Ottawa cuts psychological treatment for returning Afghan soldiers based at Petawawa

The main entrance to Canadian Forces Base Peta...

The main entrance to Canadian Forces Base Petawawa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here we go again. More doublespeak from the feds while wounded veterans are left in the lurch. Wouldn’t you like to take the heartless politicians and bureaucrats making these ruthless decisions and drop them into the middle of Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan? They deserve to be left there with no back up. Bullies are usually cowards so one day would probably drive them into a state of PTSD. Oh, and let’s make sure each one receives a dose of the anti-malaria drug mefloquine so we can study whether Health Canada‘s estimate of those affected by adverse reactions is accurate. On the other hand, since they are heartless, maybe they are also brainless, so the drug might not affect them at all. Read on and be sick with disgust. BONNIE

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen By CHRIS COBB, The Ottawa Citizen May 17, 2012 8:02 PM

Loss of addictons counsellors potential crisis for CFB Petawawa brass

OTTAWA — CFB Petawawa’s two civilian addictions counsellors are leaving just two weeks after a damning internal clinicians report slammed the lack of mental health treatment for Afghan veterans, calling the situation ‘a crisis.’

The departures are a potential crisis for military brass who are struggling to staff a mental health clinic at the base as demand from returning veterans increases.

Alcohol and drug addiction is high among soldiers traumatized in combat and is a typical symptom in almost all cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In order to treat PTSD and other trauma-related mental illness, specialists need addictions brought under control.

The problem is exacerbated by the military’s refusal to reconsider closing a clinic at the National Defence Medical Centre on Smyth Road in Ottawa where two civilian psychologists currently work full time treating between 43 and 60 PTSD patients who travel from Petawawa.

At a hastily called news conference, Deputy Surgeon General Colonel Jean-Robert Bernier said the two Ottawa-based psychologists have both agreed to commute to Petawawa to treat patients.

But according to Citizen sources, the psychologists have only agreed to work at Petawawa two days a month.

Currently, the 6,000-member base has no psychologists and just one working psychiatrist, who is able to devote only a quarter of her time to treating patients because of other duties.

Because of Petawawa’s relative remoteness it has long had difficulties attracting civilian medical help — especially psychiatrists and psychologists.

“There is a shortage of mental health professionals Canada wide,” said Bernier. “We can offer a very competitive salary to physicians in general — mental health practitioners included — and we are in the market for those services.”

But in a later statement to the Citizen, DND said it remains “confident” that the closure of the Ottawa clinic will go ahead.

“Every effort is being made to ensure that an appropriate transfer of level of care occurs before the relocation on 1 July 2012,” said the statement.

According to a DND Health Services spokeswoman, the latest counsellor departures are “normal and our clinics are always prepared to deal with such circumstances.”

One civilian counsellor is married to a serving soldier who is being relocated and the second addictions counsellor resigned in March 2012.

“In both cases,” said the spokeswoman, “there is a plan to identify replacements as quickly as possible … and measures are in place to ensure that soldiers currently undergoing treatment and potential further cases continue to be looked after. The Base addictions team in Petawawa is well-positioned to handle its current case-load of soldiers undergoing treatment and has effective measures in place to ensure that there will be no gaps in addictions counselling.”

The clinicians report obtained two weeks ago by the Citizen described the Petawawa mental health system as poorly funded, devoid of forward planning, scrambling to provide even basic care and leaving mentally ill, often-suicidal soldiers waiting four months or more before a psychiatrist or psychologist is available to treat them.

“Our soldiers who fought for the freedom of children, mothers, fathers, grandchildren and all others in far away countries — are worthy of quality mental health services. They should not have to fight for services, or wait in the desert of their minds hoping help will come soon.”

The report urged DND not to close the Ottawa clinic until it can offer full service to soldiers at Petawawa.

“When the satellite clinic closes, the crisis will get worse,” the report said. “The waiting lists will get longer, the stressors on the remaining staff will increase. Who will lose? The soldiers.”

The report confirmed other information from Citizen sources that suicides and suicide attempts at the 6,000-soldier Petawawa base are increasing, and that in the two weeks from April 13, six soldiers in crisis had to receive emergency treatment.

But after this initial treatment, says the report, the resources do not exist to give timely extended care to those patients.

One soldier killed himself and two others attempted suicide in recent weeks. Reports also circulated this week of a recently retired veteran committing suicide.

DND will not comment on the suicide or attempted-suicide cases.

The Petawawa mental health system is broken, said the report, and only functioning as well as it is because of the dedication of counsellors and administrators who are working under increasingly stressful conditions.

“(They) take on extra cases because they know the person is suffering and in need of help. The downside of this is working extra hours without pay, or time in lieu, already adding to a stressed workload resulting in cumulative fatigue, burnout and the potential of spilling over into their personal lives. This also affects the quality of care the soldiers receive.”

The report was also critical of some commanders at the base for not taking PTSD and other battle-related mental issues seriously.

Lt.-Col. Sean Blundell, a family doctor and commanding officer with overall responsibility for health care at the Petawawa base, told the Citizen three weeks ago that the very sick get immediate treatment and those on a waiting list for a psychologist or psychiatrist are monitored within the medical system.

While base medical staff will do their best to accommodate the needs of all soldiers in treatment, said Blundell, there are no guarantees that some patients will not have to change doctors once the Ottawa clinic is closed.

Concerned families who have contacted the Citizen say breaking the relationships between soldiers and their mental health doctors could be devastating, especially for the many who had to wait months for treatment.

DND says the closing of the Ottawa satellite clinic is for the convenience of soldiers who do not want to travel to Ottawa for treatment and denied it was to cut costs.

“We are not resource-constrained from hiring,” he said. In three years, our first-line medical treatment here in Petawawa hasn’t changed. We are not under budgetary restraints.”

Blundell also rejected claims that commanders on the base are understanding of mental health issues, which are typically most prevalent among the lower ranks and especially so among soldiers who “clean up” after IED explosions.

“Most everyone on base has been to Afghanistan, so everyone understands,” he said. “The commanders are very supportive and can relate.”

But the clinicians report said the military has to re-think the way it handles mental health.

“A system in which things must build to a crisis in order for change to happen is based on a world view that is static and attempts to avoid change,” it says. “These wounded warriors are worthy and needing quality services.”

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About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, federal government, Homecoming Vets, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, social workers, suicide, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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