP!

The ELB offset is 100% exactly the same. In my class action legal case, the judge ordered retroactivity going back to 1976 for approximately 8500 disabled veteran class members. Your government, in a calculated and premeditated attempt at saving money on our backs, has once again singled out a disadvantaged group of Canadian heroes, 2000 strong and you are treating us differently than the SISIP Class Members and newly disabled veterans, whom will never have to experience an offset of their pain and suffering disability payments.

I believe under the Charter of Human rights, all disabled people, and people, should be treated the same….

Clearly you, successive VAC ministers', Canadian Forces CDS' and your upper echelon senior bureaucrats could care less about making a comparatively small financial gesture – given the spillage left over each fiscal year – to truly level and equal the playing field, for all disabled veterans and their families.

Fantino has been missing in action, brutal in personality when dealing person to person with veterans and families, and now you seem to be hiding him and not even letting him speak.

In comes General Walt Natynczyk…to help!

I think not….He is a former CDS that never said a word in support to ending the SISIP Clawback, but told me by phone that he answered to his boss at the time, former Defence Minister Pete MacKay.


He did retire on a General's pension and has become the head civil servant\bureaucrat at the Canadian Space Agency, and now is the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs…how much do you think he earns? It might appear as you were holding on to some very lucrative positions for him.

As the Equitas Legal Challenge in BC ramps up in challenge of the NVC Lump Sum disability Payments and based on my own six year legal battle, one thing is clear. Your conservative government would rather spend tax payer's money fighting disabled veterans in the courts of the land, than doing what is simply the right thing; especially when you already have the financial resources available, but choose to roll the money over from year to year.

It's time to clean things up, come clean, blow it up at VAC from top down and start fresh with new leadership to rebuild the trust.

It's time for Fantino to go!

Corporal (Ret) Dennis Manuge

Representative Plaintiff, Manuge Vs Her Majesty The Queen (SISIP Clawback Class Action)

Disabled Veteran of CF

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

New announcement: Harper calls veterans charter a ‘Liberal’ policy amid calls for Julian Fantino’s

Harper calls veterans charter a 'Liberal' policy amid calls for Julian Fantino's resignation

By Murray Brewster The Canadian Press
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OTTAWA – The new veterans charter, a marquee deal defended and championed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives since 2006, suddenly became a "Liberal policy" Tuesday as the government weathered more demands for Julian Fantino's resignation.

The veterans affairs minister, who was on his feet constantly during the previous day's question period, rose infrequently on Tuesday in the face of an unrelenting barrage of NDP and Liberal attacks.

Instead, he was defended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who tried to put some political distance between his government and a class-action lawsuit in B.C. that argues the charter is unconstitutional and discriminatory against modern veterans.

"It's actually a court case against the previous Liberal policy," Harper told the House, prompting catcalls of "shame" from the opposition benches.

"In any case, we have repeatedly enhanced the benefits under that policy to the tune of some $5 billion, opposed every step of the way by the Liberal party, who has voted against all those benefits.

"They can keep voting against those benefits for veterans. We will keep bringing them forward."

The charter was conceived and passed by Paul Martin's Liberals with the support of all parties. It was put into force by Harper's Conservatives as one of their first acts after forming a minority government in 2006.

"I want our troops to know that we support them. This veterans charter is one example of our government's commitment," Harper said on April 6, 2006, the day the legislation was enacted.

"Our troops' commitment and service to Canada entitles them to the very best treatment possible. This charter is but a first step towards according Canadian veterans the respect and support they deserve."

When concerns and complaints that the charter was not as generous as the old Pension Act system began to surface a few years later, the government doubled down in its support and introduced changes to the legislation, including hundreds of millions of dollars in program improvements for the most seriously wounded.

"Our government promised that the new veterans charter would evolve with the needs of the men and women it serves. With our latest enhancements, we're delivering on that promise," said Steven Blaney, the veterans minister at the time.

The notion that Harper would even partially disown the policy was jaw-dropping to opposition critics.

"I find that incredible," said NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer. "They're not taking ownership; they mislead you — or they outright lie about it."

A group of veterans from Canada's war in Afghanistan launched a class-action lawsuit in 2012.

In defending against it, justice department lawyers argued the government does not have an extraordinary obligation under the law to those who have served. While conceding in a hearing last week that the new system is "less generous" than the old one, government lawyer Travis Henderson argued that current and future governments cannot be bound by the political promises of previous administrations.

Harper's government, which rarely misses an opportunity to express their devotion to the troops, has repeated ducked questions aimed at clearing up the contradiction by saying it cannot comment on an ongoing court case.

The Conservatives have been under fire for describing the nearly 900 job cuts at Veterans Affairs as impacting only the backroom bureaucracy, involving jobs that were either wasteful or redundant.

"The NDP wanted to keep bureaucrats to do nothing but cross us and delay payments to veterans under a program it actually voted against," Harper said.

"On this side, we cut down the bureaucracy. We deliver service to the veterans."

The government's own budget documents show the majority of the job cuts were in the disability awards branch, the area singled out for criticism in the fall 2014 auditor general's report for being too slow to approve mental health treatment.

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Don’t Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide

Don't Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide - Part 1 - Introduction


Don't Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide - Part 2 - Suicide is Not Simple


Don't Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide - Part 3- Secrets, Lies, and Suicide


Don't Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide - Part 4 - A Failure in Leadership


Don't Give Up the Fight - A Blog on Military Trauma and Suicide - Part 5 - The Suicide's Pain Becomes the Survivor's Pain

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: Veterans say Fantino flap obscures real problems with mismanaging benefits

Veterans say Fantino flap obscures real problems with mismanaging benefits


OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Dec. 04 2014, 9:12 PM EST

Last updated Thursday, Dec. 04 2014, 9:18 PM EST

Check the Video's:

Veterans say the real financial problems facing injured military men and women – and the government's failure to address them – have been lost amid current calls for Julian Fantino's resignation.

The beleaguered Veterans Affairs Minister is fending off opposition demands that he step down after the government said last week it was making a six-year, $200-million investment in veterans' mental health, then admitted the money will flow over decades.

