Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New announcement: Addictions, mental illness pushing veterans onto the street: experts

Addictions, mental illness pushing veterans onto the street: experts

By Annie Bergeron-Oliver | Jul 23, 2014 6:00 am

It was one of the hardest days of her long career in the military. Just one month before launching a volunteer organization to find and help homeless veterans, Capt. Victoria Ryan learned a former corporal had died on the cold streets of Ottawa.

"This gentlemen, he would have come to me because I was his officer. He knew me pretty well," she said. "It breaks my heart to think that he froze to death right before we started."

The veteran died in the capital in February 2013, as Ryan and a group of volunteers were putting the final touches on Soldiers Helping Soldiers.

Ryan said there was no indication the corporal was in need of help. The last time she saw him, he was doing fine.

"You don't keep track of all your corporals. You give them to another officer, another warrant officer and you move on.

"I had no idea he had ended up on the streets. If I had, I would have found him."

The number of homeless veterans identified by Veterans Affairs Canada has exploded over the last five years, jumping from just 35 in 2009-2010 to 236 last year.

But the true figure could be much higher. Experts suggest there could be thousands of veterans living on the streets yet to be located by government and volunteer groups. A City of Toronto report released last year revealed that 16 per cent of the 447 people sleeping on Toronto's streets identified themselves as veterans.

In Ottawa alone, the non-profit Soldiers Helping Soldiers has identified 110 homeless veterans since March 2013. The volunteer group, which is expected to operate in six Canadian cities by Christmas, has found 75 homeless veterans in Calgary and another 50 in both Valcartier, Que. and Montreal.

"I've been told by a reputable souce that there could be in one year, just in Ottawa alone, over 1,000 homeless veterans," Ryan said.

And the numbers are expected to rise. Canada recently wound up its longest war ever, which saw more than 40,000 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan. In the next few decades, experts expect more soldiers to be on the streets.

"We feel that within the next ten years, if we don't get this issue resolved, especially the mental health issues, that it could explode," said Royal Canadian Legion Dominion President Gordon Moore.

But the ways in which the agencies working with the homeless define 'veteran' varies — something which could affect data collection. Soldiers Helping Soldiers considers anyone who ever served a day in the military to be a veteran, even if they served in the military of another country. Veterans Transitional Emergency Services (VETS Canada) — a grassroots group that receives funding from Veterans Affairs Canada — serves only Canadian veterans. They meet approximately 10 to 12 Canadian veterans across the country every day, and have helped approximately 175 veterans in the last year.

'Being able to shoot someone at 600 meters is not necessarily in high demand by civilian companies.'

"For every one veteran we find, we've missed seven," said Barry Yard, national executive director of VETS Canada.

Research suggests veterans end up on the streets because of addiction, transition problems and mental health issues. In her research, Western University School of Nursing Professor Cheryl Forchuk found evidence of a 20-year gap between when individuals leave the military and when they end up on the streets.

Here in Ottawa, most of the veterans Capt. Ryan deals with have some type of mental health issue, generally attributed to their time in the military.

"I would say almost 100 per cent of the homeless veterans have some sort of addiction or mental health issue pertaining to their service," Ryan said, adding that the issues begin affecting the veterans' lives after they leave the military.

While Veterans Affairs does offer those leaving the military various transitional services, Ryan believes one of the hardest hurdles to jump over is simply adjusting to civilian life. Homeless veterans tend to be sergeant rank and below, and many of their combat skills do not translate well into the civilian world, she pointed out.

"They were infantry, they were armoured, they were artillery. Not things that translate well to civilian life," she said. "Being able to shoot someone at 600 meters is not necessarily in high demand by civilian companies."

Many homeless vets miss the familiarity and reassurance of the disciplined military lifestyle, so Soldiers Helping Soldiers operates along military lines. Volunteers wear their uniforms when conducting quarterly searches for homeless veterans, and treat the individuals as members of their squad. Ryan said the veterans wouldn't give her "the time of day" if she weren't in uniform. There's a level of embarrassment and shame, she said, that often stops homeless people from identifying themselves as veterans.

