Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Monday, March 31, 2014

VETERANS AFFAIRS: Lest we forget?

VETERANS AFFAIRS: Lest we forget?

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NEXT: Ron Clarke has always been a bit of a scrapper. He used to fight oppenents in the ring. Now, this tough, feisty senior is in a battle to oppose the federal government. Read it Tuesday in

Duncan McKeigan was wounded three times in war. But he kept going back to the front lines.

Once, he captured 10 German soldiers while bleeding from a shrapnel wound in his arm. Once, he caught a piece of the searing hot metal in his jaw. Once, he ran across a minefield in the dark to rescue a soldier shot in the head. And held the wounded man's tongue, so he wouldn't choke, as others carried him to medics.

Having just turned 90, the Battle of Normandy vet still has that piece of shrapnel in his arm. And memories of war in his head.

But he shakes his head in disgust at the fight he and other Cape Breton veterans now face, far past the bloody fields and shattered cities of a different world.

SEE ALSO: Nazi photos haunting souvenirs of war

Battling a government they say is doing them wrong when they tried to do what's right — over and over again, as bombs dropped and shrapnel flew and buddies died through the days and nights of war.

"It's an awful thing to see your friends getting shot and killed and you can't do nothing about it," he says, sitting in his Sydney Mines home.

War mementoes — a Nazi belt buckle, a pin and a sword — lie by his side.

War memories — dead soldiers and bombs and starving civilians — move in his mind.


Second World War veteran Duncan McKeigan shows a sword he took from a German soldier. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

"You wake up dreaming," he says of those days and nights 70 years ago. "All this stuff comes to your mind. … You can see this stuff. It never goes away.


This is the refrain from vets of all stripes and circumstances, from new wars and old.

They'll never forget. But has their government?

Once in the bloody fields and muddy trenches of Normandy or dusty and sewage-stained roads of Kabul, these men now live in more peaceful places. Florence and Georges River and Sydney Mines. North Sydney and Sydney, where they used to have what McKeigan calls a "great" place, "one of the best places to go."

He's referring to the local district Veterans Affairs office the government closed in January — along with seven others across the country — despite protests and pleas from men who've faced fear by the years and seen entire cities and entire bodies destroyed.

There, at the Sydney office, caseworkers knew them by name, they say. Came to their homes to assess what the estimated 4,200 area vets needed. Gave them the kind of one-on-one services and personal support they still need while facing everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to the ailments of age.

Physical and mental scars as real as the lump of shrapnel in McKeigan's left arm or the anxiety in Afghanistan vet Terry Collins' chest. Anxiety that brings shortness of breath, tunnel vision and cold sweats, and has become so intense, he says, "it was like my blood was boiling."

And his whole body "tingling," from the PTSD that feels as explosive as the guns and bombs he used to handle, service or destroy.

"It was like a pressure cooker," says the former ammunition and explosives technician, now physically safe in his Florence home, muscular arms inked with the flames of an ammo tech's insignia and Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen and ammo techs and others risking sudden death.

"Constant pressure," Collins says. "Always there, for years."


Afghanistan veteran Terry Collins in his home in Florence on Tuesday. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

He worried he might accidentally blow himself or his buddies up. He wondered if enemy mines or bullets or sticky bombs waited just around the corner.

And there's more pressure now, he says, wondering how to get services — previously provided at the Sydney office — by phone or Internet or by driving all the way to Halifax, where Service Canada staff now deal with the bulk of local cases.


It's something these and other Cape Breton vets know a lot about.

From McKeigan and Collins to Second World War vets Charlie Palmer and Dan MacNeil. Or peacekeeping vet Ron Clarke, who's become an unofficial leader for their past and current fight.

Like McKeigan, Dan MacNeil fought long ago, although his memories of combat aren't as clear. He saw dead, of course, as he crossed Juno Beach on D-Day. And he faced enemy fire and saw cities and villages destroyed by people who seemed as though they "didn't have any feeling for human life."

But most vivid for this 94-year-old North Sydney resident are the people who stayed alive and suffered. And the people who saw them and suffer still.

Especially the people of then Nazi-occupied Holland, whose plight touches vet after vet, all these years later.

"The people had a hard time," the former signal operator says in a raspy voice, in the home he shared with his war bride, Joan, for almost 70 years but now lives in alone.

"They had no food. And lots of time we shared what we had with them. … In one instance we were having our dinner and there was one man, he was outside the fence and you could tell he was very hungry. So I finished my dinner and then I took my bowl and I went on up to the cook and I said, "Here, fill that up," so I think we had rice and stuff that day and spaghetti, so he filled it right up, (it) overflowed, so I took it … and I put it under the fence for this poor man.

"I never saw anybody eat like that. It just disappeared. They were starving, see, they were eating tulip bulbs or whatever they could get a hold of to survive and especially (we) took pity on … the kids, you know, the small kids. So we tried to share what we had with them and that was about the saddest part I went through —to see those people, little kids, starving."

MacNeil feels sad these days, too. And others bring him his meals.

Joan died less than a year ago and his voice drops and his shoulders slump at the mention of her name. " Not very good," he says of how he's coping.


Second World War veteran Dan MacNeil in his North Sydney home. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

But his two children live close by. And he's grateful for the services that staff at the former Sydney office arranged before it closed. People come in daily to make his meals and help him shower and go to the toilet.

"It's not very nice," he says of the closure, stressing vets didn't ask for much or abuse the services. The staff, he says, were kind and helpful and caring, familiar and comforting — never "tormented" by the former soldiers they served.

"If we need something, what are we going to do?" he asks as the sun streams in from the cold.

"It seems little enough for what we went through that they wouldn't keep that office open for us."

The office had 17 employees to help the vets with everything from paperwork to arranging medical appointments to arranging health aids in their homes.

The vets say the staff cuts leave them vulnerable and there won't be enough people now to provide the one-on-one service they believe they need.

In response to questions late last week, the department said in an email that one Veterans Affairs Canada expert is now available full time at the Service Canada office in Sydney and that vets "can conveniently visit" any of the nearly 600 such offices across the country. Spokesman Simon Forsyth also emphasized that vets can still receive home visits from registered nurses and case managers if required.

Since 2006, he said, the government has committed nearly $5 billion in additional funding to Veterans Affairs.

In the past, the department has also said vets can obtain services by phone or through the Veterans Affairs website.

But men like MacNeil don't even own a computer. And others say they don't know how to use the Internet.

Collins is more computer-literate, but these days he finds it too stressful to even go to a movie, let alone search government websites.

"To navigate through it is a chore in itself. … I remember just starting with something, trying to search it down and when I got so far, it brought me back to the beginning, so to me that's very confusing and repetitive and somebody with PTSD has not got patience to do that. We get discouraged quickly and we just discard it or put it away or put it aside. We don't get the service that we need … because that person isn't there to guide us."

The one-on-one service, he says, was "100 times better."

"Over the phone or on the computer or whatever, it's just ridiculous.