But Donald Leonardo, a former soldier and the founder of Veterans Canada, an online network for vets, says the minister's unwillingness or inability to change to the New Veterans Charter is the reason Mr. Fantino must be replaced. "I don't think this is fixable with this minister because of his attitude," Mr. Leonardo said Thursday from his home in Airdrie, Alta.

Last June, MPs on the all-party Commons veterans affairs committee, which is chaired by Conservative MP Greg Kerr, unanimously recommended 14 changes to the much-maligned charter. It was implemented in 2006 and replaced an old system of lifetime pensions for injured vets with one that relies heavily on lump-sum payments.

New veterans say it leaves them inadequately compensated for their sacrifice, and this week the federal government was in court in British Columbia to try to stop a class-action lawsuit launched by soldiers disabled in Afghanistan who say the New Veterans Charter is unconstitutional.

Mr. Fantino responded in October to the veterans affairs committee's report with some positive words, but no definitive promises for when or how most of the recommendations would be implemented. That was a particularly irritating to veterans, Mr. Leonardo said, because some of the proposed changes are contained in multiple previous studies.

Three are particularly critical, he said. They include increasing the monthly payments available to veterans undergoing rehabilitation, treating reservists the same as regular forces when it comes to benefits and support, and making the lump-sum payment for pain and suffering equivalent to the amounts being awarded by the courts in civil liability cases.

"Fire Fantino," Mr. Leonardo said. "Replace him with Kerr. Let's get on with the recommendations."

Even as veterans complain they are not being given the benefits they need, the Veterans Affairs department returned $1.13-billion to the federal treasury that it did not spend in the years since the Conservatives took power in 2006.

It was recently revealed that the department shed nearly a quarter of its work force over the past five years. And the Auditor-General released a report last week saying many vets are waiting months or years to access mental-health disability benefits.

All of which has made Mr. Fantino, who has refused repeated requests for interviews, an easy target for opposition criticism. But it is the New Veterans Charter that has been the ongoing source of frustration for veterans.

Veterans ombudsman Guy Parent issued a statement Thursday saying it is essential that federal decision makers understand the urgency of targeting money to address the charter's deficiencies. "Support to veterans is not a theoretical exercise," he said. "There are real veterans out there, with real needs that need action now."

Brian Forbes, chair of the National Council of Veterans Associations in Canada, which represents 61 member organizations, agrees that lack of action on the New Veterans Charter is a major irritant. "The government doesn't seem to react in any meaningful way to things that are truly significant to the veterans community," he said.

Frank Valeriote, the Liberal who sits on the veterans affairs committee, said, "We were all expecting for there to be some meat in their response" to the recommended changes to the charter. But the word veterans does not appear in the Conservative government's fall economic update, Mr. Valeriote said.

And Peter Stoffer, the New Democrat on the committee, said many of the recommendations could be put into effect immediately. The government is simply promising more study, he said. "That's why so many veterans are [ticked] off with these guys."

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Equitas, the fight for Sacred Obligation equality to the Pension Act

Equitas, the fight for Sacred Obligation equality to the Pension Act

Two stories, politicians/wounded.

How does Erin O'Tooles comments reconcile with Major Mark Campbell's. O'toole served, but has no connection to the VAC file or committee. Where is Fantino? Where is Gill? Do they just trot him out because he served?


Major Mark Campbell.

Comments welcome

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

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: Opposition calls new Veterans Affairs ad campaign propaganda

Opposition calls new Veterans Affairs ad campaign propaganda

Lee Berthiaume More from Lee Berthiaume
Published on: December 3, 2014Last Updated: December 3, 2014 5:12 PM EST

Veterans Affairs Canada is preparing to launch a new $5-million advertising campaign, as the Conservative government struggles to defend its treatment of those who have served in uniform.

The upcoming campaign is just one of several government advertising initiatives revealed in budgetary documents tabled recently in the House of Commons, and the second to be conducted by the department over the past year.

About $4 million was spent on a campaign this past spring that included television commercials during the NHL playoffs highlighting services available to military personnel who are moving into civilian life.

While Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's office did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday, the minister has previously said advertising campaigns are important for informing veterans and their families about the many benefits and services available to them.

But Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote compared the ad campaign to propaganda, alleging the purpose was to counter the litany of recent bad news that has undermined the government's record on veterans issues.

The Conservative government was stung last week by an auditor general's report that found many veterans are being forced to wait more than eight months to find out if they qualify for mental health services.

The government has also faced criticism for closing nine Veterans Affairs offices, cutting hundreds of positions since 2008, and failing to reveal it will take 50 years for $200 million in new funding for mental health services to be paid out.

Questions have also been raised about the Veterans Affairs department returning more than $1 billion in unspent funds to the treasury since 2006.

In the House of Commons Wednesday, a visibly annoyed Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended the government's record on veterans issues in the face of renewed opposition attacks.

"We have taken resources out of backroom administration from bureaucracy. We have put it into services," he said in response to a question from NDP leader Tom Mulcair. "That is called good administration, good government, and it is good service for the veterans of this country."

But Valeriote noted one of the programs showcased in the $4-million advertising campaign in the spring benefitted just 296 veterans, each of whom received $1,000 for career counselling, resume writing training and other job-hunting help.

"They spent $4 million in the spring on ads over the NHL playoffs for a program that they spent $296,000 on," Valeriote said.

"They use every opportunity to promote themselves under the pretext that it's really informing of the programs. And that's not the case."

Senior Veterans Affairs officials were scheduled to appear before the Commons' veterans affairs committee on Wednesday, where the budgetary documents were to have been discussed. But committee chair Greg Kerr sent out a notice late last week saying the meeting was cancelled.

The committee now isn't scheduled to meet again until Parliament resumes after the Christmas break at the end of January.

The opposition blames the committees' Conservative majority for suspending the committee's work, which they say is scandalous given the auditor general's findings and other concerns.

"They just said there's no remaining business and things to talk about in that regard, and they have the majority, so that was it," said NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer. "But there's all kinds of things we could talk about."

