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Messages - Sylvain Chartrand CD

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Ottawa promises to overhaul mental-health services for military

Les Perreaux AND Renata D’Aliesio

MONTREAL and TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 9:26PM EST

Last updated Friday, Nov. 18, 2016 10:49AM EST


A year Ago: Defence Minister vows to prioritize mental health of soldiers at every stage

This article is part of The Unremembered, a Globe and Mail investigation into soldiers and veterans who died by suicide after deployment during the Afghanistan mission.

The mental-health system for treating military personnel and veterans will undergo a sweeping overhaul to better care for them from boot camp through their retirement years, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has revealed.

Top-ranking officials in Defence and Veterans Affairs are looking at “creating a new structure that’s going to not just look after the veteran at the end but start with keeping our soldiers healthy when they’re in the military,” Mr. Sajjan said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

The minister was not prepared to go into detail on what the overhaul will look like, but he did say he hopes to have a detailed plan in place in 2017. The Trudeau government promised a joint suicide-prevention strategy for veterans and soldiers when it came to office last year after a Globe investigation revealed 54 Afghanistan war vets took their own lives. That toll is now up to 71.

Read more: Remembering 31 Canadian Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide

Read more: Suicide toll reveals how system failed Canada's soldiers and veterans

Critics have long complained of a major gap in services between the Canadian Armed Forces and civilian life where veterans mainly rely on patchwork provincial systems and where Veterans Affairs falls out of contact with the majority of retired soldiers. Many soldiers and veterans have also criticized the slow pace of reform.

A Globe investigation this month into 31 of the 71 confirmed suicide cases of soldiers who served in Afghanistan shed new light on some of those failings. Their families reported incomplete screening, delayed care, ineffective treatment and insufficient support. Most soldiers also expressed dread at the prospect of leaving the military before they died. The 31 accounts are the most comprehensive public record of Canada’s Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide.

About 27 per cent of veterans face financial, employment, mental or physical health issues when they leave the Canadian Armed Forces, according to Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr. “We are setting up our department to chip away at that number by giving them a road map when they leave the Canadian Armed Forces to find their new normal,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Hehr doesn’t see the creation of any new structure from his side, however, suggesting a more gradual approach boosting Veterans Affairs involvement when military personnel depart the armed forces. “We’ll work with existing structures to have a real closing of the seams,” he said.

Mr. Sajjan seems intent on a bolder plan, including a long-awaited overhaul of the Joint Personnel Support Unit that was established in 2008 and was meant to help soldiers recover from physical and psychological wounds and ease transition out of the military.

Many former soldiers and their families describe it as little more than a way stop on their way out. The recent Globe investigation showed eight of 31 suicide cases were attached to JPSUs. On Nov. 12, a ninth soldier whose last post was at the JPSU killed himself, the Globe has confirmed.

“I would not call it a failure,” Mr. Sajjan said. “When it was created it met the need it was trying to meet. But it needs to evolve. We’re looking at the entire system and how the JPSU is structured is going to be part of it.”

Retired sergeant-major Barry Westholm, who quit the Eastern Ontario JPSU and the Forces in 2013 because of chronic staffing shortages and insufficient training, said reviews of the unit are taking too long and no tangible improvements have yet been made, despite repeated pledges to fix the broken soldier-support system. He noted long-standing problems at the JPSU have caused a lot of heartache.

“They’re releasing these poor people in terrible states knowingly and causing, I believe, ultimately suicides,” said Mr. Westholm, who was a founding member of the JPSU. He joined the casualty support unit in 2009 because he believed in the concept and wanted to help battered soldiers returning from Afghanistan. He still believes in the JPSU, but said significant improvements are desperately needed to help ill and wounded military members.

“We knew in short order the troubles that the unit faced,” said Mr. Westholm, who spoke about the JPSU before the Veterans Affairs Committee this past May. “We knew by 2010 we were in trouble. And the entire time, between now and then, it’s been the same. No change. They have just been dragging their feet, for whatever reason. I would really love to know the reason.”

Both ministers insisted they feel a sense of urgency to fill cracks in the system between military and civilian life. Mr. Hehr would like to reinforce new initiatives such as including Veterans Affairs staff in the military release process and conducting exit interviews with soldiers.

Mr. Sajjan, a former soldier who served three times in Afghanistan, suggests more expansive measures.

A wounded soldier “leaves and then goes on to Veterans Affairs to deal with the file and [the veteran] has to convince Veterans Affairs of what actually happened,” Mr. Sajjan said.

“That piece is going to be sorted out. … It can’t just be remaking the way the system was.”

If you would like your relative included in the commemoration project of Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide, please e-mail


This is an account of what happened very recently to one particular patient/Veteran  at Ste. Anne's Hospital,  reflecting upon the post -transfer diminution and deterioration in level of care, such as he had never before experienced during his years there as a resident Veteran, now that. the facility has been taken over under the aegis of Quebec.

The first incident occurred when, after the patient had a bowel movement while in bed, and a team of one orderly and one nurse were despatched to clean him up, the orderly accidentally smeared part of the bed sheet with the feces,  and then hastened to attempt to wipe it off.  When the patient, who was unable to see all of what was happening, inquired as to what was being done, the nurse replied that it was only some water that had spilled onto the sheet, and they were trying to rub it dry.  But as the orderly kept on scrubbing, the patient then continued to quiz her,  until she finally admitted that the sheet was indeed soiled,  and she was trying to clean it off. When the patient then asked for a fresh sheet instead, the nurse demurred, saying "It will be OK this way, you don't need a new sheet, it's only a wet patch", until the patient adamantly refused to accept the dirtied sheet, and she finally acceded to his request.
.....Hardly conducive to the patient's health and welfare.

