New veterans not entitled to Canada’s federal government’s healthcare facilities

‘This policy is a repudiation of the duty that Canada owes to its veterans in consideration of their duty to the nation,’ says retired colonel Michel Drapeau

By Robert Smol-THE HILL TIMES-April 16, 2007

Retired Canadian Navy lieutenant Louise Richard, a veteran who served as a field nurse in the first Gulf War, will soon be in a position where she will need help to care for herself.

Since her return from the Persian Gulf, Ms. Richard, 45, has been suffering from the effects of Gulf War Syndrome as well as combat-related stress disorder. Among the symptoms she has to deal with on a daily basis include debilitating lung, bone, muscle, back and gastro-intestinal problems, tuberculosis, incontinence, hair loss and more.

Last week, Ms. Richard was informed that she will have to undergo another bout of surgery.

“I live alone and I will not be able to take care of myself post-operatively for awhile,” she says.

Yet, unlike veterans of the Second World War and Korea, Ms. Richard and other young veterans are not entitled to access the services offered at any of Canada’s veteran healthcare facilities sponsored by the federal government. Facilities such as Perley Rideau in Ottawa continue to refuse to provide services to disabled veterans who served after the Korean War. Instead the policy of Veterans Affairs Canada is to direct younger veterans to existing health care facilities in their community.

“As military members and ex-military members we always assumed that our needs would be taken care of, ” says Ms. Richard. “I never realized that the real war would be against my own country and the bureaucracy; these days I have to fight the government for everything.”

Canada needs to do better, says retired colonel Michel Drapeau. “This policy is a repudiation of the duty that Canada owes to its veterans in consideration of their duty to the nation,” Mr. Drapeau who is currently working as a lawyer with Barrick Poulsen in Ottawa said. “Turning our backs on veterans, of old or recent vintage is a reprehensible and immoral act.”

Veterans Affairs, however, insists that younger veterans such as Ms. Richard would be better served in non-veteran healthcare facilities in their community.

“The programs that were developed in the facilities which have priority access beds are designed to support the needs of geriatric residents, who normally live there indefinitely,” says Janice Summerby spokesperson for Veterans Affairs. “In contrast, the younger disabled veterans often require programs designed to maximize their capabilities in support of their possible return to their home and community. Providing care to the younger veterans in a network of community facilities across the country allows them to remain in their own community, near their family, and have access to care that veterans’ priority access beds are not designed to provide.”

Yet for Ms. Richard, being deflected to existing provincial healthcare facilities simply will not be sufficient to meet the special needs that disabled veterans may have.

“I have been hospitalized in a community hospital and they don’t know how to deal with us, they don’t understand us, they don’t understand our needs and as soon as you say you have PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] they are afraid,” she says.

“PTSD and other disorders that are related to military service require a suite of expertise in order to deal with those ailments,” says Sean Bruyea, a former Canadian Air Force intelligence officer who is also suffering from a service-related disability. “So pawning us off on a civilian institution that may not necessarily have any expertise whatsoever in caring for military-related injuries sounds like a complete abandonment of their responsibility for the care, treatment and rehabilitation of all disabled veterans.”

Organized in response to the special needs of veterans the network of veteran healthcare facilities across the country provide a range of services including night respite program, bathing programs, health promotion program, as well as access to physical therapists, social work, dieticians, and occupational therapists. Among its clientele eligible for admission of such healthcare facilities are Second World War and Korean veterans including disabled veterans of allied militaries such as the United States. In addition, facilities such as Perley Rideau have begun opening their doors on a case by case basis to the spouses of disabled Second World War veterans.

“In my condominium there is a civilian lady who has never served and she has entitlement to the Perley and I don’t,” says Ms. Richard.

This is discrimination, Mr. Bruyea says. “The government is mandated to take care of the veteran no matter what age and this class system has got to stop because this is not what Canada is about,” says Mr. Bruyea. “It is a clear discrimination based on whether you served in World War II or not and it breeds a huge risk of distrust between the veteran and this government department that is mandated to care for us.”

Veterans Affairs is quick to point out that its policies are not carved in stone and are continually being reassessed.

“The department is currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the health services provided to veterans,” says Ms. Summerby. “Through this review, Veterans Affairs is committed to exploring options which may provide a greater flexibility and a wider range of options to meet the long-term care needs of all veterans and their families.”

For Ms. Richard she plans to approach Perley Rideau after her surgery and request that she receive post-operative care for her service-related disability.

“Veterans Affairs has to get a grip that the young veterans are here and they are not going away,” she says. “They have to stop focusing on dementia and geriatrics which they have been focusing on for years now.”

The Hill Times