"I used to go over there and sit down with my case manager and we'd work out a plan on what to do now and how to follow it and so on and that would be pointed out to me in point form right in front of me. Now we've lost that service.

"(They'd) help me with anything, really. They could set up appointments for a chiropractor or massage therapy and anything physical as well," says the vet, whose 22 years in the army also left him with neck, back and foot injuries.

"It's like a bond, for sure. You call them by their first names and they call us by our first name."

It's a bond Second World War vet Charlie Palmer says they deserve.

The 93-year-old Sydney man became discouraged recently just trying to work his way through the "press this, press that" phone system for TV repairs.


Second World War veteran Charlie Palmer in his Sydney home. (RYAN TAPLIN / Staff)

He can't imagine how veterans with PTSD handle telephone or Internet links to Veterans Affairs.

During the Battle of Normandy, Palmer slept under trucks and braved shells from above. He saw one city reduced to a single chimney and watched a woman trying to hide her children under the rubble. He saw other children eating garbage and sold cigarettes on the black market to buy them chocolate.

He's doing OK today, he says, though he was "fighting shadows" when he first returned from war.

"I'd wake up at night and, for instance, if there was something on the wall … I thought there was somebody in the wall that was coming at me."

But he had a loving family — parents, eight sisters and a brother — that cared.

"And I didn't know that they were looking after me, but they did," he says.

Almost 70 years later, he believes vets — young and old — deserve to be looked after by their government.

In February, he stood before the province's standing committee on veterans affairs and called the federal office closure "unacceptable."

Today — in his Sydney home, the day Canada welcomed its last troops back from Afghanistan — he's saying it again.

"I was watching (on TV) today all the top dogs from the prime minister right down, right through the generals … saying how proud they were of their troops and all this stuff, you know, all kinds of nice words, the freedom that we enjoy and all that stuff, and then I think they turn around and … close these bloody offices. What freedom do those poor devils have that (are) suffering from PTSD and their families and their children?

"Just don't tell people how proud you are of them, show them how proud you are by your actions. (A soldier) mixed up in his mind, he needs help, and he needs help until the day he leaves this planet, if necessary, because he was willing to give his life."

McKeigan — father of four, husband to Freda for 68 years — was willing to give his life, again and again and again.

And at times, he's been mixed up in his mind.

His oldest daughter, Pat Canty, remembers a time when she was little, when the man his family adores went back to the war.

"He was very ill and he wasn't sleeping and he imagined he was in the war," she says.

"And he would say 'Freda, hide the girls, the Germans are coming.' And he was reliving a lot of stuff."

Just don't tell people how proud you are of them, show them how proud you are by your actions. (A soldier) mixed up in his mind, he needs help, and he needs help until the day he leaves this planet, if necessary, because he was willing to give his life.

She remembers standing by the side of the road in the middle of the night so the doctor would know where to come.

Few veterans of McKeigan's generation ever received any professional counselling.

"You had to cure yourself," he says.

But it "never leaves." Dead friends and bombs and starving children come back, in memories during the day and in dreams at night.

He thinks of the time in France when shrapnel hit his jaw and he went to hospital for two weeks and "it healed up pretty nice so I was all set to go again."

And the time on the border of Holland and Germany when a shell landed too close and stirred up dirt and temporarily blinded him until he went to hospital for a week and doctors flushed it out and he could see again.

Or the time in Belgium when he'd just flushed 10 Germans out of their bunker and a bomb from a big German 88 anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun came crashing down beside him and lodged shrapnel in his arm.

"The first thing you think is your arm is going to come off," he says, "or your face is going to be all shattered."

But that time, one of the captured Germans, a doctor, patched him up. And he propped his weapon on his bandaged arm and marched the captives, happy their fight was over, back to base. Then he discovered he'd been unarmed.

"I walked all that way," he says, laughing, "without a bullet in the gun."

"I wonder who was looking after you," his wife says with a smile.

"Well, somebody was looking after me," he says.

And perhaps they were looking after him again the night he helped retrieve that wounded soldier, running across a field he learned later was loaded with mines.

Today he can't run and can barely walk. He can't drive or withstand a trip to Halifax for services, hobbled by mini strokes three years ago that made him fall, hit his head and suffer a concussion. He's still recovering from recent gall bladder surgery, too, unable now to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors like he used to or volunteer with his legion or sing in his church choir.

But he's grateful for the basement stair railings and upstairs chairlift that staff at the former Sydney office helped arrange for him, after visiting him at home and assessing his needs. He's grateful for all their help, over all the years.

"The women and men over there were perfect. They were the best. … If we needed anything, they would come over and talk to you. Where (are) you going to get somebody to talk to you here (now)?"

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But today, he and Freda also think about how grateful others have been for his help — like the people of Holland he and other Canadians helped liberate. And the generations who never forget.

He went back there for the 35th anniversary.

Children wanted autographs. Adults organized parades.

As the former soldiers marched down the streets of Nijmegen, little ones, about the ages of the starving children they used to feed, gave them something in return.

"We used to have big chocolate bars in case we couldn't get something to eat (while) fighting," he remembers. "All these kids, they didn't have much to eat. We used to take the chocolate bars, break it up and give each little kid a piece. … (During the parade) kids lined up on the street passed each veteran a piece of chocolate."

He pauses for a moment. And his once-wounded eyes water.

"It would bring tears to your eyes."

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New announcement: Veterans and their Families are Divided when it comes to Canada’s Record with Ve

Veterans and their Families are Divided when it comes to Canada's Record with Veterans' Services while Canadians are Unclear

Monday, March 03, 2014

Ottawa – Canada's veterans and their families are more divided when it comes to pride in how Canada treats its veterans (41% agree they are proud, while 37% disagree) and the effectiveness of the benefits and services provided by Veterans' Affairs Canada (39% view as effective, while 32% view it as ineffective). This is in stark contrast to almost half of Canadians who neither agree nor disagree that they feel Veterans' Affairs Canada's benefits and services are effective (47%) and two in five who neither agree nor disagree that they are proud of how Canada treats its veterans (38%). It would seem those with the most contact and familiarity with how the Canada treats its veterans are polarized when it comes to these issues while the general public is just not aware. Over half of veterans and their families (54%) are familiar with the programs and services offered by Veterans Affairs Canada, compared to just a quarter of Canadians (27%).

While the majority of Canadians (83%) agree that it is important to support members of the Canadian Armed Forces following their services, only one in three (34%) are proud of how Canada currently treats its veterans, while two in five (42%) are not sure. One in five Canadians (20%) and almost half of veterans and their families (45%) are familiar with the policies and programs related to assisting veterans with a disability. This would suggest strong support from the public for veterans programs but a general lack of familiarity and awareness of how Canada is doing in delivering this support. While there is support for these programs, only two percent of Canadians report that they are currently caring for someone who receives or is eligible to receive benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada, and only one in ten (9%) veterans and their families report being in receipt of benefits from Veterans' Affairs Canada.