The second sign of the "New (dis)Order" took place when a nurse arrived  one morning to draw blood from  the patient's finger for a diabetes test.  At that moment, the patient observed and protested that the nurse was not wearing prophylactic gloves throughout the entire procedure, to which she dismissively responded " Don't worry, it's perfectly allright, that's not necessary... I never wear gloves for this", and she continued in that manner until she had finished, leaving behind her, on the patient's bedside food table, the used needle and torn wrapper of  the gauze patch (which the patient had to request). When the patient noted that she must have come to his room, with her tray of equipment, after having first similarly attended, without wearing gloves, to a number of other patients needing blood tests, the nurse merely shrugged it off.
.....Does not augur well for the patient's peace of mind and/or sense of security re the state of sanitization prevailing on the premises.

The third and final factor in this trifecta of troubles,  surfaced when the patient developed an infection in one finger and, after it persisted for several days, asked to have the assigned Doctor  examine and treat what had become an increasingly swollen, discoloured  and painful condition. While that day was not on the once-weekly(!)  schedule for the Doctor to visit the patient's  floor, nevertheless the nurse tried to reach out , only to find the Dr. was not responding to being paged.  She then contacted the "duty Dr.",only to be informed that the latter was too busy with more major emergencies affecting the many newly arrived "civilian" patients, and the Veteran, would have to wait until his assigned Dr. would be available, whenever that might be.
.....Certainly no cause for confidence in the degree of medical attention available.
[ As a possibly pertinent aside, one cannot help but wonder whether the second and third episodes described above, are merely coincidental, or causally related , as it was the same finger on both occasions ].

While not necessarily matters of "life and death", these instances are clearly symptomatic of the downward spiral of care, attention and attitudes on the part of all levels of staff, in whose hands the patient is, even now, beginning to lose confidence and faith, with mounting concern for his future fate (and that of his fellow-Veterans), subject to increasing Provincial protocols, coupled with faltering Federal follow-up.
.....More than enough to create constant concern about what further failings await  him down the rough and rutted road, yet to be travelled by this (undersigned) patient, namely MYSELF !

 Fortunately for me,   I can cope, more rather than less, with situations like those recounted above, because I am still sufficiently alert, aware, articulate and argumentative to protest against any improper treatment, and insist that my rights be respected.  BUT, I am deeply disturbed by the prospect of similar or equivalent shoddy and unacceptable conduct affecting those many other Veterans,  whose handicaps render them unable to speak at all, or whose temerity and fear of reprisals prevent them from speaking up for themselves. Someone must shield them from harm and protect their rights from being trampled and torn  to tatters.  They certainly cannot rely on the Province-appointed Ombudsman  (in name only), who has already demonstrated her unyielding rigidity in treating with none but the most completely documented, witnessed and otherwise totally validated individual cases, and then only if submitted by the actual complainant, and not by an "outside party" acting on his/her behalf. As a consequence, her "services", such as they are, are being shunned by numbers of  family members,  who are up in arms over the treatment of their beloved, but buffeted Veterans.

That leaves only Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), as the last haven  of hope for the protection and preservation of the promised calibre of care, for the fast decreasing number of Veterans still surviving (but not thriving) at Ste. Anne's Hospital. That being the case, just where is VAC, when it is most needed ?  Could its people be too busy calculating and collecting staff bonuses for their acclaimed  achievements in cost-cutting, at the cost of cutting care for the Veterans, who are the one and only reason for VAC's tenured positions and sated salaries.

Whatever happened to the repeated , respected and regarded rallying cries of......

                                         "LEST WE FORGET"
                                       "LEAVE NO VET BEHIND"

Have those once- resounding declarations of devotion and dedication become mere pathetic,old and sad  slogans, to be mealy mouthed, as a once-a-year Remembrance Day routine refrain ?
Or will Veterans Affairs Canada live up to its name, and finally fulfil its function, which is to  do right by Its Veterans at Ste. Anne's Hospital, instead of abandoning them, like unwanted orphans, on the cold, forbidding steps of Quebec's complex  of  one-size-fits-all geriatric garages....Eh ?

 Lieut.(Ret'd) wolf William Solkin
 Ste. Anne's Hospital
 Ste.. Anne de Bellevue

Ste. Anne's Hospital...ref Mr. Marcel Beluse ,"A TALE OF TWO CITIES" (OTTAWA &QUEBEC)

To Whom It May Concern....and sure as hell it should concern anyone who is at all concerned about the continuing  welfare of the hundreds of helpless Veterans still surviving (but hardly thriving) at Ste. Anne's Hospital, following the April Fool's Day transfer of that once-fine facility to the ministrations of La Belle  Province.

Hereunder, you will (I trust) be  (dis)pleased to find a verbatim copy  of a no-laughing -matter letter recently received from Ms Micheline Beluse, the devoted but disillusioned daughter of a Veteran on my floor, disappointed and despairing of the current care and treatment being tendered to her frail and ailing father.

It is my contention, and that of Micheline and a plentitude of other persons partial to the better interests of our vulnerable (albeit not always venerable) Veterans, that the promised prior level of care is not being accorded to them, in accordance with the underlying terms of the Transfer Agreement, which are being blatantly broken and breached  at turn after turn, day after day.

Such palpable violations are manifested  and exemplified in the poignant and pathetic letter below, presented as it is, for what it is, and representing but one voice on behalf of just one of the many other Veterans who are subject to similar egregious experiences, which are all too often, for reasons of feared retaliation, not voiced with volition.

It is my fervent plea--and hope-- that the elements so expounded and exposed in Ms Beluse's  compelling communication,  will be considered and corrected by the Transition Committee, not just as specific situations,  but as symptoms of the overall and underlying primary problems permeating Ste.  Anne's Hospital as we know it today  Those dire and destructive
"TEN PLAGUES" , from which most of the ills besetting the patients infiltrate into their daily life routines, lie  embedded within the faults  and flaws to be found in the new nature of, and Provincial personnel protocols pertaining to  and/or producing, the following :.....