"One of the things that SHS focuses on is reminding them that they were soldiers. And the abilities and the dignity they had performing that job, they can have again," she said.

Of the 110 soldiers that Soldiers Helping Soldiers has helped, less than two dozen have stayed off the street. Capt. Mark Eldridge works with Ryan — conducting foot patrols with soldiers to find homeless veterans — and volunteers at local homeless shelters. He said sometimes veterans don't want help or are unwilling to hand over the personal information required to complete paperwork for Veterans Affairs or the Legion. A big part of the group's job is to inform veterans about the variety of services available to them.

"Sometimes they just want to share a coffee with us. They just want to share a story with us," he said.

Eldridge, who has been working with the organization since its inception, said it's "painful" to find these veterans on the streets. There is no "golden rule" or average length of time needed to get people off the streets. Sometimes, he said, there isn't much anyone can do.

"There is a sadness is that you can see pretty quickly how any one of us, absent a couple supporting factors in our lives, would be one of them," he said.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

New announcement: Living with Anxiety: How to Move Ahead

Living with Anxiety: How to Move Ahead

Published on Tuesday July 15, 2014

The auditorium at The Royal was packed for our last Conversations lecture of the season – this says a lot about the impact of anxiety disorders on individuals and our community. According to Dr. Jakov Shlik, Clinical Director of the Mood and Anxiety program and the Operational Stress Injuries clinic at The Royal, 1 in 5 people will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

Dr. Shlik started his presentation by going back to the basics of human nature. "We're all born to be afraid in certain situations. This can be helpful and sometimes life-saving," he said.

If we see a bear, we may start to panic and have physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweating and shallow breathing. This is a normal reaction because our body recognizes we are in danger and goes into what's commonly referred to as 'fight or flight' mode where our body prepares to either fight the situation or flee from it. However, anxiety can be problematic when one's body creates an anxious reaction in everyday situations such as being in a crowded room, speaking to a colleague, or riding public transit.

Anxiety disorders are not only extremely uncomfortable but can have devastating effects on work, health, and children. Anxiety exists in our emotions, thoughts, behaviours, and sensations. It causes not only emotional symptoms such as racing thoughts, but physical ones such as a pounding heart, upset stomach or dizziness and shortness of breath. Anxiety is also commonly present in other mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others.

While anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses (Mood Disorders Canada), there are still many barriers to seeking help. Common barriers include self stigma, public stigma, low detection rate, limited access to treatment, and treatment effectiveness. It's important that we know how common they are and that many people live productive, happy lives with an anxiety disorder.

So, what causes an anxiety disorder? In short, Dr. Shlik said, "We don't really know. However, we can identify contributing factors and possible causes." These include genetics, brain chemistry, environmental factors, and certain personality types may be more susceptible.

An anxiety disorder can affect cognitive functioning, self-care, mobility, participation in activities, and interactions with others. Common signs of an anxiety disorder include physical symptoms, emotional symptoms, and avoidance of activities. While anxiety can have a huge affect on quality of life, there is help available for those who need it.

"It's very hard to re-train our minds but it's possible. People do it everyday."
Dr. Jakov Shlik

Dr. Shlik firstly recommends visiting a doctor should you suspect you may have an anxiety disorder. In addition to clinical help, Dr. Shlik also recommends books, apps, websites and support groups for managing anxiety. Click here to see what made his list.

To get an idea of what living with an anxiety disorder looks like, Lynn Sedgwick shared her personal story. She was diagnosed with chronic panic disorder, depression and also struggled with various addictions. She found help at The Royal with Dr. Shlik and also in the groups offered by the Canadian Mental Health Association. She learned healthy coping skills and fell back in love with art and exercise. She began going for walks and found this therapeutic. So much so, that she created "Lynn's Walk" where she walked 750 kms, encouraging others to join and share their story, and raised $10,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association. "Being silent doesn't help anyone," Lynn says. She's hoping that by sharing her story she can help others. Click here for more information on the Anxiety program at The Royal.

View the slides:

View the video:

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, July 21, 2014

New announcement: Canadian public concerned not enough being done for veterans, government’s public opinion research

Canadian public concerned not enough being done for veterans, government's public opinion research indicates

Public-opinion research for the federal Finance Department suggests key government policies are out of step with Canadians' priorities, including the Northern Gateway project, according to a Canadian Press news service report.