Neither Kerr nor Fantino's parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, who is the senior Conservative MP on the committee, responded to requests for comment.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New announcement: Veterans Affairs shed staff despite increased mental-health risks

Veterans Affairs shed staff despite increased mental-health risks


OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Tuesday, Dec. 02 2014, 8:04 PM EST

Last updated Tuesday, Dec. 02 2014, 8:07 PM EST

Check the Video:

The department of beleaguered Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino shed nearly a quarter of its work force over the past five years even as bureaucrats warned that the changes could put the delivery of services to veterans and their families at risk.

The downsizing occurred at a time when soldiers were returning home from Afghanistan with a myriad of physical and psychological injuries, and as growing numbers of veterans were butting heads with a Conservative government they accused of being indifferent to their needs.

Figures posted by the federal Treasury Board on an internal government website show the number of employees at Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) declined from 4,137 in 2009 to 3,188 last March. The most dramatic drop occurred between 2013 and 2014, when the department lost more than 400 people.

At the same time, officials in the Veterans Affairs department warned in a government report this year that: "The primary risk being mitigated by the department is that modernization of VAC's service delivery model will not be achieved as expected, and will not meet the needs of veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, and their families."

Mr. Fantino, a former police chief, is the fourth minister to hold the difficult portfolio since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006 – and has had the most trouble. Calls for his resignation came this week after the government said it would spend $200-million over six years for veterans' mental health, but staff in Mr. Fantino's office later acknowledged the money would actually flow to the vets over several decades.

"The plan is worth even less per year than the savings from closing the nine veterans services offices," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons on Tuesday. "It is by now clear to all that the Prime Minister owes veterans an apology."

Mr. Fantino was travelling on official business in Italy last week when the Auditor-General released a report saying many vets are waiting months or years to access mental-health disability benefits.

And, although opposition MPs say Mr. Fantino was invited to appear before the veterans affairs committee of the House of Commons to answer questions about the supplementary budget estimates for his department, as most ministers do, he did not agree to appear.

Those estimates show the Veterans Affairs department is asking for another $5-million to spend on advertising this year. That is about equal to the annual cost of running three occupational stress injury clinics for veterans with mental problems, such as the one in Halifax that will be created with the new funding.

Mr. Fantino's spokespeople did not reply Tuesday when asked why he did not appear at the committee. Nor did they answer questions about how the department is coping with reduced staff.

Stephen Lecce, a member of Mr. Harper's own communications team, has been sent to Mr. Fantino's office to act as the interim chief of staff. That prompted NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair to ask why the Prime Minister felt it necessary to impose third-party management on one of his own ministers. "If he's lost confidence in his minister, why is [the minister] still there?" asked Mr. Mulcair.

Mr. Harper did not directly respond. But, with regard to the announcement of mental-health supports for veterans that was made last week, he said: "Using the Auditor-General's standards of accrual accounting over a life cycle, the costs of these new announcements to the government are, in fact, $200-million over the next six years. Obviously these funds are available to veterans over many decades, over their lifetime."

Frank Valeriote, the Liberal veterans affairs critic, said the essential point about the money is that "veterans get it over 50 years."

Mr. Valeriote said the fact that the department staff has been reduced at the same time bureaucrats worried aloud that services to veterans could be put at risk "is a contradiction of what they say and how they respond. And that is exactly what our veterans have been facing …"

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Monday, December 1, 2014

New announcement: Stephen Harper aide takes over as chief of staff to Veterans Minister Julian Fan

Stephen Harper aide takes over as chief of staff to Veterans Minister Julian Fantino

Oppositions MPs call on Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino to resign over criticisms of Ottawa's handling of veterans issues.

By: Bruce Campion-Smith Ottawa Bureau, Published on Mon Dec 01 2014

OTTAWA—An aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken over as chief of staff to embattled Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino as opposition MPs call for his resignation.

Stephen Lecce, the director of media relations for Harper, will now also serve as interim top aide to Fantino as the Conservative government struggles to get a grip on a file that has turned into a political nightmare.

The staff shuffle comes just weeks after Walt Natynczyk, a retired top general who headed the Canadian Armed Forces, was named deputy minister of Veterans Affairs after a short stint heading the Canadian Space Agency.

The twin moves are seen as an attempt by the Conservatives to turn around a struggling department that has angered veterans and dragged down the government politically.

In the Commons Monday, the New Democrats and Liberals pressed Fantino to resign over criticism the department is failing veterans in need.

Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said Fantino, who has served in the post since 2013, has no trust or credibility left.

"The longer the minister clings to the government the worse they both look. His portfolio has been grossly mismanaged," Goodale said. "To prevent any more trouble for veterans, will the prime minister fire this failed minister."

Last week, the auditor general laid bare new problems with the department's efforts to treat veterans suffering chronic mental health issues, saying those seeking help faced long waits that threatened their recovery.

But as the bad news dropped, Fantino was in Italy, leading a delegation of veterans to mark Canada's Second World War campaign in the country, a trip that the minister defended Monday.

"In my world, lest we forget means something," said Fantino, who served as Toronto police chief and commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police before entering politics.

But that prompted a sharp response from Mulcair, who accused the minister of "cowardice" for being out of the country. "How about showing up for work and taking care of them when they are alive," the NDP leader said.

"He showed dereliction of duty by fleeing the country. Will the minister for once do the honourable thing and resign."

Fantino responded to the criticism by listing initiatives launched by the Conservatives to assist veterans while accusing the opposition of "mud-slinging" and "fear-mongering."

"We are in fact making substantial improvements that are generating better outcomes for Canadian veterans," Fantino said.

Still, the problems are piling up with damning revelations of more than $1 billion in unspent funding by Veterans Affairs since 2006, delayed treatment of ailing veterans and continuing charges that wounded ex-soldiers are being short-changed in their benefits.

Nor has the situation been helped by Fantino, who has appeared chippy in his dealings with some veterans. In February, he was forced to apologize for his snub of veterans upset by the closing of regional Veterans Affairs offices. More recently, he was chased down a hall by a woman crying out to him, seeking help for her husband suffering from post-traumatic stress. Fantino didn't stop to talk with her.

Fantino is the face of the problem but the problems run deeper into the bureaucracy that has an insurance company mindset in dealing with veterans who need help, said retired colonel Pat Stogran.