Now, "cut & paste", or superimpose that plethora of problems upon the proper level of care pledged to our Veterans, and, inevitably, those negatives will produce a picture of pure chaos, consternation, confusion  and concern affecting the patients, in place of the constant core of comfort , contentment and confidence which prevailed in the pre-Provincial period.

Unless and until principal personnel policy  and procedural changes are promptly and positively designed and implemented by the Transition Committee, fully reinforced by "the full faith and credit" of  Veterans Affairs Canada, the   disease duo  of decline  and deterioration will spread and infect the few, final years left to the final, few Veterans still left, b seeking sanctuary and shelter, in the dwindling  shadow of Ste. Anne's Hospital, originally intended to serve as their penultimate place of peace and rest, not trauma and turmoil.

Having pronounced my preamble, I will now clear the way for Ms Micheline Beluse to present her compelling case, on behalf of her father and his fellow-Veterans.


Wolf Solkin
Ste. Anne's Hospital


July 13 2016

Hello, Mr. Solkin
This follows the discussion we had last week and I thank you for your help and patience.

On Monday I went to my father’s closet to get him a clean shirt and found that the ones we had put in the wash more than 2 weeks ago had not been returned. I then went to the sock and underwear drawer and found that Dad had not been putting his underwear in the wash. I looked at the socks…I had been wondering why he was washing them himself and found that most of the socks I had bought him were gone. I asked Paul the attendant on Dad’s floor and Gercia the nurse about this and they both said that the people who pick up the bags for the wash don’t sort out what is taken care of at Ste-Anne and the pieces such as facecloths, towels and sheets that are being sent out to an independent facility. The result is that clothes disappear. The independent facility does not return the residents’ clothing despite the fact everything is clearly identified with name, floor, Ste-Anne Hospital. I asked what was being done since I don’t seem to be the first family member to be confused about this…and they had no idea. All they could tell me is that the staff is constantly reminded not to send out the personal clothing but the constant rotation I now have to go buy Dad new clothes, trust that they will be properly identified and returned…but I have my doubts. My Dad is now paranoid about changing his clothes…

I have noticed that there is a change in the quality of the food that is fed to the residents. I thought it was just me so I asked the other residents if they had noticed anything as well. Yes they had. As an example, I was with Dad at lunchtime and he had a sandwich, fruit, milk and tea. I was sure dinner would be more copious and better balanced. In fact dinner was a very small helping of baked beans, fries, ketchup and a desert. The residents are not complaining and I asked why…the answer was they are afraid of reprisals and the people attending meals can’t do anything about replacing a meal that is not satisfactory. I am perplexed. The dietician in charge of our unit is Monica, very devoted and attentive to the residents. She is present at almost every lunch time but appears to be unable to control what comes up from the kitchens… In the past the meals were served at a fixed time…on the dot. Now the meals can be up to an hour late. In the past if a resident was unable to eat the food or found it unpalatable or was dissatisfied, a substitute was provided. This no longer happens. The meal is the meal, like it or leave it. I have asked Dad to keep the meal slips for me so that I can see what he is fed since I am not present at all sittings.

I have to say that the food at the cafeteria is not what it used to be either…but I am not a resident and have a choice to go elsewhere. The Veterans don’t.
On the subject: One of Dad’s little joys is his daily can of Pepsi. I got a call from Monica last week and she was upset. Apparently the contractor has been changed and only Coke is being served now. Dad got really upset with Monica who can do little about it. She asked me could I please run by the store and bring him some to keep him happy. I did. What I don’t understand is that the little snack bar in the atrium doesn’t seem to have a problem getting soft drinks but the hospital does.

We now seem to have won the war of toilet paper penury. To palliate I have brought in extras that I put in the night table by Dad’s bed. It only took a little over a month to convince the staff in charge of sanitation that a person in a wheelchair and who is on stool softeners cannot access the extra rolls set on top of the paper towel dispenser. A little over a month and a few trips to Walmart.  M

The facecloths and towels are not regularly furnished or replaced. The result is that Dad may have to use the same facecloth and towel for several days…they get to have an unpleasant odor.

We now have a problem with the designated ‘family room’. When Dad was admitted and the Federal Government was in charge of Ste-Anne the current situation did not exist. As a family member I am restricted to the use of the bathroom in that room. I cannot use the resident’s facilities…none of them. Now I find that if I need to go to the bathroom, there is likely a staff member there and I have to wait my turn. The staff also uses the room for naps and snacks. Last week I had to ask permission to go use the staff bathroom as the family room’s was occupied but the staff’s wasn’t. From October to April this did not happen once.  With personnel cuts this should not happen. The attendants I know say that either they use the family room facilities or have to wait for the relief person to come and take over while they run to the staff bathroom. 

The family room runs out of soap on a regular basis as does the large resident bathroom in the hallway. I spoke to Simon Leblanc about all this. Nothing has changed.

I have asked to meet with Dr. Richer who has now taken over Dad’s care. I hope to see her at the upcoming interdisciplinary meeting on the 22nd. That I know of, there have been no full checkups or bloodwork done on Dad since the takeover. He has gained a lot of weigh and I am concerned. The nurses have put notes in his record. He has also complained about dry eyes and now I’m waiting to see if anything is being done about this. Catching up with the nurse on duty is not always easy.

There have been three incidences of nigh orderlies (or nurses, hard to tell) coming into Dad’s room around 4 A.M. to take blood pressure. Waking an older gentleman at that hour is bad enough but what puts him in a fury is that these ‘équipe volante’ persist in putting the sides up on his bed. This happened again last week. Dad was furious and the head nurse on duty had to be called in. Dad considers putting up the sides of his bed unnecessary and entering to his room without prior advice or knocking an invasion of privacy. This is his home and in his home he sleeps in the buff and goes to the bathroom at least twice in the nighthhb…he doesn’t want to hit his head on the metal sides either. The relief people do not read the notes.  Fortunately they have stopped trying to take his hearing aids away.