More from that article:

Members of focus groups consulted prior to the February budget had "little enthusiasm" for the proposed bitumen pipeline to the British Columbia coast — even those who said they support the controversial project.

And among the 12 groups consulted — from Coquitlam, B.C., to Bridgewater, N.S. — the economy itself was not a top-of-mind concern.

Rather, the groups spontaneously raised education, health care, pensions and veterans as their key issues.

The findings of the January focus groups, commissioned from NRG Research Group, suggest the Harper government's central policy themes — trade and the economy, with an emphasis on energy exports — are resonating less with ordinary Canadians.

The focus groups, along with a public-opinion survey of 3,000 people, were carried out in advance of the Feb. 11 budget under a $135,000 contract.

Among the other issues participants raised:

– Canada Pension Plan reform: "This came up more often in Ontario, and the sentiment typically focused on the need to ensure this program is adequately funded."

The government has resisted calls to improve CPP though has endorsed other pension-related reforms. The Ontario government has since promised its own public pension plan.

– Veterans: "Concerns expressed whether enough was being done to help individuals with health/mental issues arising from their military service."

The government faced a barrage of veterans' criticisms over the last year, especially related to military suicides, but says it has improved benefits and care.

– Health care and education "continue to come up regularly in the discussions."

Source: Canadian public concerned not enough being done for veterans, government's public opinion research indicates

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



1. On Mar 24, 2011, the Minister of National Defence announced a new career transition support policy for severely ill and injured CF personnel. Under this policy, severely ill and injured personnel with complex career transition needs, and who can no longer serve in the Regular Force or Primary Reserve, will be provided a longer transition period before returning to civilian life. The policy announcement at reference A included that subject to benefit eligibility, severely injured or ill CF members who have permanent medical employment limitations that breach the Universality of Service requirements and who also have complex transition needs, may be provided up to three years of transition support by the CF following medical assessment and an administrative review.

Please forward to serving mbr's.

For more info click on the link:

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Monday, July 14, 2014

New announcement: Prime Minister Harper: Thank you for Julian Fantino

Prime Minister Harper: Thank you for Julian Fantino

Never in modern memory has a Cabinet minister by his own poor example brought so much attention to the profound cultural problems at Veterans Affairs Canada.
Published: Monday, 07/14/2014 12:00 am EDT
Last Updated: Monday, 07/14/2014 12:35 am EDT

Dear Prime Minister Harper, Gosh, the Veterans Affairs portfolio has been difficult hasn't it? I don't think you have received enough credit, however, for appointing Julian Fantino as the department's minister. He has been a blessing in disguise to Canada's disabled veterans and their families.

Canadians, particularly veterans, may be widely repulsed by the constant shenanigans of Fantino. I suspect that being the veteran and military champion you claim to be, you had a hidden plan to bring substantive change to that poorly-managed department. Our senior public servants and their policies are largely integrity, compassion, transparency, and innovation-challenged. Those at Veterans Affairs (VAC) are arguably the worst of the lot.

Many believe you appointed the ex-cop because he would whip the department into shape while subduing those ungratefully vocal veterans who dared exercise the very rights for which they sacrificed in uniform. I am referring to those pesky fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and the press.

Just as minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn noted following the department's widespread breaches in my privacy in 2010, VAC, all alone in Charlottetown, needs cultural change. Rightly bringing the department back to Ottawa would be a rather large budget line. Firing all those questionably performing senior bureaucrats could face resistance in the public service.

I suspect you knew that such big change would require widespread public support. But most Canadians didn't know or care about veterans. Disabled veterans were supposed to wither away quietly with meagre handouts. Meanwhile, society benefits from veterans' sacrifice without society sacrificing much in return to care for them. Fantino's arrival helped change that.

Although the Prime Minister's Office adroitly worked on the Senate scandal to bring much-needed attention to Senate reform, appointing Fantino was your magnum opus.

