Canadian Veterans Advocacy

Sunday, November 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

Four years later, the view is very different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.




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Friday, November 21, 2014

New announcement: Going Crazy in the Green Machine

Going Crazy in the Green Machine

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

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

ohn J. Whelan Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @Murray_Brewster on Twitter

The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

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

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

The final front: Veterans versus Harper in 2015

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

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

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



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

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

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

Injured Ottawa military personnel to wait longer for help

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 10, 2014

New announcement: Veterans’ complaints a tricky issue for Harper

Veterans' complaints a tricky issue for Harper


Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Campbell Clark on Twitter: @camrclark

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

New announcement: PTSD: A long scar on the soul

PTSD: A long scar on the soul

About this series

Ottawa Citizen 11.06.2013

In 2012, the Citizen's Chris Cobb won a fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) that allowed him to research and write about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I started covering this topic almost two years ago and since then have met many veterans whose lives have been shattered by the trauma they suffered in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda — pretty much any mission in recent years," says Cobb. "PTSD's devastating impact on individuals, families and communities isn't well understood. I'm not sure anyone without direct experience of PTSD can fully understand it.

"I want to acknowledge the memory of infantryman Cpl. Tony Reed, a bookish man who in three and a half emotionally draining hours in the kitchen of his Petawawa home taught me more than anyone about the ravages of PTSD. 'You're out there doing the job without fear. You can't have fear. But your camera is always rolling,' he said. 'You take it all in, package it up and put it away but eventually the movie starts playing in your head and it keeps playing. The camera is always on playback.' Tony called himself 'Jekyll and Hyde' and cried out for help. It didn't arrive in time. He died in December last year, aged 43, just weeks after our meeting.

Dr. John Bradford's mental breakdown hit without warning less than half an hour after he watched Canadian Air Force colonel Russell Williams brutally murder two young women. During his long and distinguished career as a doctor and teacher, the internationally renowned forensic psychiatrist had become skilled at emotionally detaching himself from all manner of horrendous images.

Video: Former soldiers battling PTSD

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New announcement: Canadian military claim that its suicide rates are lower is not true, says expert

Canadian military claim that its suicide rates are lower is not true, says expert

Suicide among serving Canadian military and veterans is at epidemic proportions and the leading cause of death in the armed forces, an internationally renowned "suicidologist" told a coalition of veterans in Ottawa.

More from the report by my Ottawa Citizen colleague Chris Cobb:

Dr. Antoon Leenaars, a Canadian psychologist, dismissed the often-repeated claim by Canada's military and political leaders that suicide rates in the military are lower than in the general population.

"I don't think that's true," he told the Citizen after his speech. "It seems to me it's whitewashing. People believe what they prefer to be true — the military believes what they prefer to be true.

"There is no question that it is at epidemic proportions," he added. "Why would there be so many soldiers in the U.S. dying by suicide and not in Canada? (The Canadian military's) answer is that it's because of excellent care and excellent leadership but are the Americans so poor that they are not providing adequate care and leadership?"

Full article here:

Source: Canadian military claim that its suicide rates are lower is not true, says expert

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New announcement: A promise broken - Une promesse brisée

A promise broken

For 100 years, Canadian veterans thought they had a 'sacred covenant' with their government.

Were they wrong?

Une promesse brisée

Pour près de cent ans, ils ont cru à l'existence d'un 'pacte sacré' qui les liait au gouvernement canadien.
Les anciens combattants ontils eu tort de croire que leur gouvernement respectera son serment ?

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

New announcement: For some the battle is not over

For some the battle is not over

By Clare Ogilvie

For many across the country, this Remembrance Day will have new meaning following the tragic murders of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was gunned down Oct. 22 in Ottawa, and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was run over and killed by a man "linked to terrorist ideology."

The investigation into Cirillo's killer continues.

These are the types of attacks that Canadians are used to reading about in other countries. It has been with pride that we boast of our modest security at places such as our Parliament buildings. We are the peacekeepers, the builder of schools, the educators.

But we are also a target — indeed we have always been since linking our foreign policy to our allies and the War on Terror. Perhaps we have just been lucky enough, or just off the radar enough, to avoid direct attack until now.