Just over half (55%) of veterans, their families or care-givers were satisfied with the health benefits offered by Veteran Affair. Between half and two in five were unfamiliar with the programs and services offered including employment and career transition services (48%), affordable housing (44%), rehabilitation and treatment programs (39%) and health benefits (27%). Two in five (38%) were satisfied with the rehabilitation and treatment programs, and one in three (34%) were satisfied with the employment and career transition services. Most (63%) had not used the services of veterans' organisations, such as Veterans Affairs Canada (19% had used their assistance) and The Royal Canadian Legion (10% had used their assistance).

Ipsos Reid was commissioned by the Legion Magazine to conduct a survey among Canadians aged 18 and over regarding their attitudes towards the services offered to Canada's veterans as a part of the Canadian Household Online Omnibus. The survey was conducted between October 28th and November 4th, 2013 among a base of n=1067 Canadians. This included a sample of n=123 veterans and family members caring for veterans.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Mike Colledge
President, Canadian Public Affairs
Ipsos Reid

About Ipsos Reid

Ipsos Reid is Canada's market intelligence leader, the country's leading provider of public opinion research, and research partner for loyalty and forecasting and modelling insights. With operations in eight cities, Ipsos Reid employs more than 600 research professionals and support staff in Canada. The company has the biggest network of telephone call centres in the country, as well as the largest pre-recruited household and online panels. Ipsos Reid's marketing research and public affairs practices offer the premier suite of research vehicles in Canada, all of which provide clients with actionable and relevant information. Staffed with seasoned research consultants with extensive industry-specific backgrounds, Ipsos Reid offers syndicated information or custom solutions across key sectors of the Canadian economy, including consumer packaged goods, financial services, automotive, retail, and technology & telecommunications. Ipsos Reid is an Ipsos company, a leading global survey-based market research group.

To learn more, please visit

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. In October 2011 Ipsos completed the acquisition of Synovate. The combination forms the world's third largest market research company.

With offices in 85 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across six research specializations: advertising, customer loyalty, marketing, media, public affairs research, and survey management.

Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe.

Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,789 billion (2.300 billion USD) in 2012.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: SickKids research may lead to faster diagnosis of PTSD in Canadian soldiers

SickKids research may lead to faster diagnosis of PTSD in Canadian soldiers

February 18, 2014
SickKids research may lead to faster diagnosis of PTSD in Canadian soldiers

In hopes of better understanding the growing issue of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) among soldiers, the Canadian Armed Forces approached researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Known for their expertise in a type of neuroimaging called MEG, magnetoencephalography, SickKids researchers used MEG to examine brain responses to a variety of cognitive tasks in soldiers with and without PTSD and civilians with and without mTBI.

"While the two disorders are often confused because of similar behavioural symptoms, the data shows that they are very distinct," says Dr. Margot Taylor, co-investigator of the research and Director of Functional Neuroimaging and Senior Scientist at SickKids. "This research could lead to faster diagnosis based on an objective measure rather than having a soldier self-identify, which according to Canadian Forces Health Services is an ongoing challenge."

Currently PTSD and mTBI are diagnosed clinically based on emotional and psychological symptoms. The symptoms of these two conditions show considerable overlap, and particularly in the military setting, are often both present and difficult to distinguish.

The tasks used in this study were based on the cognitive difficulties commonly associated with these two conditions, and included tests of memory, inhibition, mental flexibility, emotional processing, as well as recordings of brain activity in a resting-state.

The team led by Dr. Taylor and Dr. Elizabeth Pang, who is Neurophysiologist and Associate Scientist at SickKids, studied not only soldiers with PTSD and civilians with mTBI but also had a control group of soldiers with similar military experience who did not have PTSD or mTBI. The difference in brain activity was remarkable in both groups. While all groups demonstrated significant brain responses to the cognitive tests, the soldiers without PTSD could return to a rested state while those with PTSD remained highly activated even in a rested state.

"The ultimate goal of providing objective diagnostic testing for PTSD and mTBI is to not only better understand the conditions and make fast, accurate diagnoses, but also to be able to test the individual to determine if he or she gotten better and can safely return to service," says Taylor.

Taylor adds that this work also helps to advance our understanding of PTSD and traumatic brain injury in children and the general population.

This research was conducted in partnership with Defense Research and Development Canada and by Canadian Forces Health Services. It was presented at the symposium "Mental Health Research Magnetoencephalography & Neuroimaging in PTSD and mTBI" hosted by SickKids at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning on February 14, 2014.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

New announcement: Good public apologies are rare events (The Best and worse)

Good public apologies are rare events

Some apologies are effective, others make matters worse. Here's a list of the best and worst apologies by public figures within the past year.

When Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino had to apologize to veterans in January 2014, it was flat, insincere and read from cue cards in the House of Commons, writes R. Michael Warren.

By: R. Michael Warren Published on Sun Mar 30 2014

We live in an age of public apologies. Some are effective. Many make matters worse.

The latest comes from Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello. If you receive a hydro bill, you've seen Marcello take personal responsibility for Hydro's recent billing and customer service problems. He says he'll make customers whole again.

As apologies go this one gets a passing grade — as long as Marcello transforms the utility's customer service culture as promised.

Over the last year we have been subjected to a steady diet of apologies that failed in multiple ways.

Apologies that resonate have several basic characteristics. They begin with a clear statement of what went wrong. They take responsibility for the failure and do so promptly, without being pushed.

Part of taking responsibility is saying sorry for offensive behaviour or inconvenience — with no "buts" or "ifs." A meaningful apology usually involves some form of reparation speedily rendered. Finally, an expression of gratitude for the support of customers, voters or whatever group was harmed.

Using these criteria, here are some of the best and worst political apologies of the last year:

Parti Québécois candidate Louise Mailloux has maintained that baptism and circumcision amount to rape, and kosher products are part of a scam that helps fund "religious wars." She "absolutely" stands by her comments. But they weren't intended to offend. But if they did, "I very sincerely apologize." Mailloux sets the record for the most "buts" and "ifs" in a single apology.

A bungled apology has New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, fighting for his political future.

He claims no knowledge of a payback scheme involving epic traffic jams on a bridge to an opponent's city.

Christie spent an astonishing 108 minutes — 20,000 words — apologizing, maintaining his innocence and blaming his staff. He holds the record for the longest apology.

Former staffers now claim the governor knew all about the lane closures. A legislative panel reviewing the issue seems to agree.

The record for the most meaningless apologies goes to Mayor Rob Ford. You'd think after so many attempts he would be getting good at it.

During Ford's fall "contrition phase" he said sorry multiple times. He made a "super" apology to council. He apologized to Star reporter Daniel Dale. He also accepted responsibility for his graphic language about prostitutes and his wife.

Ford maintained in interviews with Peter Mansbridge and Conrad Black that he'd "quit drinking" and was "finished with alcohol." This was followed by a series of drinking incidents. He excuses himself saying, "I'm only human."