"It's a department desperately in trouble . . . they've really got to change the culture of it," said Stogran, who commanded ground troops in Afghanistan and later served as veterans ombudsman.

As veterans ombudsman, Stogran said he warned two ministers that what was unfolding in the department "was a scandal about to erupt."

Stogran said a public inquiry is needed to probe the problems within Veterans Affairs.

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New announcement: Veterans Affairs Minister Fantino spent much more travelling abroad than in Cana

Veterans Affairs Minister Fantino spent much more travelling abroad than in Canada

Published: Monday, 12/01/2014 12:00 am EST

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino has spent a total of $53,588 travelling abroad to attend commemorations at cemeteries or war monuments, from Korea through Europe, since Prime Minister Stephen Harper named him to his post last year, departmental records and Mr. Fantino's ministerial public expense postings show.

The amount Mr. Fantino (Vaughan, Ont.) spent on the nine trips he has taken abroad from July 2013 to September 2014 dwarfs the $7,772 he spent travelling within Canada to attend meetings with Veterans Affairs Canada officials or to take part in events such as a one-day summit on homeless veterans the Canadian Legion held in Toronto.

Mr. Fantino's foreign travel expenses since his appointment have also exceeded the $13,479 he has spent travelling within Canada to attend veteran and war commemoration ceremonies and deliver speeches, with a few business lunches and one $766 dinner for eight thrown in.

Veterans roundly criticized Mr. Fantino last week for his absence as other government ministers responded to Auditor General Michael Ferguson's annual fall report to Parliament. The report included a scathing chapter on lengthy delays many Afghanistan war veterans face as they attempt to obtain treatment and support for post-combat trauma and operational stress injuries.

When Defence Minister Rob Nicholson (Niagara Falls, Ont.) fielded media questions about the Veterans Affairs Canada chapter of Mr. Ferguson's report, and several other ministers responded to other chapters, Mr. Fantino was either at the Cassino War Cemetery near Rome, Italy, or on his way there.

Mr. Fantino flew to Italy to join a Canadian delegation that left Canada earlier as part of several commemorations taking place to mark the 70th anniversary of the allied campaign in Italy during the Second World War, but Mr. Fantino's office would not tell The Hill Times when he left Canada.

Veterans were angry that Mr. Fantino also snubbed one of the largest and most important summits for military veteran issues that was taking place in Toronto the day Mr. Ferguson released his report.

A three-day forum organized annually by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, associated with Queen's University, began Nov. 24. The forum website listed Mr. Fantino as an invited speaker but Veterans Affairs Canada emailed a copy of a department news release dated Aug. 1 that quoted Mr. Fantino announcing he would be attending the Italian war cemetery ceremonies in November.

Mr. Fantino had delayed his departure for the ceremonies in Italy in order to take part in a weekend government announcement of more than $200-million in expanded health services for veterans as the Conservatives sought to deflect the fallout from Mr. Ferguson's report in advance.

Veterans advocate Mike Blais, who appeared with another veterans advocate at a Parliament Hill news conference only a week earlier to protest the government's prior closure of six Veterans Affairs Canada regional offices, was surprised when informed of the extent of Mr. Fantino's foreign travels over the past 16 months—especially when compared to his limited Veterans Affairs Canada-related travel within Canada.

Although the deputy minister of Veterans Affairs Canada is located in Ottawa, senior associate deputy ministers and many of the key veterans service branches are located in Charlottetown, P.E.I., with other branches across the country.

"I think his priorities are definitely adrift," Mr. Blais, a founder and director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, told The Hill Times.

"This is one of the issues that we brought up, that he was not in the country enough in order to conduct appropriate oversight into his ministry," Mr. Blais said.

Despite recent speculation that Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) may shuffle Mr. Fantino out of the veterans portfolio because of his poor relations with veteran groups and several controversies over alleged snubs of activist veterans, Mr. Blais agreed that Mr. Fantino's travels to attend war commemorations and related ceremonies appears to conform with the Harper government's policy of emphasizing Canadian military accomplishments and war losses of the past.

"I think that every minister in Mr. Harper's administration has their orders and that Minister Fantino is fulfilling those orders very well," Mr. Blais said.

"I've always told veterans that the problem is not Minister Fantino, he is just the messenger of Prime Minister Harper. And until Prime Minister Harper fulfills his sacred obligation, Minister Fantino will just be a talking puppet that does only what the PMO requests and nothing more," Mr. Blais said.

Mr. Fantino's press secretary did not respond to questions about Mr. Fantino's travel abroad, or whether he left for the ceremonies the night before Mr. Ferguson tabled his report or that same morning.

"Our government has been working hard to provide our veterans and their families with the care and support they need, through the unprecedented investment of $200-million for a comprehensive mental health strategy, thousands of dollars each month in benefits, up to $75,800 for retraining at a university or college, services such as housecleaning, grass cutting/snow removal, medicine, and travel to and from medical appointments," press secretary Ashlee Smith wrote in an emailed statement to The Hill Times.

"Minister Fantino recommended that the auditor general review the mental health supports in order to help improve our programs and services; we thank the auditor general for making constructive recommendations," it said.

Opposition MPs on Nov. 27 pressed the government about Mr. Fantino's absence when Parliament received Mr. Ferguson's report, as well as other issues veterans say are not being addressed.

Conservative MP Parm Gill (Brampton-Springdale, Ont.), Mr. Fantino's Parliamentary Secretary who answers on Mr. Fantino's behalf when he is away from the House of Commons, defended the trip to Italy as well as government management of veterans' issues.

"I can assure the honorable colleague on the other side that the minister works hard and consults with veterans across the country all the time," Mr. Gill said.

"As a matter of fact, he is currently travelling overseas with veterans," Mr. Gill said. "It is a top priority for our government. We are working to address some of the recommendations that were brought forward by the Auditor General to address the concerns when it comes to the unnecessary delays. On this side of the House, we will continue to work in the best interests of Canada's veterans."

Mr. Fantino spent a total of $41,039 travelling abroad on his own airfare, accommodation meals and hospitality, and a further $7,659 on travel and expenses for his chief of staff and a press secretary who accompanied him on three of the trips.