I bought batteries for Dad’s hearing aids since the nurses’ cabinet didn’t have more than 2. I was told that all Dad needed to do was go down to the clinic and ask for some. Dad has no idea how to do this and telling him is useless. He has short term memory loss and gets easily disorientated. I will do this for him now. This never happened before the takeover.

In April, Dad’s eyeglass frames had to be repaired and the attendant took them to the clinic. The clinic warned that unfortunately the frames were old and couldn’t be repaired again: he needed new glasses. On the 19th Nurse Gercia called for an ophthalmology consult. This was refused because Dad had cancelled his appointment in December while under the influence of a powerful drug administered by the hospital. We were told he would only be seen next December. I had to argue and argue and finally got an appointment on the 19th of June and the glasses are being ordered. If the frames had broken my Dad would have been both hard of hearing and unable to get around…he would have been blind as well.

In April, Dad’s wheelchair seat was so soiled that it had become malodorous. I asked that it be cleaned and the request was made. And refused. Apparently this is only done once a year and it wasn’t his turn. It was the attendant Paul who went downstairs and did the cleaning himself. Two attendants are still here from the old set: Paul and Julie. We are very grateful for this.

In May, one of the other residents got very belligerent and threatened Dad. He was alarmed and so was I. I had seen that man wheel himself into another resident’s room and pick a fight. The attending nurse had run down the hallway at the ruckus and hurriedly wheeled the man away to his room. Neither Dad nor I knew whether the man was able to cause damage. Both Adrienne and I talked to the head nurse to express our concerned and the whole matter was pretty much dismissed until we said the next time we would have Dad call the police…this was scoffed at as the police could do nothing. We pointed out that at least there would be a record of the event and if things turned ugly the hospital would be held responsible. The situation has not re-occurred and the resident is now nowhere near my father.

All and all, Mr. Solkin, things are more and more difficult since the takeover. It seems like a whole lot of little problems and some serious ones are forcing me to have boots on the ground and eyes all around which did not happen under the old regime. I had complete confidence in the care and attention to detail. My Dad was safe and well taken care of. If I had a problem, I would speak to the nurse and she would refer me to the proper department…case solved.  Now, I never know what next and I find Dad becoming more irascible as obstacles pile up.

Thanks again for your attention and help

Micheline Beluse, Marcel Beluse’s daughter


One day, earlier this week, I decided to keep a mini-journal of my experiences, "for the record". The day began like most other days (since we were handed. over by The Government of Canada to that of Quebec), with breakfast being served almost one hour later than should be the case, because of insufficient staff. This, in turn, caused delays and even cancellations of other scheduled appointments and activities further on, with consequent consternation and confusion for me and, especially, some of my more fragile fellow-Vets.

Next to arrive , was a new-ish nurse with my medications, and for the third time in as many weeks,  I found that (the same) med was missing, and had to bring that to the nurse's attention, as she had apparently not had enough  time or training to thoroughly check my dosage dossier.
It was no big deal for me, because I am, fortunately, still adequately alert and reasonably vocal enough,  to rectify such a situation in timely fashion....but what of those of my comrades who may not be quite as cognizant, attentive and verbal as I ?

Then came a lone orderly,   new to me, but with one month on the job, well-spoken (albeit in French only), who was sufficiently self-conscious of her lack of experience, to ask me what I needed done, to prepare me for the day. That was reasonably acceptable to me***, rather than, as has been too often the case with other "new"orderlies, to have them burst in like the proverbial bull in a china-shop, leaving  complete chaos  in their wake.  But again, how are similar situations being handled by some of my buddies who neither understand nor speak French, even as fractured as mine ?  How can they possibly communicate their needs and routines to a unilingual,  novice nurse or orderly, especially if they are too challenged or fearful to be able to express their wants, let alone object to their treatment, in whatever language ?
***[Notwithstanding, I must confess to an increasing weariness on my part with having to deal,  every damnable day, with so many floor personnel who are still using training wheels, and are only truly qualified for a  "Learner's license". I didn't sign on to be their teacher/supervisor !].

Following that, with a blood pressure machine in tow, there arrived an "old guard " nurse who, while normally on nights, was today (yet again) called in for special day shift duty, to fill another one in the seemingly ceaseless stream of short-of-staff spots. Her major complaints centred on the  incessant, continuing conditions compelling  her, and her colleagues and orderlies, to be constantly changing wings and floors, as well as shifts, causing the employees to have a sinking  sense of instability, compounded by  irritability, further resulting in riding roughshod over her patients, exacerbating their existing timidity and insecurity, fueled by  their inherent fear of the unfamiliar and the unexpected.

She has, as indeed I have from the outset, placed the blame for the current  crisis in the staff situation upon the Province's deliberate policy of replacing virtually every one of the previous (Federal) full-time nurse and orderly positions with two half-time jobs . It is said by some apologists that Quebec's reason for this major change in our staff structure, was to achieve greater efficiency, but the consensus among those in the line of fire, is that the true motive was to save mounds of money, by not having the obligation to contribute to pensions, sick leave pay, paid vacations and other pricey "perks" mandated for full-time personnel. That may be so, superficially, but the negative result is that too many employees, now hired for only two or three shifts per week, and thus unable to provide for their basic needs, are compelled to seek a second job elsewhere. As a consequence, they are usually unavailable when called in to replace "no-shows", leaving yawning gaps in service and causing inevitable collateral damage to the high level of service publicly pledged  to me and my housemates, by Veterans Affairs Canada.

As well, these part-timers,primarily new hires,  inevitably develop little or no loyalty toward Ste. Anne's or its patients, as they fast come to consider this as "just another job".  Moreover,  since they are treated and referred to more as numbers, rather than by name, they tend, in turn, to treat me and my band of brothers more with indifference, than within a  common culture of care and compassion,  which previously existed.  It may indeed  be , that  "What happens in Vegas , stays in Vegas", but it is equally true that WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR STAFF, STAYS WITH OUR VETERANS, as one is the inseparable, interdependent Yin to the Yang of the other.