We have to live with the fact that while another attack may not be imminent, it could happen.

The shocking nature of what happened in the attacks and the fact that military personnel were targeted has also raised our awareness of those who serve in our armed forces — and the challenges they face not just because the military is chronically underfunded (what we should be spending on military is an editorial for another day), but also because of the apparent lack of support many get upon their return to life in Canada.

When our troops came home from Afghanistan in March there was the typical government response — thanks, let's create a day honouring you, let's shake some hands during a photo op for the media.

Meanwhile, the real story continued on the back pages of the national media with veterans being forced to sue the government to fight for support after returning home from war.

The lawsuit was launched as a class action, and brought by veterans upset with the compensation arrangement offered to wounded soldiers under the New Veterans Charter of 2005. It was filed in October 2012, and involves a group of six veterans, all of whom served and were injured in Afghanistan.

Under the New Veterans Charter, vets are offered a lump sum payment instead of a lifetime pension. Veterans say the changes mean wounded soldiers will receive much less over their lifetimes.

One of the lawsuit's main arguments is the existence of a "social contract" between the government and Canadian Forces veterans.

The lawsuit argues a social covenant was first promised to those who served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the First World War and has been continually promised since then, through policy, political speeches and veterans' legislation, until now, according to documents on CBC's website.

That promise includes adequate recognition and benefits for those who serve.

But in its legal response, government lawyers argued the country has no special obligation to its servicemen and women and that the current government can't be bound by the political promises of its predecessors.

Last month the Harper government said more changes would be made to the Veterans Charter — perhaps to appease those who will make this an election issue in 2015.

The changes flow from the government's response to a House of Commons committee review, which earlier this year recommended 14 specific changes to the support and benefits regime.

But veterans' advocate Sean Bruyea told CBC earlier this year, "I believe it will eventually makes things worse if they are enacted in their entirety.

"The bureaucracy does not want to pay for veterans benefits."

You might be shocked to learn that the number of suicide deaths in the veteran community has surpassed that of those who gave their lives in combat during the mission in Afghanistan — 158 soldiers died in the line of duty — Canada's longest combat mission at 12 years.

And according to the Veteran's Ombudsman, nearly half of the most severely injured, or ill, veterans are not receiving the care they require.

So on Nov.11 wear a red poppy to honour all those who have fallen in service, but also for those whose battle does not end when they come home to Canada.

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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New announcement: QP: Nov 4th / Peter Stoffer and Minister Fantino + RCMP Bill (VIP)

Update from Peter Stoffer MP, Official Opposition Critic for Veterans Affairs

Question in the House on the New Veterans Charter, November 4th

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, last year, the Minister of Veterans Affairs asked the veterans affairs committee to do a comprehensive study on the new veterans charter, which is exactly what it did. The committee unanimously adopted 14 recommendations, recommendations that in some cases are two to three years old already. Six months after the report was tabled in the House, the Minister of Veterans Affairs' response was that we need more study.
I would like to remind the government and the Minister of Veterans Affairs that veterans can no longer wait. A benefit delayed is a benefit denied. When will the government move on the recommendations of the unanimous report?

Julian Fantino Minister of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member and indeed all members for their approach during the past few weeks. It is times such as this when politicians actually become parliamentarians. I salute the member and indeed all members for their hard work.
To his question, I responded to the committee's report with a phased response. We are working on that.
However, this week, we focus on remembrance, something I am sure that the hon. member and all of us here enthusiastically support.

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I thank him for the comments, but I do remind the minister that every day for those who serve our country is Remembrance Day.
One of the most important things is to ensure that our disabled veterans and their families, and those of the RCMP, have the benefits that they require in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy that is within the department delays many veterans' benefits. Again, a benefit delayed is a benefit denied.
The Legion recommended most of these recommendations. The ombudsman recommended these recommendations years ago. When is the government, once again, going to move on these recommendations so that all of us can help the people who serve our country so valiantly?