The contrition stage is long gone and now Ford makes no apology for any of his childish, celebrity-seeking behaviour.

The Greater Toronto Airport Authority apologized twice in an effort to placate passengers stranded by the closure of the airport during the January cold snap.

First, GTAA president Howard Eng apologized for the inconvenience and promised an "internal review." Days later GTAA board chair Vijay Kanwar apologized again and promised to release the results of the review within 90 days.

Eng should have made one comprehensive apology and moved on. Kanwar's apology along with his promise to release the review of his CEO's decision further weakened confidence in GTAA's management.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino didn't fare well after his belligerent slanging match with veterans over the closure of offices across the country. When the veterans' plight gained public traction, Fantino headed to the House. There he delivered a flat, insincere apology read from cue cards.

He said the standoff was caused by the behind-the-scenes influence of big unions on the vets. Blaming the standoff on others and offering no remedy has further undermined the government's relationship with veterans.

This newspaper chased Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra for two days to get an explanation for the weeks-long delivery delays in December. Chopra said Canada Post was so overwhelmed by the impact of the ice storm it "forgot to notify customers."

When officials have to be pressured to acknowledge long-standing mistakes, the value of the apology is diminished.

One of the reasons leaders hesitate to apologize, or do so reluctantly, is the fear of appearing weak. The opposite is often true. If the apology acknowledges responsibility, shows remorse and results in constructive change, the public is usually prepared to forgive and forget.

A sincere apology can be seen as a sign of courage, maturity and strength. Could that be why Stephen Harper never apologizes?

R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chef general manager and Canada Post CEO.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Canadian soldier suicides poorly tracked, veterans groups say

Canadian soldier suicides poorly tracked, veterans groups say

Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans Affairs do not not track suicides by retired soldiers

By Andre Mayer, CBC News Posted: Mar 24, 2014 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014 5:00 AM ET

The recent deaths of two Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan have renewed public debate about how to deal with military suicides. But veterans advocates say that the data collected by the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada on how many active and retired army personnel have committed suicide is incomplete, and makes it difficult to help soldiers who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"If you don't have all the data, then how are you able to determine the causes and address some of the trends?" says Bruce Poulin, communications manager for Dominion Command of the Royal Canadian Legion in Ottawa.

Canada's Department of National Defence (DND) has confirmed that two soldiers died in the past week.

Corporal Alain Lacasse, 43, of Valcartier, Que., was found dead in his home on March 17. Police said it was a suicide.

Master Cpl. Tyson Washburn, 37, of Pembroke, Ont., was found dead on March 15. Officials aren't releasing details about his death, but CBC News has learned Washburn appears to have taken his own life.

There has been a spate of soldier suicides in recent months, including three in the span of three days in November.

Three more soldiers died in January. On Jan. 3, Cpl. Adam Eckhardt, a native of Trenton, Ont. who was based with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry at CFB Suffield in Alberta, was found dead.

On Jan. 8, Cpl. Camilo Sanhueza-Martinez, a member of The Princess of Wales' Own Regiment based in Kingston, Ont., who had fought in Afghanistan, was found dead.

On Jan. 16, Lt.-Col. Stephane Beauchemin, a 22-year veteran who had been deployed to Haiti and Bosnia, died in Limoges, Ont, a small town east of Ottawa.

The deaths of Master Cpl. Washburn and Cpl. Lacasse bring the number of confirmed suicides of Canadian soldiers in 2014 to five.

The difficulty of getting accurate numbers

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has published figures on soldier suicides up to and including 2012. The numbers show there were 10 suicides in 2012, 21 in 2011 and 12 in 2010.

Poulin says the figures published by the CAF are incomplete, because they only look at men currently serving in the forces and do not include army reservists, those who have retired from the military, or women.

According to the CAF website, "the low number of suicides amongst female CAF members makes the statistical analysis of female rates unreliable."

The CAF has not published numbers for 2013, but according to Nicole Meszaros, a senior public affairs officer for the Canadian Armed Forces, "in the calendar year 2013, the CAF lost nine members to suicide and another four members whose deaths are under investigation but remain to be officially confirmed as suicide."

Of the nine confirmed suicides in 2013 cited by Meszaros, one was a woman and three were reservists. Those numbers do not include veterans no longer serving in the military.

A 'disingenuous' comparison

The published CAF figures show that over the period of 2005-2009, the suicide rate was 18 deaths per 100,000. This rate is comparable to that for males in the civilian population. According to Statistics Canada figures from 2009, the suicide rate for Canadian males was 17.3.

Poulin says that historically, the official suicide rate for serving soldiers is about 20 for every 100,000 but adds that it's not a complete picture of what's happening.

"By not counting women, reservists and those that leave the military, you're still looking at 20," says Poulin. "The question then becomes, OK, but is that an accurate reflection of PTSD and the situation that we are facing right now?"

A 2013 report published by the Department of National Defence found that suicide rates in the CAF have not increased over time, and after age standardization, were lower than those in the Canadian civilian population.

That comparison is "disingenuous," says Michael Blais, CEO and director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

"These men and women are not like those in the [civilian] population," says Blais. He points out that soldiers are recruited for their mental toughness, and that anything that might trigger a suicide was "not a pre-existing condition – it's a wound."

"To compare a wound that was sustained in a military environment to the [psychological difficulties of someone in the] civilian population, that doesn't cut it," he says.

'Veterans Affairs has an obligation'

While he takes issue with the suicide figures presented by CAF, Blais says it's equally concerning that there is no data on the number of veterans who commit suicide after leaving the military.

"We have people who are getting out [of service], and within a year, committing suicide," says Blais. "So many times, you find out about a suicide literally months after it's happened."

The Canadian Armed Forces does not keep track of suicides by retired soldiers, and Blais says neither does Veterans Affairs. CBC made several interview requests to Veterans Affairs, but did not receive a comment.

Blais says that the lack of documentation of suicide among retired veterans hinders efforts to get a proper handle on the scope of PTSD.

"Veterans Affairs has an obligation – we can't fix this unless we know what's wrong," he says.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, March 23, 2014



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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Does government have social contract with veterans?

Politics | Mar 18, 2014 | 15:21

Does the new veterans' charter fail to support Canadians who served in war zones? Pat Stogran and MPs Parm Gill and Joyce Murray comment

Nearly 100 years ago, before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Prime Minister Robert Borden made a vow to troops that laid the groundwork for decades of government policy, but has never been enshrined in the Constitution.

"You can go into this action feeling assured of this, and as the head of the government I give you this assurance: That you need not fear that the government and the country will fail to show just appreciation of your service to the country and Empire in what you are about to do and what you have already done," Borden said.

"The government and the country will consider it their first duty to see that a proper appreciation of your effort and of your courage is brought to the notice of people at home… that no man, whether he goes back or whether he remains in Flanders, will have just cause to reproach the government for having broken faith with the men who won and the men who died."