The biggest bill for Mr. Fantino's personal travel abroad was $9,306 for a trip to Korea, to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in July 2013.

Mr. Fantino's second most expensive bill, with a total of $8,902 for his own expenses, was a six-day trip last April to Newark, N.J., to attend "ministerial events" and then on to France to attend the 97th anniversary of the Canadian First World War battle at Vimy Ridge.

Mr. Fantino's chief of staff, Jacques Fauteux, accompanied him on that trip, with his expenses boosting the total for flights, accommodation, meals and "incidentals" to $12,984.

Expenses for Mr. Fantino's trip to Italy last week have not yet been reported.

Mr. Fantino, who was born in Italy, also visited Italy in July of last year, also to mark the 70th anniversary of the allied campaign in German-allied Italy.

The campaign began with an invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

The Hill Times

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Sunday, November 30, 2014

New announcement: From top cop to political target: Julian Fantino's rocky tenure at VAC

From top cop to political target: Julian Fantino's rocky tenure at Veterans Affairs

Lee Berthiaume More from Lee Berthiaume
Published on: November 30, 2014Last Updated: November 30, 2014 4:57 PM EST

When Julian Fantino was elected to Parliament in November 2010, he was seen as a star. A former Toronto police chief and Ontario Provincial Police commissioner, the hard-nosed cop had the credentials to shine in a Conservative government that billed itself as tough on crime.

Four years later, the view is very different.

When Auditor General Michael Ferguson released an explosive report detailing the hurdles many veterans still face trying to access mental health services, Fantino was an ocean away in Italy. His office defended the trip, which marked the 70th anniversary of the Second World War's Italian campaign. But some questioned whether Fantino was running from the auditor's findings. Or worse, whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper had decided to keep him out of sight.

Some see Fantino's performance at Veterans Affairs as spectacularly disastrous. Footage of a nasty exchange with veterans in January, where the minister took issue with a finger-jabbing soldier before storming out, went viral. So did video of Fantino being chased down a hallway by the wife of a vet suffering from PTSD in May. Both incidents shadow him to this day.

Those who have worked with Fantino say those examples don't do him justice. Even opposition critics and veterans groups who have been critical of the government concede the minister's genuine desire to help veterans. And they say he has helped in some ways.

But four years after arriving in Parliament, Fantino's political weaknesses have been exposed and the government is on the defensive when it comes to its treatment of veterans. It could be only a matter of time until he is replaced.

On the surface, Fantino had the hallmarks of an outstanding veterans affairs minister. He ran two large police forces before being elected to Parliament. He performed well as secretary of state for seniors shortly after arriving in Ottawa.

Former staff, veterans groups and even opposition critics say he also harbours a genuine affection for veterans.

Perhaps that is not surprising. Fantino was born in Italy in 1942, when the country was under the heel of Benito Mussolini's fascists. It wouldn't be until two years later that allied forces, including thousands of Canadians, would free the country.

NDP veterans affairs critic Peter Stoffer, born in the Netherlands, believes the experience was informative because "our parents were both liberated by the Canadians."

Except the majority of veterans seeking the government's assistance today are peacekeepers or former military members who served in Afghanistan. Some are still in their 20s. And they haven't been shy about voicing their anger over the barriers they face gaining support and services.

In addition, those who complain the loudest often don't represent the majority of veterans. Rather, they are the ones who have or are in danger of falling through the cracks.

"The majority of veterans are not disabled and disadvantaged," said former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran. "The ones who are killing themselves are the ones who are very desperate and being abandoned."

Fantino, as a police chief, displayed little empathy for those — such as aboriginal groups, gay activists and other subsections of society — who sought to air their grievances through public protests. While some described him as tough and no-nonsense, others saw him as polarizing, insensitive and aloof.

That didn't matter for the portfolios he held before veterans affairs: untangling the federal government's troubled military procurement strategy as the associate defence minister; and overseeing its Canada's foreign aid as international development minister.

Former staff say those traits have even been recognized as a strength at the cabinet table, where the former police chief's background and experience are valued. But they also acknowledge this style has caused problems on a file that deals exclusively with people.

"He has no time for political games, or what he thinks are political games," said one former staff member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"If there is a family of a victim, and he thinks you are not representative of the group and you're doing this to embarrass me, then he's going to walk away. And he doesn't give a sh — what anybody thinks about it."

Fantino has been able to push some initiatives to help veterans. He launched a review of the New Veterans Charter, the system through which modern veterans receive benefits. He secured more money for funerals and burials. He championed adding the Boer War and Afghanistan to the National War Memorial.

But he has failed to address the most pressing complaints voiced by veterans, including changing the department's culture to make it more receptive to veterans' needs, which in turn has contributed to the recent public relations disasters. And when he is challenged in public, the results have not gone well.

"What will live with him through the rest of his career is that finger-pointing," said an official with one Canadian veterans' organization. "That was a really bad day that has literally overshadowed his tenure."

The official says the incident and others have contributed to an atmosphere of distrust toward the government among large parts of the veterans' community.

Veterans Affairs was supposed to be a strength for the Conservative government, which had long touted itself as the most pro-military. It has become a weakness under Fantino's watch. Sensing blood, opposition parties plan to make veterans an election issue next year.

"He's been absent since he became minister," said Liberal veterans affairs critic Frank Valeriote. "He has not heard the pleas of our veterans. He's paid lip service to their pleas."

Recognizing the danger, the government brought in reinforcements: retired general Walter Natynczyk, the former chief of defence staff, became the department's top bureaucrat last month.

Widely respected, Natynczyk will be charged with doing what Fantino couldn't: instilling a new, pro-veteran culture into the department; and offering a caring, compassionate face to Veterans Affairs. The appointment has been met with rave reviews.

"The Legion is really hoping that Minister Fantino listens carefully and takes the advice of his new deputy minister (Natynczyk)," said Royal Canadian Legion spokesman Scott Ferris.

Yet even with Natynczyk's appointment, Fantino's time as veterans affairs minister may be running down. Critics say the prime minister can't shuffle Fantino out of the position so close to an election, as that would be seen as an admission of failure.

"If they do that, then the government will admit they have bigger problems," said Stoffer.