My next visitor was a third and highly qualified, experienced nurse, who bemoaned the frustrating fact that her shift, which normally called for five orderlies, was short-changed by having only three report for duty, ( for a 40% staff shortage !),  creating a far heavier work load for her than normal, amid the additional frenzied preparations obliging  all the employees  (but one),  to leave the floor for duty at  the monthly "Community Luncheon" in the auditorium. She shared  with me that she has for so long been upset by, and  "sick and tired"of the current, ongoing dreadful  state of affairs, with its negative impact upon her work and added stress upon her well-being, that she is very seriously considering quitting her job, much as she would hate the thought of "abandoning my Veterans" after so many years in their service. But she feels that her ongoing fatigue and irritability could cause her to make mistakes, be short-tempered with her staff and patients, and lose focus just when she might need it most.  All to the detriment of her cherished charges.

My next notable encounter was with my new Doctor, in whom I have every confidence as a competent and caring professional.  Her major drawback, however. Is the new (Provincial) protocol, which makes her available to me, or any one patient on any given floor, only one day per week,( barring an exigent emergency),  rather than much more often, as was the practise in the past.  The disadvantages to me, and my confreres, of such a restricted regimen , is self-evident.

The last "event" of the day, was the full-cycle  appearance on the scene of still one more, fresh-of-face and  noticeably nervous new orderly, assigned to prepare  me for sleep, who almost laughably queried, "What should I do, sir?".... The only part of that question that I did not bristle at, was the nostalgically satisfying  sound of "sir".

Over the course of just this one day, I was subject to a full range of the root circumstances and experiences encompassing the basic ills besetting me and my beleaguered brothers and sisters, in what is being publicly, but improperly,  proclaimed as a successful and "seamless transition".  We are facing the onslaught of our very own,  non-Biblical, version of "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse : Staff Standards, Staff Training, Staff Shortages and Shifts, and Staff Performance, to which I would dare add yet a fifth and sixth "riders", namely, lower   Staff Values,  and severe Staff Malaise.
I have treated with these plagues  before, but like the self-same Bible, it bears reviewing daily.

These actual  incidents encompass my litany of the acts and facts contributing to and culminating in the veritable violation of those specific  terms of the Transfer Agreement, which were designed to guarantee my/our rights to a continued, undiluted, undegraded level/standard of care at Ste. Anne's Hospital.

Sad to say , my  typical day is a clear  manifestation of that failure, and I unhesitatingly forecast that conditions will continue to deteriorate, failing drastic intervention by our erstwhile guardians at Veterans Affairs Canadami, as time "progresses", and as increasing numbers of civilian patients are transferred here, from other Provincial facilities, to fill all four of our empty floors.

By then, the (in)famous Transfer Agreement, might just as well have been writ in invisible ink, which can only be brought to life again by the might and ministrations of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs.

So fasten your seat belts, Ladies and Gentlemen, it's going to be a bumpy ride !


Wolf William Solkin
Ste. Anne's Hospital


Hi, Michel:  as a precursor to your meeting of the Transition Committee, come June 14th, I had an unexpected and fortuitous visit to my HQ, just yesterday, from a very fine, but palpably  perturbed lady, Micheline Beluse, whose father, is a WW II Veteran here at the transferred (and transformed) Ste. Anne's Hospital.

Ms. Beluse  had inquired about whom she should approach for assistance, and was referred to me , rather than to the Residents' Committee or the Ombudsman, as an advocate with possible influence and some integrity. After she had recounted her story, I requested that she commit the gist of it to writing, so that I could vouch for its validity, if challenged.  What follows  is a verbatim, true transcription of the brief letter she willingly penned, in my presence :

"10 June 2016
Went to visit my Dad,Marcel Beluse, at lunch time on Tuesday, and two of the residents complained that their lunch (the meat) was inedible. They were quite vocal about it in French and English - no offer to replace the meal was made***.  The meal was already 45 minutes late, and one of the residents had left the (dining) room having lost his appetite. As I was leaving one of the two residents approached me and said--'WILL YOU SPEAK FOR US, PLEASE ?  WE NO LONGER HAVE A VOICE',  This was the most distressing thing I have ever heard. The poor man was distraught and was pleading with me. He also said they were afraid to say anything".

(Sgd.) Micheline Beluse
***[such an offer is supposed to be, and previously was, standard practise].

There is little or nothing I could possibly add to this absolutely angering and terribly tragic exposure of the innermost feelings of serious  sadness and hopelessness,  pervading among far too many of our hapless Veterans.

It gives me  no satisfaction whatsoever to know that I had correctly anticipated and announced such an outcome, among others, following the by-now legendary but, I trust, discredited "seamless transition".  The only satisfaction I could ever possibly derive from such a scenario, would come, if that day ever arrives, when I can, happily and gratefully. no longer deem it necessary to publicly air similar sorrowful stories, and devote my iPad to "the good stuff", instead of inspiring only tears and fears.

I need now take the liberty, on my own behalf and that of many other of my fellow- Veterans at Ste. Anne's, to express heartfelt thanks to Ms. Micheline Beluse, for her courageous initiative and strength of purpose in standing up, publicly, to safeguard the rights of her father and his companionate Veterans, (myself proudly included), currently "confined to barracks", for the duration.


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Stephen Hannam never held a dying military buddy in his arms. A nearby improvised explosive device going off didn’t cause it either.

© Carl Rose Photo

Garnish resident Stephen Hannam, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. The mental illness can affect anyone who has witnessed traumatic events, he said.

As many think is usually the case, there is no one incident he can point to that led to him developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Rather, the retired soldier says it was an accumulation of smaller events, like a bucket filling up and eventually overflowing.

Hannam, who lives in Garnish and grew up in Swift Current, served in the Canadian Armed Forces – both the Navy and Army branches – for roughly 20 years. He counts tours to Haiti and Afghanistan among his missions.