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fantino: cloudy priorities in sunny Cyprus

Fantino: cloudy priorities in sunny Cyprus

At potentially $7,500 per person, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino's Cyprus junket cost just over $100,000 for 14 individuals. (Sean Bruyea, The Hill Times, Date: 20140317)

On March 12, 2014, the flag lowered in Kabul, Canada's most costly mission since World War II. Not a single Conservative MP attended. The next day, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino flew to Cyprus to commemorate the UN mission's 50th anniversary.

In an email, Veterans Affairs Canada indicated Fantino would be accompanied by "a staff member, five veterans from the Canadian Peacekeeping Veterans Association, five veterans from the Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping and two program officials."

Retired captain Perry Gray was contingent commander in Cyprus from 1996-1998. He is chief editor of, an internet community of 100,000 subscribers. "Why are they going to Cyprus? It is unresolved, a black mark. Nicosia is the only remaining divided capital of Europe," said Gray, adding, "we were never consulted on this trip."

It appears that only CPVA and CAVUNP were asked to nominate individuals. CAVUNP had approximately 375 members in January 2013 and CPVA is considerably smaller. However, both would not respond to repeated email questions about the trip or their membership numbers, which include more than just peacekeeping veterans. is a community of more than 7,500 members with at least 640 peacekeeping veterans.

Don Leonardo, president and founder of VOC, said his organization was not consulted, "We are in budget constraints. It's a matter of priorities. Couldn't that money have been allocated to help prevent suicide, provide greater benefits, makes changes to the New Veterans Charter?"

Veterans Affairs declined to provide any cost estimate for the seven-day trip, but confirmed "VAC is paying the full cost of airfare, travel, accommodation and daily incidentals for the 10 [veterans]."

In 2013, Fantino billed $5,173.54 for a two-day trip to London and $9,306.37 for three days in Korea. At potentially $7,500 per person, Cyprus could cost just over $100,000 for 14 individuals.

Jerry Kovacs, of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, said his organization was not consulted. "The optics look bad…budget cutbacks, office closures, staff reductions and then you have a junket to Cyprus during March break while it's snowing and cold. Who's advising this guy? The money is better spent elsewhere, like on veterans, especially the homeless, their families, research on helping veterans, service dogs; you know, on services that directly benefit veterans and their families."

For the 2014 commemoration of 70 years since D-Day, Canada has allocated funding for 180 veterans at $2,000 each. The Conservative government has come under attack for its commemoration of the dead while the injured and their families remain neglected.

Commemoration for the War of 1812 ran to more than $28-million.

In a presentation during a meeting with veteran organizations in October 2013, Fantino failed to mention the planned trip to Cyprus.

A PowerPoint slide indicated, "The large majority of Canadians [89 per cent] believe that the service of post-war or modern-day veterans should be recognized."

How are Canadians to recognize, let alone participate 8,600 km from Ottawa where a captivatingly haunting peacekeeping monument rests silently? Could not a fraction of that money host a brief outdoor ceremony at the monument followed by hundreds of Cyprus veterans and the public including children on March break expressing appreciation in many of the nearby conference venues?

The Royal Canadian Legion is Canada's largest veteran organization, with more than 90,000 post-WWII veterans. At least 3,500 of its members served in Cyprus.

Dominion Secretary Brad White wrote in an email to me, "[t]he legion was not consulted on the commemoration trip to Cyprus, nor does it know of the intended plans," adding, "[t]here does need to be a balance on how much is spent as compared to the amount of monies set aside to look after those who have been injured in the service of their country."

Why were only two organizations asked to provide candidates? On its website, CPVA, one of the organizations sending five individuals, indicates CPVA organized two previous commemoration trips in 2011 and 2012 wherein they intended to seek funding from VAC.

During VAC stakeholder meetings in February and December 2012, president of CAVUNP, Ron Griffis, advocated for a trip to Cyprus.

Mike Blais, president and founder of CVA, was seriously injured in Cyprus; "Our time in the meetings would have been better served focusing solely on the real issues such as seriously injured veterans and their families rather than commemoration. I do not think [VAC] should have approached this on an organizational level. VAC has an obligation to the wounded. They should have offered the injured the opportunity to go back. Instead [the wounded] were largely abandoned."

Ron Cundell, webmaster of, said he remembers Griffis advocating for the Cyprus trip. "Are you the president of your veteran organization to improve veterans' quality of life or for free trips?"

It is sad that government forces veterans to scavenge for fiscal scraps. It is equally sad that some veterans willingly participate in this trip.

Sean Bruyea is vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, a retired Air Force intelligence officer and frequent commentator on government, military, and veterans' issues.

The Hill Times

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New announcement: Veterans Affairs Enforces Heavy-handed Control of Veterans Stakeholder Committee

Veterans Affairs Enforces Heavy-handed Control of Veterans Stakeholder Committee Meetings

March 10, 2014. 2:18 pm • Section: Defence Watch

By Sean Bruyea
Defence Watch Guest Writer

There has been no shortage of excuses and red herrings from government to avoid making substantive improvements in the lives of Canada's veterans and their families. This inaction has catalyzed veterans' communities to forge a near unanimous game plan. Government has merely chosen to play another sport.

Once upon a time, government had an easy game going. It could count on the deep rivalry between veterans' organizations to divide and conquer. Groups were quite willing to side with government against other organizations as each lobbied for their special interests behind closed doors. In the end, government was free to do little in pushing through a 50-year agenda which essentially abandoned Canadian Forces veterans and their families.

Unsightly infighting was greatly aggravated by dozens of policies and programs which each created multiple classes and subclasses of veterans. The veterans ombudsman has identified 15 categories of veterans in the long-term care program alone. The much-revered military comradeship often drove veterans of one military campaign to disparage those from other campaigns. In this hostile environment, CF veterans remained further relegated to a policy backseat.

The passage of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) in 2005 promised to change this. Government explicitly guaranteed that the legislation was a "living charter" with regular reviews and improvements to follow. In the nine years since its passage, just three modest legislative changes have been enacted even though Veterans Affairs Canada-funded advisory groups, Parliamentary committees, and internal reports have generated more than 380 recommendations, many of which require legislated and regulatory approval.

Meanwhile, government asked veterans to whittle down their demands. Two years ago, a not-so-small miracle took place. During what was called a Veterans Stakeholder Committee meeting in February 2012, 20 veterans representing 11 organizations and four experts unanimously endorsed three resolutions. They called for the immediate implementation of the above recommendations as well as those from the Gerontological Advisory Council. This was the first time since World War II that so many veteran organizations were unanimously clear and specific on their demands.

In response, not one change to legislation has since occurred in spite of VAC's own terms of reference for the committee as "an action-oriented committee, at which issues of common interest to all participants will be identified for joint and collective action, in the best interest of veterans and their families."