He offended aging veterans who travelled a thousand miles to meet with him in Ottawa during one of Canada's coldest winters on record. And rather than apologize for standing them up, Fantino accused the veterans of being "duped" by the public service union doing the job the minister should have been doing, i.e., protecting services for veterans.

During the altercation, which left one veteran in tears, Fantino declared he was late because he was at a Cabinet meeting to "champion some issues on behalf of veterans."

Surely, those veterans suffering psychological injuries have been the hardest hit and the least cared-for in the tangle of VAC bureaucracy. The budget released two weeks later had nothing for living veterans such as those he offended. The late Jim Flaherty told Lisa LaFlamme on budget night, "I haven't been asked for money for post-traumatic stress disorder, specifically."

Instead, Fantino has been busy signing all manner of letters to the editor in which he makes fascinatingly, spurious claims. In the Huffington Post Canada, Fantino wrote, "The disability award forms only a small percentage of the total financial benefits available to injured veteran" under the New Veterans Charter (NVC). In 2013, more than three times more or $419-million was given to veterans as a lump sum disability award than the $124.7-million paid out by all the other "financial benefits" of the NVC combined.

During Parliamentary testimony, Fantino alleged veterans could receive the impossible amount of $10,000 per month in financial benefits from VAC under the NVC. The minister and his department have repeatedly failed to corroborate this assertion. It was a masterful stroke to have Fantino accuse veterans of misinformation when Fantino and his senior bureaucrats are the greatest purveyors of misleading half-truths.

It was a brilliant plan to have Fantino, his three political staffers, deputy minister Mary Chaput and assistant deputy minister Walter Semianiw all run away on national news from the spouse of a veteran, Jenny Migneault. She was clearly not a threat or a union 'dupe'. But Canadians needed to see that if Fantino has little respect for veterans, he and senior bureaucrats have little more than disdain for veteran spouses.

What veterans don't understand about your Machiavellian plan is why the senior VAC bureaucracy, which needs deep cultural change, is allowed to run rampant. In spite of multiple executive positions designated for cutbacks, VAC reportedly has yet to make those individuals 'redundant'. Meanwhile, overworked frontline positions were quickly cut. Furthermore, Chaput continues to rake in her annual bonus while she has increased her staff by 500 per cent ostensibly to generate much of the department's "misinformation."

Whereas Fantino can't quite match the buffoonery of Rob Ford, he hit a home run when he compared Ford's drug and alcohol addiction to sufferers of PTSD, like veterans from the war in Afghanistan.

I know there is much pressure to shuffle Fantino out of Cabinet this summer. I urge you to resist this. Fantino is the gift that keeps on giving to all Canadians.

Never in modern memory has a minister by his own poor example brought so much attention to the profound cultural problems at Veterans Affairs Canada. His antics will continue to highlight the indignity and humiliation to which far too many veterans and their families are subject to by Canada's federal government. Then you will be able to bring about the extensive transformation needed at VAC.

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

The Hill Times

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Veterans Affairs Canada, CAF Services and Benefits – Services et avantages des FAC et anciens combattant Canada

Veterans Affairs Canada, CAF Services and Benefits – Services et avantages des FAC et anciens combattant Canada

Please be aware of a new site that will promote services and benefits from CAF and VAC. It's at its beginning, please bare with us. Please distribute widely.

General Link:


Examples of what you will find:

SISIP & VAC VOC REHAB: Amount (75K) and Duration (4 Years)

HEARING AID DIGITAL (New Devices every 4 years)



Le site est principalement Anglophone. Nous somme a la recherche de personne bilingue qui pourrais s'occuper de la partie francophone. Votre aide est solliciter, car nous ne pouvons pas toute faire.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Saturday, July 5, 2014



If you are under the VAC REHAB program, VAC can pay for Exercise / Swimming Program Fees. Please click on the link for more information.

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New announcement: Soldier claims Lyme disease led to dismissal

Soldier claims Lyme disease led to dismissal

Jean-Nicolas Blanchet, QMI Agency

First posted: Thursday, July 03, 2014 09:33 AM EDT | Updated: Thursday, July 03, 2014 09:40 AM EDT

MONTREAL -- A former Canadian soldier has filed a grievance against the military, claiming he was turfed instead of being treated for a debilitating bacterial disease.