But the minister's office has been shaken up, with his chief of staff leaving in recent weeks. Fantino has made few public appearances. His parliamentary secretary, Parm Gill, is taking on a greater role in question period. The government has just months before an election where its treatment of veterans — and Fantino's perceived role — may factor in to the outcome.
Julian Fantino at a glance

Born in Italy, emigrated to Canada at age 11.
Worked as a police officer for almost four decades, including as chief of the London Police Service, York Regional Police and Toronto Police Service. Became commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police.
Elected to House of Commons for Vaughan 2010, re-elected 2011.
Served as minister of state for seniors, and associate minister of national defence.
Served as minister of international development.
Currently minister of Veterans Affairs.


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Friday, November 21, 2014

New announcement: Going Crazy in the Green Machine

Going Crazy in the Green Machine

The Story of Trauma and PTSD among Canada's Veterans by John J. Whelan

Many Canadians are vaguely aware of the military's steady involvement in overseas operations over the past 20 years. For many soldiers, however, memories of these places torment them daily. They are haunted; they are changed from who they were as proud men and women. How do we support these soldiers to find their way back home? The story of Master Corporal Billy Reardon is an intimate portrayal of his journey from young man to mentally wounded military veteran. We see the world through his eyes as the toll of his deployments mount and as he struggles within the mental health system. We also see him find recovery and reconnection to the military brotherhood along with other veterans. Billy's story raises questions about the roles of front-line leadership and challenges health providers to develop an intimate understanding of military culture as a prerequisite to assisting traumatized veterans and their families.

ohn J. Whelan Author

John Whelan, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has spent a 20-year career working with serving and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces. He served in the RCN for nearly nine years during the Cold War years before leaving to attend university. Dr. Whelan completed his dissertation on treatment outcomes for military members with substance abuse and mental health issues and he went on to serve as clinical director for the CAF addiction treatment programs. In 2004, he established a private clinic for the treatment of complex military PTSD and developed a group therapy program for veterans to help foster peer support networks. He continues to conduct outcome-focussed clinical research, advocacy and outreach work, and he is active in several veterans organizations.

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New announcement: Is it too late for Harper to mend fences with veterans?

Is it too late for Harper to mend fences with veterans?

By Tasha Kheiriddin | Nov 20, 2014 8:59 pm

In September, the Department of National Defense published some shocking statistics. Between 2002 and 2014, 138 soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan. During the same period, 160 military personnel committed suicide.

The fact that more servicemen and women were dying of suicide than enemy action prompted outrage across the country, and umbrage on Parliament Hill. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson defended the government's record, saying that it had increased the military's mental health budget by $11 million to $50 million a year. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino exhorted "… everyone … who think(s) someone may be suffering from mental health conditions to seek the professional assistance they need right away."

Fast forward to November 20 … and some more shocking numbers. During the period 2006-2013, $1.1 billion that had been budgeted for Veterans Affairs was returned by the department to the federal treasury. A third of the money was sent back between 2011-2013, a period when the government was actively reducing the national deficit. That exercise was a success, leaving a healthy surplus which has now been allocated to income-splitting, among other things.

Cue the outrage, part two. Some of the families of vets who committed suicide may well be asking themselves — what if? What if some of that money had been spent on their loved ones? What if more programs to help combat the ravages of PTSD or other injuries had been available?

Other veterans will probably also have their own what-ifs — not on questions of life and death, but of dignity and respect. In January 2014, the government announced the closure of nine Veterans Affairs offices, replacing them with 650 "points of service" at Service Canada centres. Veterans complained that the face-to-face, specialized offices served them far better than the general Service Canada offices, accessible by a 1-800 number, and protests erupted across the country.

Adding insult to injury, Fantino showed up over an hour late to a meeting with veterans opposed to the closures — and proceeded to get into a verbal brawl with some of them.

The notion of a veterans group engaged in an outright political assault on a Tory government would have been unthinkable just a few years ago — but the accumulated weight of the cuts and the cockups has enraged a constituency that once was Conservative bedrock.

Then there was the Day of Honour for Afghanistan veterans on May 9 in Ottawa. It was a great idea — paying tribute to those who served in Canada's mission there — undermined once again by God-awful government messaging. In the lead-up to the event, the government sent the families of fallen soldiers an invitation that included this callous line: "Should your schedule allow it, your attendance would be at your own expense."

So what should have been a tribute to our soldiers' achievements and courage turned into a sordid dustup over who should pay for plane tickets. The Tories claimed the letter had been sent "in error" and announced the costs would be covered, in part by sponsors such as the True Patriot Love Foundation and Air Canada.

Finally, while this past Remembrance Day was particularly notable for its solemnity, it also saw an escalation of hostilities between many veterans and the Harper government. The Canada Coalition for Veterans plans to actively campaign against the Conservatives in the next election and threatens to protest ribbon-cuttings, ceremonies and the like.

What's remarkable about all this is how quickly the relationship between veterans and the federal government degenerated. The notion of a veterans group engaged in an outright political assault on a Tory government would have been unthinkable just a few years ago — but the accumulated weight of the cuts and the cockups has enraged a constituency that once was Conservative bedrock.

To be fair, the Tories have been on a deficit-cutting bent since 2011 for several reasons — not all of them political. There's an expectation that governments balance the books, and they promised to do so by 2015. The government could not bring in other promised measures, such as income-splitting, until the deficit was gone. And nobody wants to run an election campaign with the balance still in the red. They racked up the deficit in the wake of the financial crisis; failing to balance the books would be a failure of economic stewardship, and would damage the image of sound fiscal management.

Now, however, that same frugality is damaging their image among a key constituency. It's irony of a sort: In pleasing one part of their base with the Family Tax Cut, the Tories have managed to alienate another by pinching pennies in Veterans' Affairs.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn't work if Peter gets wind of it — or if lives are literally on the line.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. In her student days, Tasha was active in youth politics in her hometown of Montreal, eventually serving as national policy director and then president of the Progressive Conservative Youth Federation of Canada. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada's Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University. Tasha now lives in Whitby, Ontario with her daughter Zara, born in 2009.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author's alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Over $1.1 billion in unspent funds at Veterans Affairs since 2006: documents

Over $1.1 billion in unspent funds at Veterans Affairs since 2006: documents

OTTAWA - Veterans Affairs Canada has returned $1.13 billion to the federal treasury in unspent funds since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 — cash that critics say should have gone towards improved benefits and services.