“I’m pretty good now. I’m pretty stable. I don’t do crowds well. I keep to myself a lot,” he said.

At the illness’s height, though, Hannam said he “wasn’t fit to talk to.” He was angry and confused.

“I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” he said.

 ‘Skin and bones’

Hannam recalled one mission to the Persian Gulf while he was in the Navy. His ship came across a small boat. The two men inside had obviously been at sea for an extended time.

“Skin and bones,” he said.

Hannam thought they were dead. He and another soldier were tasked to move the men. When he grabbed one of them, the man suddenly gasped for air. It shocked Hannam, who said it was all he could do to keep from falling over. The two men were airlifted to a hospital in Iran.

“To this day, I couldn’t tell you if they made it or not,” he said.

But the traumatic events weren’t necessarily all bad. There were good outcomes, too. Like the time he helped rescue some 66 people off the coast of Haiti who were trying to float to Florida, for instance. Their small boat could fit perhaps 10 people comfortably, he said.


Hannam said he was fortunate he was still in the military when he was diagnosed. It’s harder for those who have already left, he said.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong. I wasn’t sleeping. Easily agitated, easily agitated. You could lose it on a drop of a hat and you wouldn’t know why,” he said.

Hannam didn’t know much about PTSD then. He began seeing a psychologist weekly and, over time, has worked through the major issues.

When he first left the military and moved back to Newfoundland, however, Hannam was still struggling. He felt like he had no purpose in life.

“There was no reason to get up in the morning, and I was still pretty deep in depression. And I still had suicidal thoughts and stuff,” he said.

He still has someone he talks to, but now he’s only dealing with residual “stuff.” Woodworking and volunteering serves as an outlet and keeps him busy, he said.

“To not do anything is not healthy at all,” Hannam said.

 Legion hosting vigil

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 29 in Burin is hosting its first candlelight vigil in memory of those who lost their battle with PTSD Wednesday evening at the cenotaph in Marystown.

All residents of the region and community groups are invited to the event.

Hannam, a member of the Burin legion and district commander for legions on the Burin Peninsula and in the Clarenville area, said anyone can suffer from PTSD, not just people who served in the military.

RCMP officers, first responders, even everyday people who stumble upon gruesome accident scenes or similar unexpected, traumatic events are susceptible, he said.

Hannam said he’s met six or seven individuals in the last couple of months alone who are battling PTSD.

Along with raising awareness of the illness with the vigil, the legion is hoping to do more for those who may be suffering in silence.

“I think it’s time that the Burin Peninsula had a support group,” Hannam said.

Did you know? The Veteran Family Program is a four-year pilot that extends the Military Family Services Program to medically-released Veterans and their families for a period of two years from release.

More Information:…/VeteranF…/EN/Pages/default.aspx

During the Veterans’ Stakeholder Summit held in Ottawa on May 9 and 10, Minister Hehr announced broad consultations and the return of the Department’s Veteran satisfaction survey.

Ongoing consultations with Canadians and Veterans, the “Have Your Say” online feedback tool and the return of the Department’s Veteran satisfaction survey will provide Veterans with a direct line to offer feedback to VAC.

More information:

Have you built your My VAC Book?

My VAC Book is designed to help you learn about the services and benefits that may be available to you or your family.

More Information:

Downsizing at Department of Veterans Affairs Charlottetown?

    Published on April 28, 2016

© Guardian file photo

Department of Veterans Affairs

A few weeks ago, The Guardian published an editorial asking why many senior level management jobs at Veterans Affairs headquarters in Charlottetown are apparently being filled by people in Ottawa. It's curious the department hasn't responded, nor has an inquiry with VAC communications been answered. We can only conclude that senior level jobs are in fact moving to Ottawa.

Kent Hehr, the new minister of Veterans Affairs, and all of his senior level team recently assembled in Charlottetown for meetings. Neither the minister nor any of his senior staff made any public appearances while on P.E.I.

Why the secrecy? Why was there no public comment by Mr. Hehr about the future of Veterans Affairs? Why was there no effort to allay fears being raised about downsizing? Was there a meeting with our premier, city mayor or MPs to reinforce that all is well at VAC? Why did the minister avoid media questions?

Maybe there is a reason. It appears that Mr. Hehr and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recently entered into an agreement to dismantle the VAC stand-alone, legal services unit - in existence since the department was formed. It appears they agreed to transfer responsibility for providing VAC legal services to a federal department in Ottawa - Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

A Guardian inquiry on this transfer has gone unanswered. New lawyers from Ottawa are taking calls and attending meetings that used to be handled by lawyers working in Charlottetown. Two senior lawyer positions at VAC are now held by lawyers who live and work in Ottawa.

The trend seems clear. First, senior management jobs quietly migrate to Ottawa; then IT Services and the entire HR division are relocated to Miramichi, N.B.; and now legal services is dismantled. The era of blaming the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper is over. The deserving finger is being pointed at the new Liberal government and Mr. Hehr.

The type of law that lawyers at ESDC practice is quite different from what Veterans Affairs lawyers would practice. Does this change in dealing with veterans and VAC legal issues mean they will be handled like EI claims - very litigious and aggressive?

Why would Mr. Hehr agree to surrender in-house legal services to ESDC, that serves more than a dozen other federal departments and has an unknown skill set for the needs of veterans. Did the two ministers inform fellow cabinet minister Lawrence MacAulay? Or the justice minister's own parliamentary secretary Sean Casey, the MP for Charlottetown?

Three major VAC units have been taken over by ESDC, which is responsible for paying benefits, Employment Insurance, Age Security, CPP and more. While VAC still pays disability pensions and benefits, doesn't it seem reasonable that its entire benefit payment component is the next to go?

What would be left here - a small department that could easily be absorbed by national defence? ESDC has no commitment to veterans or loyalty to Islanders. The federal government appears to be shirking its obligations to P.E.I. and to veterans. And no one seems to care.