What has changed is the heavy-handed character of the Stakeholder Committee meetings. Veterans could previously receive immediate feedback from their organizations via Twitter and emails or electronically take notes, a necessity for the more disabled veterans. The meeting on Dec. 6, 2012 in Charlottetown, P.E.I., put an end to this. Veterans were instructed to relinquish their cellphones, not merely turn them off, and were not permitted to use their laptops.

"It's childish and demeaning," Don Leonardo, national president of, an active online community of more than 7,300 veterans, told me on the phone last week. "It shows lack of trust with stakeholders. They say they want to partner with us but they don't treat us as equals but treat us like a child :'put your phones in the box boys and girls.' "

Surprisingly, most veterans in attendance complied, veterans who sacrificed defending cherished rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression.

Prior meetings and VAC's terms of reference allowed two individuals per organization. For the disabled veterans, sharing the burden of concentration and feedback allowed for more effective representation of disabled veterans and their families.

"Support. Absolutely," retired major Bruce Henwood, double amputee and chair of the Special Needs Advisory Group which VAC suspended one year prior, told me last week. "Two heads are better than one. It is easy to forget to say or remember important things."

Conversely, the department and the minister are sure to bring a dozen or more staff, all supporting one another.

"Permitting only one person to attend is a control issue," said Jerry Kovacs, director of Canadian Veterans Advocacy (CVA), in an email to me. He points out that during an October 2013 meeting, "ministerial and departmental staff almost outnumbered veterans in the room."

Also in contravention of the terms of reference, after February 2012, VAC terminated the participation of four chairs of Advisory Groups and the Croatia Board of Inquiry. "We were uninvited," said Bruce Henwood. "VAC adopted the ostrich syndrome. They didn't want to hear the problems, so they didn't want to hear from their own advisors."

Meanwhile, another miracle occurred during a spring 2012 veterans-only meeting hosted by the Royal Canadian Legion. The organizations chose to call the government's bluff as they put forward three specific recommendations from the hundreds outstanding. Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw, seconded from DND to a VAC assistant deputy minister position, took control of the December 2012 stakeholder meeting.

"Walter Semianiw asked veterans stakeholders for our three priorities from three studies," Leonardo told me last week. "We played their game. We gave them three priorities. They did nothing."

It all seems to be about government controlling the message, the meetings, and the veterans. The one subsequent meeting held on Oct. 2, 2013 was attended by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and chaired by Semianiw. The general wore his uniform amongst retired members, all who had a lower rank during their military service. This was hardly a meeting of "equals."

Cellphones were once again confiscated and observers were prohibited. The Royal Canadian Legion president, "Gord Moore was going to walk out of the meeting when Brad [White, dominion secretary] was refused to attend as an observer," Kovacs wrote to me in an email.

The government rightly caved. Two individuals from the Legion – Gord More and Brad White- as well as two from the Canadian Veterans Advocacy (Mike Blais and Jerry Kovacs) were allowed to stay. Sadly, no other veteran organization was given the opportunity to include observers or two-member participation.

VAC wrote in an email to me that the October 2013 meeting was a "stakeholder meeting" and claimed the "[VAC] engages regularly with veterans' organizations and other stakeholders to help ensure that VAC services and benefits meet the needs of veterans and their families."

Janice Summersby continued in the email, "VAC recognizes the value of ongoing dialogue with stakeholders and their input and feedback is used to inform decision making."

"[T]his is a bullshit response," said Kovacs. "There was never a list of 'action items' or 'priorities' drafted for review and discussion…which confirms that [Oct. 2, 2013] was a minister's invitation meeting to meet some veterans organizations and not a 'Departmental Stakeholders Meeting.'"

VAC has not held a semblance of a stakeholder meeting since December 2012 or arguably since February 2012. However, terms of reference state, "The committee will meet at least twice per year, face-to-face, in the fall and spring. Other meetings may be organized, as required, throughout the year including by way of tele- or video-conferencing." There has never been "tele-or video-conferencing."

What is the intention of the meetings? "[T]hese have ceased becoming consultation meetings but demands by VAC to repeat their media lines to our organizations. I am not a paid advertiser for VAC. I am there to represent the needs of the members of my organization," said Don Leonardo.

In spite of government's relentless 'control' issues vis-à-vis veterans, there is hope. Last-minute assertiveness by the Royal Canadian Legion underlines that veterans do have clout and need to exercise it if they ever wish to be treated as equal partners. Veterans have much to learn from the aboriginal community.

Sadly, Canada's First Nations have gone to court repeatedly to receive respect. After years of being given the short shrift by the federal government, aboriginal peoples now have a legal framework for meaningful two-way equal partner consultation. Government needs to declare that veterans deserve no less.

For 50 years, veterans have largely permitted government to choose the game, dictate the rules, rig the arena, and select the players on the veterans' team. If veterans allow this to continue, they should not be surprised that they score few, if any, goals.

Editor's note: Sean Bruyea served as an air force intelligence officer before retiring from the Canadian Forces. He is vice-president of Canadians for Accountability.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Veterans Affairs Canada concedes it may fall short in serving clients

Veterans Affairs Canada concedes it may fall short in serving clients

1. Service Delivery and Programs: The primary risk being mitigated by the Department is that the 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.

2. Transformation- Partnerships: Despite the overall benefits, there is a risk that quality service delivery could be affected due to VAC's increasing reliance on partners and service providers in the federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as private sector.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New announcement: CF rank retirement benefits threatened?? with attention from Leslie furor: Blai

CF rank and file retirement benefits threatened?? with attention from Leslie furor: Blais

Published: Friday, 02/28/2014 6:19 pm EST
Last Updated: Friday, 02/28/2014 8:02 pm EST

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—The artificially created furor over Andrew Leslie's military retirement benefits has borne the expected results. Political pundits took to social media, radio, newspapers, and television for several days to discuss the seemingly outrageous sum that the former general claimed for housing and move-related expenses as a component of the Canadian Forces retirement benefit.

Benefit, not entitlement.

Disinformation, perhaps willfully applied in the guise of political expedience, stoked the flames of discord. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson chimed in on cue, disparaging Leslie's judgment despite the fact that this seemingly terrible act occurred under his watch. Esteemed Ottawa barrister Michel Drapeau, for whom I bear a great deal of respect, expressed disappointment due to proximity issues inherent with Leslie's move. His position was buoyed by a CBC exposé dramatically revealing that several admirals and Army/Air Force generals also availed themselves of this program when they decided to retire in the community of their last assignment. Most recently, Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant, who shocked the veterans' community at CFB Petawawa with her inconsiderate comments on mental health stigma, embraced this position and has announced publicly that she will be studying "relocation" costs incurred through the CF retirement benefit.