The figure, which surfaced this week in the House of Commons, has led to renewed criticism of the Harper government, which is already smarting over its frayed relations with disgruntled former soldiers.

Data tabled in the House in response to a written question shows roughly one-third of the so-called lapsed funds were handed back between the 2011 and 2013 budget years when the government was engaged in a massive deficit-cutting drive.

The Conservatives often trumpet how much the budget for veterans care has gone up under their watch — right now it's about $3.4 billion a year, up from $2.8 billion when the Tories took office.

What they don't say is that anywhere between 4.7 per cent and 8.2 per cent of the total allocation has been allowed to lapse because of the department's inability or reluctance to spend it all, said NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino met Wednesday in Quebec City with select organizations representing ex-soldiers, but some of the loudest critics of the department's spending on benefits and services were not invited.

On Tuesday, Stoffer put a pointed question about the lapsed funds to Fantino, who answered by tallying up the government's total spending on the veteran's department — roughly $30 billion since 2006.

"It means improved rehabilitation for Canadian veterans," Fantino said. "It means more counselling for veterans' families. It means more money for veterans' higher education and retraining. It means we care deeply about our veterans."

But that didn't answer the question of why so much of the budget has been allowed to lapse, said Stoffer, noting that the overall budget of the department is something the government is committed to under the law.

The use of lapsed funding to reduce the federal deficit is an exercise that's being practised across all departments, he added.

"The deputy ministers ... have obviously been told by the higher-ups that, 'This money has to come back to us in order for us to have our books balanced, and that way we can use that money for other purposes, like income-splitting.'"

Over the last two fiscal years, all federal departments allowed more than $18 billion in budgeted funding to lapse, according public accounts figures released at the end of October.

Frank Valeriote, the Liberal veterans critic, said ex-soldiers who've been denied benefits will look at the unspent funds and feel "hoodwinked, completely abandoned" and wonder why they've made sacrifices for their country.

"It is reprehensible and unconscionable what they're doing so that the government can create an image of fiscal responsibility," he said.

The Quebec City meeting came on Wednesday at a time when multiple Conservative sources say there is concern that the party's reliable support in the veterans community is bleeding away because of the loud and prolonged battle.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is growing frustration within the party over Fantino's apparent inability to forge positive relationships with veterans, unlike his predecessor, Steven Blaney.

Beyond veterans, long considered a natural constituency for Conservatives, there are signs the Tories are in trouble with ordinary Canadians on the issue. A newly released internal poll on public perceptions of the Canadian Forces suggests the treatment of veterans was registering strongly with respondents.

"Problems that veterans face (42 per cent) and soldiers returning home (29 per cent) were top of mind for many Canadians when asked what they recalled about the (Canadian Armed Forces)," said the Phoneix Strategies Perspectives survey, conducted last May, but released by National Defence online this week.

The survey of 2,025 people found more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of those asked recalled recently seeing, reading, or hearing about issues faced by returning soldiers or their families.

That's a significant increase over 48 per cent of respondents to a similar poll conducted in 2012.

Follow @Murray_Brewster on Twitter

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

New announcement: Veterans versus Harper in 2015/ A full chapter from "Party of One"

The final front: Veterans versus Harper in 2015/ A full chapter from "Party of One" by Michael Harris (12 pages)

The final front: Veterans versus Harper in 2015

Monument-lovers were impressed with all that pomp. But what about the people at the centre of this carefully orchestrated exercise in emotional crowd-control — the living veterans? What are they doing?

Are they cheering their closet commander? Are they mistaking jingoism for patriotism — as so many are these days, including quite a few people in the media? Have they chosen marketing over information?

They have not. In fact, the veterans are here not to praise Caesar but to bury him. That's why veterans Ron Clarke and Mike Blais have launched an Anybody But Conservative campaign to rally opposition against the government in time for the election., Those who have been watching the veterans's file closely on Harper's watch — rather than listening to the Top Gun drivel being dished out by the PM — know that a national disgrace has been unfolding in Canada. While the Harper government has been a great little military monument-builder ($50 million added to that budget), it has abandoned the flesh-and-blood veterans who came back from war needing help.



Delay, deny and die: The Harper government and veterans
By Michael Harris | Nov 11, 2014

We're proud to present a chapter from iPolitics' columnist Michael Harris's bestselling book about the Harper majority government, Party of One. In the following chapter, Harris describes how budget-cutting and bad messaging put Stephen Harper's government on a collision course with Canada's veterans as the Afghan war was winding down.

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New announcement: Injured Ottawa military personnel to wait longer for help (JPSU)

Injured Ottawa military personnel to wait longer for help

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: November 5, 2014Last Updated: November 6, 2014 5:47 PM EST

Injured soldiers in Ottawa will have to wait longer for help because the centre providing them assistance has lost a number of key members, according to a Canadian military document obtained by the Citizen.

Soldiers with more urgent cases, including those dealing with post-traumatic stress illnesses, are being told to call 9-1-1 or visit the Montfort Hospital.

The message was issued last week and sent to the Citizen by soldiers concerned that injured military personnel aren't being provided with the proper treatment.

In his message, Navy Lt. Adam Winchester, platoon commander for Integrated Personnel Support Centre Ottawa, said that there would be changes because of the loss of two of the four section commanders who assist more than 225 injured military personnel.

"Two of our Section Commanders have recently left the IPSC to pursue other opportunities," he wrote. "To that end, members assigned to these individuals will be re-assigned to our two remaining Section Commanders until we find suitable replacements."

"As you can imagine, tempo at IPSC(O) has rapidly increased," Winchester added.

He noted that IPSC Ottawa is one of the busiest such centres in Canada.

The military created the Integrated Personnel Support Centres across the country to offer programs to support and enable mentally and physically injured troops to resume their military careers or, more likely, to be "transitioned out" into the civilian world with sellable skills and jobs to go to.