Welcome to the Club

Open up a world of affordable vacation options for you and your family through Armed Forces Vacation Club (AFVC). Free membership is one small way we thank you for your service.



To begin with, let me fill you in on my meeting last week with Line Robillard, the Commissioner of Complaints (aka Ombudsman) for the West Island Ciusss, to whom you said I should first present my concerns. Ms. Robillard impressed me as energetic, efficient, and, (in her own words, "strictly by-the-book") dedicated to her task. That task,  she described to me, was safeguarding the interests of the individual Veterans at Ste. Anne's Hospital, in full accordance with all the prescribed Provincial protocols, and also, where pertinent, in keeping with the conditions pertaining to the Veterans per se,  as delineated in the joint Federal-Provincial  "Terms of Agreement" underlying the recent transfer of the Facility.

Ms. Robillard took great pains to emphasize that she would thoroughly and fairly investigate and process every INDIVIDUAL's  bona fide complaint she may receive, PROVIDED. that (and only if)  it is submitted by the actual complainant or his/her legally determined representative, and that it is specific in all respects as to the detailed nature of the complaint,   date, time and place of occurrence , and any and all (named) personnel involved. Furthermore, she made it quite clear to me that I could not submit any complaint on behalf of others, nor would her mandate allow her to consider any complaints, comments or inquiries I would wish to submit, regarding more generalized policies or practices which I might question as to their validity, justifiability, and/or fidelity, let alone effectiveness, in relation to the Transfer Agreement.

That said, it is quite apparent that she can be of help to me only if I personally complain, (with full documentation), about being served cold toast,having the wrong type or size of diapers, or other such momentous malfeasances, but she must preclude any references by me  to fellow- Veterans (cognizant, communicative, or not), let alone any and all criticisms I might wish to voice of the system,it's protocols and procedures.

Which, perforce, leads me back to you, , Michel, as the next highest superior officer in my request for "Redress of Grievances", in your capacity as a VAC representative on the Transition Committee. Unfortunately, based on some of your candid comments, I now have the strong impression that you, yourself, have deep doubts as to the efficacy of that body, in dealing with any matters of substance that may matter to the. "Band of Bothers"(sic) at Ste. Annes.

Were I  unable to receive a satisfactory solution at that level,I. could, theoretically and in a more perfect world, request to be "paraded" further up the chain of command, through the Deputy Minister and Minister of Veterans Affairs, to the Prime Minister, Governor General, and, ultimately, Her Majesty, the Queen. But I doubt my life-span will accommodate such a painful and prolonged procedure.

I have, as you requested begun to keep something resembling notes of specific incidents to report to you, but I have been so disheartened and discouraged by what has been going on and going wrong at Ste. Anne's, day in and day out, that it has been like off-season TV...watching the same old reruns of reruns, over and over again, ad nauseam and (I dread to think) ad infinitum.

The core contamination  is consistently concentrated within the problems plaguing the personnel performance, not only qualitatively,  in terms of lack of training and experience as heretofore reported, but also quantitatively, reflecting increasingly erratic and unreliable attendance at work, and resulting in excessive absenteeism. Not only is virtually  every shift on every floor on every day short of staff  (nurses and orderlies), but the designated "Replacement Unit", charged with filling such vacancies on  short notice , is notably too incapable, too disorganized and too confused in communications to get it right; and instead of showing some improvement with the passage of time, the reverse appears to be the case.

I have personally witnessed porters pressed into service as orderlies, clinic staff seconded to the cafeteria to hand out bibs and carry food trays, a receptionist/secretary  assigned to serve the afternoon coffee and cookies in the Rendezvous area, and other such disparate and desperate measures taken to fill the voids. There is hardly a day goes by when I am not attended  by new and unfamiliar faces among the floor staff, on every shift.  The main cause of this bedlam (other than inefficiency and incompetence),  might well lie in the palpable Provincial policy of hiring two part-time employees to fill almost every previously full-time position (presumably to cut costs re pensions, insurance, sick days, vacations, etc.), thus necessitating such staff to take on a second, or even a third part-time job in order to survive. Consequently, more often than not, when the "Replacement Unit" is eventually informed of a staff shortage and calls around frantically to fill it, most of their prospects are unavailable,if not unwilling, as they are otherwise engaged. Their next approach is to 'buttonhole' nurses and/or orderlies already on duty, and not-so-subtly pressure them into  "doing a double"( i.e., back-to-back shifts, which call for overtime pay, thus erasing some of the cost-cutting benefits for which this peculiar (part-timer)  policy was, I am convinced,  primarily promoted).

You can well imagine the effects upon the employees of such shenanigans, but what is of paramount importance is the collateral and deleterious damage done to the Veterans who, in a symbiotic relationship rely on this overworked, frazzled, resentful,remorseful  ever- shifting  body of employees to care for them. Fatigue, frustration and uncertainty take their terrific toll upon the staff, and this inevitably ricochets onto the Vets whose scheduled routines are often suddenly altered,coupled with strange new faces and voices intruding upon their comfort zones, and too often causing ,anxiety,trepidation, and even suspicion. I clearly recall when, under the aegis of VAC, serious multi-discipline evaluations  (and misgivings)  on the part of staff,  preceded any decision to move a patient from one floor or ward to another, lest he/she become too confused or even paranoid, and thus incur physical and/or mental health setbacks. No such consideration appears to be part of the present protocol, permitting such frequent, sudden unannounced staff changes to invade the space and the sense of security so vital to our Veterans, particularly the more fragile  and fearful among us.

I am fully aware that Veterans Affairs Canada currently has a great many items of intense importance on its plate, to be (in)digested, and that, viewing the larger scene, we three hundred -plus Vets at Ste. Anne's are but a pimple on VAC's butt, but to those of us whose lives are confronted with such possible disruptions  (notwithstanding the multiple mouthing of the misleading mantra of "seamless transition"), that  pimple could easily come to a boil, and the consequences could readily infect the remainder of our days, if not properly,  promptly nd proactively lanced by those who are morally and ultimately responsible for our good and welfare, and under whose flag we served and sacrificed.