Julian Fantino Minister of Veterans Affairs
Mr. Speaker, the reality is that we have been moving all along over the last number of years to increase benefits for veterans and their families. Our government believes that veterans should have robust medical treatment and rehabilitation opportunities. Veterans who are seriously injured should be receiving significant financial benefits each month, in addition to retraining opportunities. All these things are at play, and have been. Our government supports these principles.
This week I call on all members to hold off on their politics and focus their energy on remembrance.

Peter introduced new bill proposing VIP for disabled RCMP
On October 27, Peter introduced a new bill in the House of Commons to establish a Veterans Independence program for disabled RCMP members. A copy of the bill is attached (C-633)
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS - moved for leave to introduce Bill C-633, An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act (veterans independence program). Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House today to introduce legislation to allow members of our RCMP who are retired, and their spouses, into the veterans independence program. Those in the military who are frail or who have an injury because of service can apply for the VIP, which allows them to stay in their homes longer by providing housekeeping and grounds keeping services. Unfortunately, for years we have tried to also allow this for disabled and infirmed RCMP veterans and their spouses, but have been unsuccessful. That is the purpose of this legislation. We believe that our RCMP veterans are equal to the heroes of our military and deserve equal access to a program of this nature. The VIP program is a very good program for our military. We would like to see it extended to RCMP veterans and their families. (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

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Sunday, November 2, 2014

New announcement: Canada’s first monument and park dedicated to wounded veterans opened Saturday

Canada's first monument and park dedicated to wounded veterans opened Saturday

Canada's first monument and park dedicated to wounded veterans and other uniformed personnel injured in the line of duty opened on Saturday in Whitby, Ontario.

More from the Canadian Press news article:

The "Park of Reflection," which aims to be a living tribute to survivors and the families who care for them, was designed by Daimian Boyne, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran who served in Bosnia.

"We pay wonderful tribute to those who have fallen in the line of duty but we have always forgotten those who have become ill and injured," Boyne said.

"(But) we see a new way of showing the ill and injured that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten."

An initiative of Wounded Warriors Canada, the park features amphitheatre seating overlooking a circular plaza with a labyrinth walking path and healing garden. A central sculpture depicts a first responder carrying a wounded comrade back to society. Tribute stones have been created to be inlaid in the pathway with the names of the ill and injured.

The aim is to provide a tranquil place that serves both as a tribute and as a place of calm and healing.

Dozens of uniformed personnel — military, police and firefighters — as well as veterans, spectators and dignitaries were on hand for the formal opening that featured the pomp and ceremony of a marching band, bagpipes and "The Last Post."

The hope is that the park will inspire other such parks in communities across Canada, said Derrick Gleed, vice-chairman of Wounded Warriors Canada.

Photos: Annual Poppy Campaign kick off (with video)

Boyne, who suffered severe post-traumatic stress, said it can be especially difficult for those with less obvious injuries, and it's often their families who are left to cope.

"Post-traumatic stress creates disharmony in a family unit, so this monument depicts a family, a community," Boyne said.

"When you look at it, you'll see dogs and cats and babies and people in wheelchairs because that is what a community is all about."

Cpl. David Macdonald, a member of the Royal Regiment of Canada who was injured during a combat tour in Afghanistan and later suffered a stress disorder, said the new facility was important to him.

When a soldier comes home battered and broken, Macdonald said, it's a long journey to recover. But society often fails to recognize the toll taken on those with invisible scars or injuries.

"When you ask about the war in Afghanistan, everyone knows the tally of the soldiers that were killed," he said.

"No one knows the number of the soldiers that were wounded."

While the park will serve as a reminder of the wounded living among us, Boyne said he hoped it would also become a place of laughter and joy, of community events and theatre, and so become a celebration of life.

In that way, he said, those who survived their service should find some solace.

"If we can make them realize that their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten, I honestly believe it's going to bring up their heart and soul and it's going to give them the courage to get back into the community again," Boyne said.

Source: Canada's first monument and park dedicated to wounded veterans opened Saturday

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

New announcement: Is the Canadian military’s universality of service policy fair?

Is the Canadian military's universality of service policy fair?