Leaf Tremback, of Sharbot Lake, Ont., says military doctors failed to properly treat him for Lyme disease.

He says he contracted the disease while training in bug-infested woods east of Montreal.

Lyme disease is spread by ticks and can cause fatigue, fever, muscle pain and mental disorders if not properly treated.

Tremback was 25 when he arrived in Farnham, Que., for officer cadet training in July 2008. He was bitten by an infected tick and fell ill.

He claims military personnel improperly removed the insect and told him he might have the flu. A few months later, he said, his symptoms got worse.

The young man's condition improved after he underwent several treatments, but he said he relapsed despite assurances from army doctors that he had been healed.

The army agreed to let Tremback seek a second opinion from another military doctor.

Military records reviewed by QMI Agency show the army insisted his symptoms "are a figment of his imagination" and sent him to a psychiatrist.

"They told me, 'What's your f---ing problem? Stop pretending,'" Tremback said. "I didn't know what to do."

Feeling abandoned, he informed the military that he had sought a civilian doctor.

"They told me that I didn't have the right and that I would be sanctioned if I did it."

The outside examination confirmed that he had Lyme disease, but the army discharged him in 2012 and refused to recognize the diagnosis.

But documents show the army also prescribed him a cocktail of drugs to treat symptoms including those of Lyme disease.

Veterans Affairs contradicted the military's conclusions and found that Tremback did, in fact, have Lyme disease. The department granted the ex-soldier financial compensation.

The military would not discuss the case with QMI Agency but said it has taken the necessary steps to prevent Lyme disease, including the installation of warning posters at its Farnham training facility.

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New announcement: CF Appriciation: Carlson Wagonlit Travel - CF Singles Trip to Cuba

Carlson Wagonlit Travel have some amazing trips planned specifically for you! CF Singles Trip to Cuba, November.

CF Singles Trip to Cuba, November 21 -28, 2014

Located directly on a pristine sandy beach on the island of Cayo Santa Maria.

$25.00 per person booked will go back to support the Canadian Forces Central Fund

Canadian Forces Western Caribbean Cruise,January 24th – February 1, 2015

7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Silhouette with 1 night pre-cruise at the Marriott Hollywood Beach Hotel Florida

$50.00 per person booked will go back to support the Canadian Forces Central Fund

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing’: Bruyea

I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing': Bruyea

The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
Sean Bruyea suffered from fits of 'suicidal ideation, physical and psychological breakdowns, as well as devastating shame' and months of 'darkness and despair' during his fight with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Published: Monday, 06/30/2014 12:00 am EDT
Last Updated: Monday, 06/30/2014 10:33 am EDT

The Hill Times presents the second of an eight-part series called, "The Whistleblowers." We wanted to find out from some of the country's best-known government whistleblowers if their actions have actually made a difference to government policy today and if, given the personal costs to their lives, would they do it again.

Fifteen years ago, there were only two people advocating for Canada's veterans: Sean Bruyea and Louise Richard, who called on the feds to improve a broken benefits system for injured and ill vets. Today, most people know something about how the federal government treats its war veterans.

"During that time, the bulk of public criticisms of Veterans Affairs in the media were prompted by press conferences held by me and Louise Richard, who I call the mother of modern veteran advocacy," Mr. Bruyea told The Hill Times recently. "We knew the system was giving disabled veterans and their families a raw deal—bureaucratic run-arounds, mountains of paperwork, endless delays on treatment and benefit decisions, unjust decisions and inadequate programs to assist veterans and their families. The results amongst a shamed and cowering veterans' community were broken marriages, suffering children, destroyed military men and women and, of course, even suicide. I knew the system had to change."

Mr. Bruyea, 49, who grew up in southern Ontario and Montreal and graduated from the Royal Military College in 1986, is a former intelligence offer with the Canadian military. He served for 14 years in the Air Force, and was the senior intelligence officer for the Canadian Air Group of CF-18 fighter-bomber jets stationed in Doha, Qatar, in the first Gulf War, from 1990-1991. He was responsible for seeking and providing intelligence for all possible threats, including local terrorist and missile attacks. He was sent home early because of physical and psychological injuries incurred during that time and was medically released from the military in 1996 at the rank of captain. Today, he still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and works at the Canadians for Accountability in Ottawa.
His experience forced him to become one of the country's best-known advocates for veterans and a whistleblower on Veterans Affairs Canada.