Now , not later, is the time for our sworn protectors to "MAN UP" !



The first week has passed since the official transfer date, and while
it might be too soon to draw absolute conclusions, it is important to
note any significant events, if only to hope and try that they not
become an established trend., and that what some may describe as a
"hiccup", does not morph into a full-scale bronchial infection.

I have kept a mini-version of a daily journal of events worth noting,
and the most apparent problems appear to lie within the staffing
situation. Hardly a day or a shift has gone by this week, without a
staff shortage of one degree or another, particularly among the nurses
and orderlies, who comprise the very foundations, without which this
(or any other) hospital would collapse in ruins.

Based solely upon my own personal experiences and direct observations
(and discussions with a few highly reliable others), I can confidently
state that the frequent absences of such staff cause unusual delays in
delivering meals, providing medications, appearing for clinical
appointments and like matters. This, in turn, causes considerable
consternation and confusion among patients, and fretting and
frustration among employees, many of whom are often kept ignorant of
their forthcoming schedules

Whereas, in the past, there was little or difficulty in obtaining
replacements for missing personnel within a reasonable time lapse,
that no longer seems to be the case, even when some substitutes are
readily available,on call. Whoever are the  peoole in charge of
staffing, it seems that they were far from ready to hit the ground 
running from Day One, albeit they had many months to properly prepare their program.

Consequently, as can be expected, shift happens .

As well, there seems to be virtually no stable pattern, as yet, to the
assignment of staff  by floors and/or shifts. Strange faces are
constantly appearing on the scene, only to be replaced by more strange
faces, day after day, whether they be from other floors, other shifts,
the Pavillon, or virtually virginal new hires. While I, and some
others, might be simply surprised or even slightly annoyed by such
revolving -door doings, there are more fragile patients among us, who
react with uncertainty, anxiety, insecurity, and even fearfulness at
the sudden changes to their habituated comfort zone.

The above reflects the general but
real malaise, at this admittedly
early stage, but if this woucertain such a "shakedown cruise " would
either not have occurred or, if it did, heads would be rolling as we
speak , and replaced by more efficient and clearer ones.  If  you
require specifics  to bear out some of my statements, be careful what
you wish for: there was an instance two days ago when, in spite of my
repeated use of the call bell, I was left waiting  for at least one
hour(!) to have my dirty diaper changed, the reason being lack of
staff; although I am scheduled to be turned from side-to-side every
two hours  (due to healing and prevention of bed sores), both Tuesday
and yesterday I was left unattended, in two different shifts,  for
over four hours at a stretch, the reason being new staff who have not
sufficiently acquainted themselves with the prescribed routines;  I
have twice in the last week had to draw attention to a "new" nurse,
that I was lacking one of my medications, the reason being that she
was unfamiliar with my requirements  and/or had not taken or had the
time to scan my chart; and in yet another instance, my own orderly had
to be called away from me, to help a "newbie" who had no idea of how
to operate a patient's lift apparatus (or, as I call it , the block & tackle).

I could go on with more of these seemingly small but significant
situations, however,  I think these few will do, for the nonce.
Needless to say, the stress upon staff and patients alike is highly
palpable. I am fortunate in that I can still think and hear and speak
clearly, so as to make my wants and any discrepancies known.  But what
of those of  my comrades who are unable to do so...what disconcertion,
discomfort, danger  and even serious  harm could conceivably befall
them, if conditions such as these were permitted to continue ?

True enough, one week does not a lifetime make....but similar weeks
could very well a lifetime break, and it is therefore never too soon
to "cry wolf" , when there really is one which might endanger the
flock, if not first forestalled, or forever forbidden to enter the fold.

Heed the howl, even if others  complacently or unknowingly  deem it
only a whisper.

Wolf.  (no pun intended)


Canadian Forces watching for PTSD

Jean-Francois Racine, QMI Agency

First posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 02:40 PM EST | Updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014 02:51 PM EST

LAC-ETCHEMIN, Que. -- As Canada's Armed Forces begins to withdraw from Afghanistan for good, the head of the army wants all troops to be on the lookout for fellow soldiers who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related issues.

Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse, 54, who has been the head of the Canadian Army since July 2013, wants to start a dialogue across the country about the prevalence of PTSD among members of the Armed Forces.

"People will come home from Afghanistan needing help," Haines told QMI Agency. "We're not mental health professionals, but we now know how to detect certain signs of PTSD.

"There are highs and lows in life, and people need to know that they don't have to suffer in silence."

March 14 will mark the end of the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops have stationed since 2001.

Veterans urge legislative committee to appoint veterans advocate

    Published on February 17, 2014

eterans listen intently as the provincial Standing Committee of Veteran Affairs discuss the impact the recent closure of the Veteran Affairs Canada Office in Sydney has had on the local veteran community. The committee held an emergency meeting in Membertou on Monday.
By Caelin Coleman, Special to the Cape Breton Post

MEMBERTOU — The provincial legislative standing committee of Veterans Affairs voted to stall a motion which asked the committee to support the creation of a Nova Scotia Veterans Advocate, in an emergency meeting held in Membertou today.

The decision came after the committee heard from veterans affected and concerned by the recent closure of the Veterans Affairs Canada office in Sydney.

The veterans advocate would report directly to the minister of military relations for the province, and advise what steps need to be taken to replace the services lost by the closure of the office.

The committee heard testimony from local veteran Ron Clarke, before opening the floor to comments from the veterans in the audience, including 93-year-old Second World War veteran Charles Palmer.

"The veterans from the Second World War, which I am one of them, would have great difficulty going to Halifax. I'm 93-years-old," said Palmer.

"Most of my colleagues from that particular war couldn't make it here today. Now someone tell me - how are they going to make it all the way to Halifax?"

More to come.

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