Retired colonel Pat Stogran, Canada's first veterans ombudsman, was perhaps the most outspoken critic. Joining the fray on CBC Power and Politics, he derided Leslie as self-serving and claimed that he did not take advantage of his retirement benefit as he felt there was, due to ongoing public service, a conflict of interest when he assumed his role as Canada's first veterans ombudsman. There is no conflict of interest. Military service is unique; the retirement benefits inherent with a willingness to sacrifice one's life on behalf of the nation over a 20-year service span reflect this most sacred obligation. Whether you choose to retire or, as I would encourage younger veterans such as Leslie, to continue to serve the nation's interests through public service, is irrelevant to the program criteria.

Perspective is required. First, this not some dreaded liberal entitlement with all the dreaded connotations inferred by those who would attempt to make the issue political shortly before Leslie was to speak before the Liberal biennial convention. Leslie is, of course, an exception; a vast majority of CF retirement benefit recipients have not incurred such a wonderful equity return on their investments. Real estate fees, the primary component of the program, on a million-dollar-plus home are not insignificant; at the very least, close to $60,000 of the $72,000 in question was applied to this expense. Add to this the legal costs associated with selling and buying a home, moving expenses and the $72,000 is clearly justified under the programs criteria. ?

Leslie is an exception. Most CF personnel are not posted to a prime real estate area like Ottawa; there is no market-inflated increase in equity. Some, such as major Marcus Brauer, have suffered catastrophic consequences when the military communities, that DND encouraged them to purchase equity-building homes in, were subsequently ravaged by deficit reduction downsizing or base closures and the market collapsed. The rank and file, by pay-scale definition, does not have the financial resources to purchase accommodations equitable to the same level of comfort as would be expected of a general. They are also subject to four-year posting cycles common to military service that necessitates relocation before accruing much equity. Leslie was fortunate. He maintained his residence in Ottawa for an extended period of time and the equity the property accrued was indeed significant.

DND implemented the program in the 1990s to encourage CF members to purchase homes during their careers to establish financial equity to supplement their pensions upon retirement. This program has borne significant benefits to the affected communities and DND equity assurance policies undoubtedly stimulated and sustained economic growth in isolated areas—like CFB Petawawa, Gallant—wherein the base provides the sole or primary employment infrastructure. Where bases still exist, CF members often choose to retire there due to preference, post-military employment opportunities and/or the fact that their spouses, understanding retirement is imminent, availed themselves of local employment opportunities that transcend the standard posting period. ??

To deny the rank, file, and their families these retirement benefits by using Leslie, the exception, as an example to eliminate the CF retirement benefit program or imposing criteria inclusive of mandatory range exclusions, is disingenuous. Significant financial hardship will be imparted upon the retiring CF member as these costs, real estate, legal fees, moving expenses, will surely negate most if not all equity accrued through the DND sponsored program.

Leslie, exception he may be, fulfilled the program's longstanding criteria for eligibility. Questions about his judgment are clearly unfounded, politically motivated and, considering Gallant's response, perhaps indicative of a more insidious budget deficit scheme to deny Canadian Forces members the retirement benefits they have earned.

I would suggest now is the time for the Harper government, with respect, not derision, to honour its obligation to Leslie and to all CF members who have fulfilled their obligation to this nation and qualify for CF retirement benefits, wherever they choose to retire. Canada's sons and daughters have, through great sacrifice and honour, earned the right of choice.

Michael L. Blais, CD, is founder and president of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy and is based in Niagara Falls, Ont.

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New announcement: It’s Time To Create A Veterans Commission

It's Time To Create A Veterans Commission

By Michel W. Drapeau
And Joshua Juneau
Defence Watch Guest Writers

The recent rise of suicides of Afghan veterans, which should have been predictable, has focused national attention to the despair and neglect many of them are facing. It has also drawn attention to the likelihood that the suicide rate amongst CF members is many times higher than the Canadian statistical norm. This is supported in a Statistics Canada report which found that, among CAF member, 26.6 percent of the male deaths and 14 percent of female deaths were the result of suicide. This same Report states that individuals with some military career experience are 45 percent more likely to die as a result of suicide than those in the general population.

These numbers, though, may be underinflated, as some retired military suffering from depression or other form of service-related injury, both physical and mental, are unaccounted for because they are currently outside the reach of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). In other words, bad as it is, the problem is likely even worse if we consider that at present the VAC clientele only accounts for less than 30% of the veteran population.

As of March 2013, VAC reports that there are 91,400 veterans of the Second World War, with an average age of 89. There are 9,900 veterans of the Korean War, with an average age of 81. There are also 594,300 veterans who served in the Regular and Reserve components of the Canadian Forces since 1947 with an average age of 56. This totals close to 700,000 veterans.

In 2012, VAC estimated that is had a clientele of 220,242 veterans plus some survivors (primarily spouses) and approximately 6,000 RCMP personnel. These individual are 'clients' of VAC because they receive a disability pension, benefits and services under the Veterans Independence Program and/or treatment benefits. These 220,000 veterans are 'looked' after by the Minister of Veterans Affairs, the VAC staff, the Bureau of Pension Advocates (BPA) and the VAC Ombudsman. However, this leaves a very large number who, are officially 'unaccounted for'. From our perspective, our government owes a duty to these veterans as well as those who already have advanced a claim through the VAC auspices.

Increasingly, we find many of these 'unaccounted for' veterans involved in a mounting number of grass-roots veterans advocacy groups vying for national attention for their legitimate claims and expectations. We find others involved in some form of court action as well as families of deceased veterans mounting a vigil alerting the public to their plight and abandon.


This Bureau is a VAC organization composed mainly of lawyers whose main function is to provide free legal advice, assistance and representation for veterans dissatisfied with decisions already rendered by VAC with respect to their claims for entitlement to disability benefits, or any assessment awarded for their entitled conditions. Its mandate is to assist VAC clients in the preparation of applications for review or for appeals, and to arrange for them to be represented by a lawyer at hearings before the Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB). Given their experience in pension matters, they are recognized as specialists in the area of claims for disability benefits. Our own experience indicates, however, that their resources may be very limited since there has been no adjustment to account for the increased workload in the wake of the Afghan mission.

Currently, a veteran dissatisfied with the services and benefits received from the VAC is eligible to receive support from the VAC Ombudsman whose mandate is: "the provision of services, benefits, and support in a fair, accessible, and timely manner and to raise awareness of the needs and concerns of Veterans and their families." The VAC Ombudsman addresses complaints related to VAC programs and services and emerging issues with respect to appeals filed with the VRAB. However, his mandate and resources do not permit him to address the much wider and substantial issues facing the remaining 500,000 veterans. As we will see, this is left to an ad hoc combination of occasional parliamentary interventions, anecdotal media campaigns concerning the increasing number of PTSD sufferers, and legal processes such as an occasional military boards of inquiry, coroner's inquests, or civil litigation. – All of which leading to a perception that Canada is failing to address the current unfairness which disadvantages service personnel injured during deployments abroad as well as the changing needs of the veteran community.

We know that may veterans will face challenges in adjusting to civilian life. Many will experience long lasting and significant impacts and continue to struggle with PTSD and other mental health problems. Families and careers of veterans will share the consequences of their service and this struggle.