In April 2005, the federal Liberal government introduced a New Veterans Charter that changed the benefits system and legislated the creation of a Veterans Ombudsman, something that Mr. Bruyea had called for over the six previous years. Mr. Bruyea said the opposition Conservatives gave him a copy of the new bill and asked for his input. When he read it, he said he was "sickened" by it because it replaced lifelong pensions for veterans with much smaller lump sum payments.

"I could not betray my principles and watch others suffer while doing nothing. I had to speak out in the hopes of saving lives and diminishing suffering," he said, noting that as an intelligence officer with six years of university education, he struggled to keep his head above water in the bureaucratic culture of Veterans Affairs Canada.

"The program was written in the most prejudicial manner towards veterans, removing any social contract which existed in 90 years of previous veterans' legislation," Mr. Bruyea said. "As a military intelligence officer, I was trained to study, analyse and anticipate the threat before it could harm my fellow military members. I knew enough about this new legislation, known as the New Veterans Charter, to determine it was a threat to the well-being and stability of disabled veterans and their families. I could see that it would not deliver what it promised, especially in the hands of a Veterans Affairs senior bureaucracy which has long proven itself to care more for pleasing Treasury Board than saving lives. I knew that this legislation, in the hands of this insensitive department, would harm veterans and their families."

Mr. Bruyea was receiving a lifelong disability pension and the new legislation would not affect him, but he said he felt the need to stand up against Veterans Affairs Canada. He said he could not remain silent because he felt the changes would be "callously administered" by a department focused on saving money rather than caring for disabled vets who served their country.

"I felt a cold sweat thinking about how most veterans with far less education than me would drown in such a convoluted system to receive help," he said. "I decided to advocate for change to help other military veterans and their families."

On May 10, 2005, Mr. Bruyea held a press conference attacking the legislation, which he said repackaged existing programs, featured unrealistic deadlines for widows and disabled veterans, and erased lifelong monthly disability pensions for injured military instituted at the end of World War I.

"Instead, military members, in the middle of a war in Afghanistan, had these lifelong pensions replaced with one-time lump sum payments which paid out only a fraction of what the lifelong pensions otherwise provided," he said.

The bill was fast-tracked through the House and the Senate.

Mr. Bruyea soon helped uncover Veterans Affairs Canada's privacy breaches and vindictiveness against those who spoke up. Veterans Affairs Canada officials attempted to punish and discredit Mr. Bruyea by trying to cut off treatment for his PTSD and benefits while distributing briefing notes that falsely suggested he was mentally unstable.
"Government was furious. Senior bureaucrats who designed the legislation and manipulated both Parliament and a handful of representatives from veterans' organizations felt I had no right to criticize what these bureaucrats referred to as 'our programs.' They felt I had no right to go to the Senate to testify against the legislation. Most of all, they wanted to stop me from having any influence on politicians or any other senior bureaucrats," he said.

Veterans Affairs' policy and client service sides shared his medical, financial, personal and marital information, distorting it and using it in briefing notes that "painted me as mentally unstable, greedy, impossible to please, and medically repugnant due to my multiple medical conditions," he said.

More than 10 such notes, each containing four or more pages of this highly-personal information, were circulated to almost all VAC senior bureaucrats, two sitting Cabinet ministers, and the Veterans Affairs Parliamentary secretary, and were used in briefings to his MP and to the Prime Minister's Office, he said.

Mr. Bruyea said the government wanted to cut off his benefits and fabricated an assessment at a Veterans Affairs hospital to say he no longer needed treatment, even though his own psychiatrist documented that if treatment ended, he would be suicidal. He said VAC did not question his treatment for the five years before that.

"Once the Conservatives were in government and after they received these briefing notes or received briefings on me, previous supporters of my efforts to improve the quality of life of veterans suddenly became outspoken critics of me or refused to meet with me to discuss improvements to Veterans Affairs," he said, describing other reprisals he encountered once he started speaking out about how he was being treated.