Staff shortages at such centres have been an ongoing problem, despite the assurances from the military that the system is working fine.

Winchester outlined in his email how the Ottawa centre will operate. He stated that walk-in patients "will be seen eventually, but may not take priority. If you have an emergency or are in distress, please contact 9-1-1 or visit the Montfort Hospital."

For non-urgent requests, injured military personnel can expect a three- to four-week wait.

"For urgent matters (which is ultimately determined at the Regional Level who handle over 500 members), your requests could take up to two weeks," Winchester stated.

The Department of National Defence noted in an email to the Citizen that one of the two vacant positions is expected to be filled by a contract worker starting in early December.

The other vacancy will be staffed by a reservist, DND added. "There has been no impact on services to personnel," according to the DND email.

Soldiers and former soldiers told the Citizen last year that too many IPSC staffers were overloaded, badly trained, ill-suited to the work and often unsympathetic toward the troops they are paid to help.

Injured soldiers posted into such centres complained of being left to their own devices and unsupervised for long periods.

In November 2013, then-Canadian Forces ombudsman Pierre Daigle warned in a report that there were problems at the military's Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), the umbrella group overseeing the centres. The ombudsman noted that there were "acute" staff shortages, leaving those tasked with helping the most damaged Afghan war veterans overworked, often inadequately trained, and in danger of burnout.

The ombudsman recommended increased staffing, better training for all staff, "resilience" training for staff and preparing for "emerging trends" – such as an expected increase in mentally injured soldiers needing help.

"It is essential to staff the JPSU with the appropriate number of personnel, to ensure that these personnel possess the necessary experience and competencies and to support them with suitable training," Daigle said at the time.

CVA would like to hear your story if you are at this JPSU. Please send your info

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Monday, November 10, 2014

New announcement: Veterans’ complaints a tricky issue for Harper

Veterans' complaints a tricky issue for Harper


Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

Last updated Sunday, Nov. 09 2014, 10:53 PM EST

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends Remembrance Day ceremonies Tuesday, he will have cut short his attendance at an international summit in China to pay tribute. Yet for an increasingly vocal set of this nation's veterans, he is guilty of paying too little attention to those who served.

His government has lionized Canadian military symbols, and sent equipment to troops in Afghanistan. Many Conservative MPs care; many see veterans as part of their natural constituency. So why did Mr. Harper's government become a target for veterans? How did its image instead become Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino lecturing a medal-wearing vet not to point his finger, or dodging a veteran's wife?

The answer depends on whom you ask – and that's perhaps how things went wrong.

Many veterans say they don't have big complaints. But a minority, notably among those with serious injuries – often newer veterans clashing with the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy – feel mistreated. And there's a new crop of vocal advocates, too, who often think the big traditional groups like the Royal Canadian Legion, are not speaking out for seriously injured vets. The new breed are far more blunt.

Mike Blais, of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, regularly blasts the government on TV. Injured Afghan vets formed Equitas to sue the government for "arbitrary, substandard, and inadequate" benefits. Mr. Fantino meets many of them, but Don Leonardo, who founded Veterans Canada, doesn't see much point any more. "It's nice to talk. But show me some action," Mr. Leonardo said.

Mr. Fantino's office didn't act on requests to interview the minister or a government spokesman on the issue. But inside the government, officials suggest the complaints are exaggerated, and promoted by a small group of activists. Budgets have gone up, they note, and in fact, during Mr. Harper's tenure, spending on Veterans Affairs has increased at about the same rate as overall government spending. But there's little doubt it has become a tricky issue.

This year's Remembrance Day has become a particularly top-of-mind memorial after the Ottawa shootings and the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he guarded the National War Memorial. This government wants it that way, and wants to be associated with the country's military community.

Now, Mr. Harper's government has appointed a Mr. Fix-It in the form of the country's former Chief of Defence Staff, retired General Walter Natynczyk. He has stature in Ottawa, credibility with the military community and was part of Afghanistan-war-era efforts to expand support programs for military families.

That could be critical, because the experience of injured Afghanistan vets has certainly fuelled current criticism.

As troops in 2008 or 2009, many felt support from the public. But those who are injured go from being "members" of the Forces to "clients" of Veterans Affairs. Forces' members go through a medical board when they're released because of an injury, then a new one when they apply to Veterans Affairs, Mr. Leonardo said.

The case workers at Veterans Affairs Canada care, he said. "It's not the front line. They're the most caring people in the world. The problem is the policies, the bureaucracy at the top, the funding."

Much of the anger grew from the New Veterans Charter, put forward by Paul Martin's Liberals and tweaked by Mr. Harper's Conservatives. It was supposed to be a new deal, but sparked complaints, particularly about lump-sum settlements injured vets received instead of pensions.

Part of the problem for the government is that different veterans advocates propose different prescriptions for change to a complex system. But many say they're frustrated that oft-repeated consensus recommendations – such as increasing the earning-loss benefits, and paying reservists the same level of injury benefits as regular-force soldiers – have languished.

The Commons veterans affairs committee repeated those again this year, but the government's response doesn't say what it will do about them or when. The government did promise to phase in several changes, such as ensuring Forces' members have a Veterans Affairs case manager before they are released, but couched many of their promises to act in thick bafflegab.

Pat Stogran, the retired colonel who served as the first Veterans Ombudsman from 2007 to 2010, said the problem, in his view, stems from the fact that senior bureaucrats run Veterans Affairs like an insurance company, "just trying to write these people off as an industrial accident," rather than an agency to help vets, he said.

And the politicians don't have a lot of drive to delve through the bureaucracy. Veterans Affairs ministers don't have much power, he said. They usually don't argue with their bureaucrats' assessment, they are concerned mainly with party politics. "They're really non-players in this. They're fighting the opposition," he said.

It also seems possible that the fact that complaints come from a minority of veterans with problem cases, the government accepts the idea that, for the most part, things are okay.

Mr. Stogran said it's not all vets who feel unfairly treated. Most leave to go on with their lives. The hard cases, and complaints, come among the disadvantaged after being put in harm's way. "No, it's not the majority. It's the ones who are injured, or have a close affinity to them."

Follow Campbell Clark on Twitter: @camrclark

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