By David Pugliese

Defence Watch

NDP defence critic Jack Harris was trying Thursday to see if he could get Defence Minister Rob Nicholson to speak out about the fairness of the Canadian Forces universality of service policy. Harris noted that " the Canadian Forces ombudsman has called the universality of service rule for the Canadian military "arbitrary and unfair". Members across the country have also been saying that the rule makes it harder for them to come forward with mental health issues. They fear being discharged. The number of members who are being forced out for medical reasons before getting enough experience to receive a pension is large and growing. Does the minister still believe that it is a reasonable, fair and effective policy for the Canadian military?"

Nicholson fired back with talking points he has used before. "Our government has made significant investments in the whole area of mental health and reaching out to the men and women in uniform who are suffering from PTSD and other problems. This is why we have approximately 415 full-time medical health care workers. We have one of the highest ratios of mental health professionals for soldiers in NATO. We want to work with the men and women in uniform to make sure they get all the possible care that they need."

Pressed by another NDP MP, Nicholson went further but didn't give his opinion on universality of service.

"No member of the armed forces is let go until they are ready to move on," he explained. "This is why our service and the level of care that is provided by our armed forces is unprecedented. This is why this has continued to be a priority for our government. We want to reach out to those men and women in uniform and give them all the help they need."

Here is some more background material on this issue that I ran on Defence Watch on Oct. 14:

Almost a year after facing a barrage of bad publicity, National Defence is having another look at a policy that ended the careers of gravely injured soldiers who wanted to remain in uniform, Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press is reporting.

More from his article:

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson has told a House of Commons committee that a working group was set up last summer to study the military's universality of service rule, which has been used as a pretext to release wounded combat veterans, many of them with post-traumatic stress.

At stake is the delicate balance between an individual's desire to serve and the need for troops to be fit enough to deploy for operations both at home and abroad, Nicholson said in a seven-page letter to Commons defence committee.

"This working group is examining how the policy can be best applied to retain individuals who are willing and able to serve, while also ensuring the necessary availability of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel to perform their lawful military service," he said.

"Once this work is complete, the working group will provide recommendations to the chief of military personnel."

The defence committee conducted a study of care for ill and injured soldiers, and recommended last June that the policy be examined in light of complaints from soldiers who were summarily dismissed after pleading to remain.

Nicholson's response to the committee's overall report was quietly tabled in Parliament late last week.

He said the working group carrying out the study will also examine the impact of the policy on the military pension system. Many ex-soldiers told The Canadian Press last year that they were being released before they qualified for an unrestricted pension.

At the time, Nicholson told the Commons that no one was being forced out and that the department worked with every individual to prepare them for the transition to civilian life.

But he was contradicted by troops, who said despite the minister's assurances, they had been shown the door on a medical release even though they had begged to retrain for other jobs within the military.

Some were let go just shy of hitting the 10-year mark, when they would qualify for a fully-indexed pension. Prior to that, soldiers are only eligible for a return of their contributions.

Many said the medical release, especially with a PTSD designation, limited their career prospects in the civilian world.

Retired corporal David Hawkins, one of the soldiers who took on the government last year, said he was pleased to hear about the review, but wondered what took so long.

Hawkins said the policy needn't be completely overhauled. Instead, it should be made flexible enough to accommodate individuals, the way the military did following both world wars when the wounded, including amputees, were allowed to keep serving.

"There's always work and they don't have to go overseas," Hawkins said.

"We don't send 100 per cent of our people overseas at the same time. There's always people back home who have to do the administrative (work). When they say (the wounded) would be useless, that's untrue."

The threat of being kicked out is preventing some of his friends with post-traumatic stress from coming forward to seek treatment, he added.

That backs up observations from former military ombudsman Pierre Daigle, who warned that the inflexibility of the policy may actually be causing harm.

Given the exceptions made following previous, much larger wars, it's difficult to fathom why the policy is so strict and unforgiving, said NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

"There's a rigidity there that just seems unnecessary and they can't accept the fact that not everybody is necessary to be put into battle," he said.

Harris said he's skeptical the working group will actually recommend changes.

Source: Is the Canadian military's universality of service policy fair?

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