The government generated more than 40,000 pages of internal documents and emails regarding Mr. Bruyea, which he received over three years through access to information and privacy requests at a personal cost of $30,000. Mr. Bruyea said that it was "daunting, terrifying and paralysing to realize the power of government over a citizen, especially when I was the enemy target of such power."

Veterans Affairs Canada's own departmental internal review in February 2011 determined that of the 614 bureaucrats who accessed his computer-based files, 54 officials "did not have a valid reason for access[ing]" those files. "These employees have been disciplined and department officials consider this matter has been successfully addressed and closed," said a letter to Mr. Bruyea on the matter.

Mr. Bruyea, who suffers from half a dozen physical and psychological conditions resulting from the Gulf War, such as fibromyalgia, receives a disability pension which, he said, is "substantially less" than his military salary during the Gulf War.

More than 800 individuals in the bureaucracy had access to his personal medical records—a serious breach of Canadian privacy laws. Mr. Bruyea filed a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. In fall 2010, then-privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart reported on Mr. Bruyea's case, ruling in his favour that his privacy rights were violated.

"What we found in this case was alarming," Ms. Stoddart said in a statement at the time. "The veteran's sensitive medical and personal information was shared—seemingly with no controls—among departmental officials who had no legitimate need to see it. This personal information subsequently made its way into a ministerial briefing note about the veteran's advocacy activities. This was entirely inappropriate."

She then recommended that VAC "take immediate steps to support an enhanced privacy policy framework with adequate protections and controls to regulate access to personal information within the department" and revise existing practices to ensure that personal information within the department is shared only on a "need-to-know" basis. "Personal information, including but not limited to sensitive medical information, should not be shared with programs that have no operational requirements for access to such information," she said.

Ms. Stoddart also recommended that Veterans Affairs Canada provide training for employees on how to appropriately handle personal information and that consent for the transfer of personal information be gained when making hospital referrals.

As a result, the federal government made a public apology to Mr. Bruyea in October 2010.
"I was very troubled to learn that personal information concerning you was shared among public servants who had no need for this information in order to do their work," then-Veterans Affairs minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn said in his statement. "I recognize that this information sharing has caused you needless suffering and anxiety, and for that the government and I are truly sorry."

Mr. Blackburn also acknowledged that other veterans may have been subjected to similar privacy breaches and extended his "sincere regrets to anyone who may have gone through the same situation." Additionally, he said that he would act on Ms. Stoddart's recommendations and promised to increase penalties against those who broke the rules.
In January 2011, he announced changes to how VAC would service vets. This included reducing the standard turnaround time on decisions on rehabilitation eligibility to two weeks from four; reducing paperwork when applying for the Veterans Independence Program; hiring 20 extra case managers in high-demand areas across Canada, and improving response times at call centres so that callers can speak to VAC representatives within two minutes.

Mr. Blackburn also tabled legislation to make changes to the New Veterans Charter, which received royal assent on March 24, 2011. "This legislation represents a significant new chapter in the financial aid available to CF members and Veterans who are injured in the line of duty," Mr. Blackburn said in a statement. "We are providing an additional $2-billion to ensure a better quality of life for ill and injured Veterans and their families."

Mr. Bruyea's fight with Veterans Affairs Canada affected his health, his personal relationships and his finances. He suffered from fits of "suicidal ideation, physical and psychological breakdowns as well as devastating shame" and months of "darkness and despair" during this time.

"I would call my wife almost every day at her work, sobbing, panicking, with yet another account of how Ottawa Veterans Affairs workers were attempting to take away my treatment, deny me benefits, question every aspect of what I received from VAC. I began to think about the only way out to save my wife…suicide. She would not have to pay for my care when VAC refused to care for me. She would have money and most of all, she could escape back to Mexico to avoid any effects of government persecution," he said, noting at the time that his wife was making less annually than the cost of his medical treatment.

He was not working at the time, but was hoping to start again soon. "That hope became shattered with my downward spiral. I lost all my friends, my family, as I could not bear to deal with others. Survival at its bear minimum was all I could live each day. My wife remained strong but we did not know how long we would both last," he told The Hill Times.
Despite all that, he said, he would do it again because it is too important not to.