How many of our retired Veterans are suffering from PTSD but are too proud or scared of career ramifications to come forward? It is estimated that approximately 15% of our soldiers who deployed on operations will eventually fall victim to PTSD. Given that some 30,000 soldiers served in Afghanistan alone, in the fullness of time, Canada can expect having to deal with approximately 4,500 PTSD sufferers.

A harder question may be: how many of those will be diagnosed with PTSD and received treatment, before it is too late? This is something we may never know, as the purview of the VAC Ombudsman only extends to those veterans who have already come forward and requested a VAC disability award. Further, it is also outside the purview of the DND/CF Ombudsman since these distressed retired personnel are no longer eligible to receive care and protection from the military.

It behooves us to ask, therefore, how many of Canada's 500,000 veterans who are retired and not collecting VAC disability pensions, could potentially commit suicide due to mental health injuries? This also may never be known, as the statistics of suicide among veterans is only catalogued for serving members and retired members receiving a VAC disability award. A veteran who commits suicide, who is not receiving a VAC disability award, is counted as a 'civilian' casualty.

Litigation activities over the past decades have demonstrated that many veterans have lost faith in the capacity or the willingness of government to provide them with the required support or, if provided with such support, they are dissatisfied by the handling of their pension and the fetters imposed on them by the existing legislated programs. This may explain why we are witnessing an increasing number of lawsuits initiated by post-Korean War veterans. Consider the following three examples:

1. Agent Orange – Gagetown

Between 1966 and 1967, civilian and military personnel at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Gagetown were exposed to harmful levels of Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide developed by the US military for use in the Vietnam War. It is reported that these individuals were told that the chemicals were harmless, to the point that some would spray each other with the chemical to cool off. Decades later, it was learned that Agent Orange exposure causes cancer and other deleterious health effects. By way of settlement, VAC offered to pay each valid claimant who was still living $20,000. This is the subject of a lengthy class action lawsuit filed in 2005 by Merchant LLP, and is still largely ongoing.

2. Dennis Manuge

This case, initiated in 2007, was also the subject of lengthy class action litigation. The Manuge class action concerned the clawback of SISIP benefits, which were found to be contrary to section 30(1) of the Pension Act. It was argued, among other things, that this was unconstitutional, and against legislative interpretation. Ultimately, in 2013, the Government and the Class settled for a reported $887 million.

3. Equitas lawsuit

This is another class action suit in which named veterans claim that the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-Establishment and Compensation Act (the "New Veterans Charter") substantially reduced their benefits and compensation that would have been formerly granted under the Pension Act. As a result, many of the veterans of the Afghanistan mission claim that they are being treated unequally because the benefits and compensation available under the New Veterans Charter are substantially less favorable than those that are available to injured persons claiming under tort law or worker compensation laws. Again, this litigation will likely take many years to resolve, and cost much money.

Many of the unaccounted 500,000 veterans or members or their families are currently left to their own devices primarily because their claims fall outside VAC jurisdiction. At present, these persons have not place to go to address their grievances or claims, save and except the court or the media. Perhaps two recent examples would suffice.

1. Joan Larocque

This case received significant national media coverage in mid-2013. Mrs Larocque's husband, Jacques, collapsed and died from a sudden heart attack while on leave in 2005. Post mortem autopsy revealed that Jacques had suffered two previous heart attacks while employed as a member of the Canadian Forces, including one which was diagnosed by military doctors as heartburn, in Afghanistan.

Mrs Larocque had Jacques death deemed "attributed to service" in 2013, after eight long years fighting for recognition. We surmise that Mrs Larocque may now qualify for a widow's pension through VAC. However, currently, investigation into Ms Larocque's matter is outside the mandate of the VAC Ombudsman, as Ms Larocque is not a veteran. This matter is also outside the purview of the DND/CF Ombudsman, because Ms Larocque is not a member of the Canadian Forces. This is no way to treat the family of CF veteran.

2. Boards of Inquiry into the sudden deaths (suicide) of soldiers

When a CF member of dies from a non-combat death, the military conduct an in-camera military Board of Inquiry (BOI) investigation. There are tremendous inconsistencies between a military BOI and a civilian Coroner's Inquest, which may taint the entire process because it shifts the focus of that BOI from a fact finding mandate to a protectionist one; more interested in exonerating the Chain of Command from any blame or liability, than in uncovering truths and/or seeking improvement to the system to prevent future tragedies.

Currently, this issue is outside the purview of the VAC Ombudsman and/or the DND/CF Ombudsman because this time, rightly or wrongly, the chain of command has taken full and exclusive jurisdiction of this issue. In the end, non-combat deaths of say, soldiers suffering from PTSD, go uninvestigated, unless a Charter-challenge is raised by their families, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, unless the military family is granted by the civil authority a Coroner-like independent and impartial fact-finding investigation.

As mentioned earlier, the VAC Ombudsman's limited role and mandate may explain why, at present, there is no national focal point for addressing the needs and expectations of all veterans, and not just those whose names are already listed on the VAC rolodex. His powers are necessarily limited to investigating complaints made by clients of Veterans Affairs. This represents less than one third of the Veterans community, and this is silly.

For the two-thirds of veterans who, while not receiving a disability award, may wish to raise a systemic issue or a claim which falls outside the jurisdiction and existing mandate of the VAC, there are only three avenues: the court, the media or the political route. Another option which would serve the public interest would be to establish a Veterans Commission as a creature of Parliament to serve all veterans. Granted with a reasonable sense of independence and a degree of public confidence, the Veterans Commission would be granted the powers to examine to examine and report on new claims and monitor the effectiveness of existing programs and benefits and, examine and report on new claims. He would also provide assistance for each and every veteran in a seamless transition from military to civilian life. The Veterans Commission would also become the de facto focal point to develop a national strategy to deal with the number one veteran's issue: PTSD. His mandate should be as broad as possible so that no veteran (or family of veteran be turned away).

Lastly, for the sake of efficiency and optimizing resources, the Veterans Commission could be quickly be established by absorbing both the offices Bureau of Pension Advocates as well as the office of the VAC Ombudsman to ensure that there exists a single national focal point to investigate, assess and recommend a coordinated national strategy to deal with issues affecting the morale and welfare of our sons and daughters during and after their military service.

The establishment of such a Veterans Commission may actually save the Government of Canada and the taxpayer money as well, as the costs of such a commission-initiated investigation may be lower than paying a barrage of Department of Justice Lawyers, paralegals and other professionals to proceed with the current and expanding civil litigation. It would also herald a long standing and legislated recognition by Canada of the unique service and sacrifices of those who serve and have served in the armed forces. This would provide Canada with an ability to examine and develop a pro-active, fair and comprehensive national strategy to address and coordinate the nation's welfare support and obligations towards our serving and retired military personnel.

Michel W. Drapeau and Joshua Juneau are Ottawa lawyers who specialize in handling cases of veterans and members of the Canadian Forces.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.