The following article appeared in the Straight Goods online magazine. It says what all veterans’ advocates feel. BONNIE
Cuts to veterans’ services show Conservatives’ true colours.
Dateline: Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Among the most outrageous and surprising truths emerging about the Harper government is how poorly it treats Canada’s military personnel and veterans. The Conservatives frequently say “Support our troops,” but their government’s actions undermine Canadian Forces personnel and veterans to a shocking extent.
Across Canada, thousands of federal workers, including more than 1,500 PSAC members — about one eighth of the Department of National Defence (DND) work force — are being fired in the wake of the federal budget. “The positions are not back-office public service jobs but are core jobs to support the military in front offices,” said Union of National Defence Employees (UNDE) president John MacLennan.
Even before the cuts, emotionally-damaged war vets were neglected by an underfunded, poorly planned system.
Last week, it became clear that some of the DND staff being fired are suicide prevention and other mental health workers. Simultaneously, we learned about an internal report prepared by base staff at CFB Petawawa saying that mental health services are in crisis, with a “tsunami” of demand for services as Afghanistan veterans return home.
Most people don’t like to think about mental health. There’s still a stigma attached to it, and perhaps a perception that mental health problems affect a small minority of people. A lot of war veterans suffer from mental health problems, though.
War veterans are, mostly, young adults who risked everything for their country. While some sign up purely out of idealism, most Canadian Forces personnel come from Canada’s poorest communities, where soldiering is the only, or the best job available.
Civilians often talk about “stress,” but few of us can contemplate the reality of the stress that soldiers experience during war and combat. First-hand, frequent experience of mortal threats, injuries, friends’ deaths, atrocities and human rights abuses are a lot more stressful than, say, rush-hour on the freeway or doing your taxes.
Many returning soldiers come home a mess. In the USA, one in four people living on the streets is a veteran. Many or most have mental illnesses. The statistics for Canada are unknown, but Canadian Veterans Advocacy estimates that thousands of veterans are sleeping rough.
The Petawawa report, of which The Ottawa Citizen received a copy, is damning. It says emotionally-damaged war vets are being neglected by an underfunded, poorly planned system barely capable of basic care. Mentally ill, often-suicidal soldiers can wait four months or more for a professional.
And these were the conditions before this year’s federal budget cuts.
Last week came news that DND will shut down the Deployment Health Section of Canadian Forces Health Services Group. This unit monitors mental health and contributes to suicide prevention. The positions which have been declared expendable include the department’s most knowledgeable experts on monitoring of PTSD disorder rates and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (concussion).
DND also is cutting eight out of 18 epidemiologists and researchers who analyzed mental health outcomes such as depression, PTSD, mental health services, and suicide, according to the Professional Institute of the Public Service (PIPSC).
Meanwhile, the government is cutting nine Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) district offices across Canada. From now on, veterans with complex needs will have to call for help on the phone, go online, or travels for hours to get help. Many veterans already face lengthy delays and multiple appeals when they attempt to get help.
“If you’re a veteran with complex psychological problems, the phone and the Internet are not going to cut it,” NDP veterans’ affairs critic Peter Stoffer told Straight Goods News. “You need that face-to-face interaction with someone you can trust.”
Someone you can trust? That wouldn’t, apparently, be Stephen Harper’s federal government.
Week after week, this government presents the opposition and progressive Canadians of all stripes with fuel to fire backlash campaigns against the Conservative Party in its own heartland, such as making it impossible for poor people to retire, poisoning the fish, leaving soldiers and veterans hung out to dry… At some point, these toxic tailings seem bound to build up and poison election campaigns.
Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.