"Veterans are indoctrinated to never question government. We had to believe that the government and the system were as near to perfection as possible. We die at government's orders. How could we be willing to die for something flawed? Why would we waste our lives for the concept of government which uses military and veterans as pawns in policy, diplomacy or fiscal games? So veterans do not speak out for the most part. They beat themselves up inside when government neglects, mistreats or even belittles them. It is easier to believe we, the veterans, are at fault than we, the veterans, served in a government which made misguided or bad decisions," he said.

"I knew that if I did not speak out, the new programs would begin to treat veterans most harmfully. Veterans would be unable to defend themselves, but instead believe that they deserved to be neglected. Others would merely give up and not receive help in such a difficult system. To me, it was fundamentally unjust that military members serving in Afghanistan, in a war zone, would have their lifelong benefits unilaterally terminated without any say in the matter. Throwing away almost a century of Canada's profound commitment to veterans for cost savings shocked me to the point of disgust and nausea. … They gave me no option but to fight back in a most persistent, methodical and determined manner," said Mr. Bruyea.

Of course, he would do it differently. He said today, he has many more tools and much more self-esteem to fight for what he believes is right and worth doing. He's learned how to seek justice and is more comfortable collaborating with the media and advocacy groups and using Parliament, the courts and public opinion.

Mr. Bruyea said he was not successful in changing the benefits system for veterans, but he's happy that vets are no longer afraid to speak out against their government. When he started, he and Louise Richard were the only advocates; organizations like the Royal Canadian Legion were publicly critical of them, he said.

"They loathed any public criticism of government, often siding with government against the veterans speaking out," he said, whereas today the Royal Canadian Legion and other dozens of other organizations are more willing to be critical.

"The culture has changed for only one reason—veterans are increasingly less afraid of the department which holds near complete control over their financial and medical destiny. A solidarity of sorts has broken out as veterans see other veterans speaking out, making it easier to overcome ones fears and confront government, a once sacred and taboo target," Mr. Bruyea said.

Part of that has to do with his case and Veterans Affairs' reluctance to seek reprisals against those speaking out in its wake. Because the government and Veterans Affairs Canada sought "such horrific and comprehensive reprisals" against Mr. Bruyea, they forced him to become something they feared: "an advocate who set the stage for many more to advocate," he said.

"Have veterans' programs improved? Sadly, the opposite has occurred. Government has circled the wagons, and avoided making any substantial improvements to the New Veterans Charter in the eight years of its existence," he said. "A culture of delay, deny and hope they die is alive and well at Veterans Affairs and Treasury Board."

As for the whistleblowing culture, Mr. Bruyea said it needs major improvements.

For starters, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office needs to be able to protect RCMP, Canadian Forces, CSIS and veterans from reprisals.

"Certainly we need a far more robust whistleblower regime," he said, noting that it should be completely independent, should not employ current public servants and should forbid anyone hired from being employed in the public service for at least five years.

The current system has a senior bureaucrat investigating other senior bureaucrats, leading to a culture of "playing nice" that interferes with prosecutions by protecting bureaucrats over whistleblowers, he said.

"The refusal of the current commissioner to even name those who violate the law clearly points to an office soft on persecuting those who persecute whistleblowers," he said.
No bureaucrats involved in his case were disciplined beyond one-day suspensions or written reprimands, he said.

In September 2010, Mr. Bruyea also sued the government for $400,000. The suit was settled out of court for an unknown amount. Today, Mr. Bruyea, a married father with one son, is continuing his advocacy as a writer, having published editorials in all of Canada's major dailies. He also volunteers as an adviser to two veterans organizations and is a vice-president of Canadians for Accountability, a group which helps other whistleblowers. He is currently working on a master's degree in public ethics at St. Paul's University in Ottawa.

"My thesis is on, you guessed it, Veterans Affairs and its treatment of modern day veterans," he said. "I spend most of my time with my family healing the wounds of the war I fought overseas and the war I had to fight with my own government."
The Hill Times


The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.