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Editorial: Veterans deserve better
« on: November 27, 2014, 07:37:03 AM »
Editorial: Veterans deserve better

Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board More from Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board
Published on: November 26, 2014Last Updated: November 26, 2014 3:56 PM EST

We like to make a big show of how much we love our military veterans. We put ribbon magnets on our cars and we wear red sometimes and we dutifully don our poppies in the lead-up to Nov. 11 every year. And that appreciation really is sincere.

But rather than simply telling veterans how much we value their contributions, we could do something much more meaningful. We could actually provide them with the confidence of knowing that, should they suffer psychological scars as a result of their service, their country will be there for them. According to a Statistics Canada survey published in August, nearly one in six full-time members of the Canadian Forces experienced symptoms of mental health or alcohol-related disorders over several months last year, and some of those soldiers may come to rely on Veterans Affairs Canada in the future. This issue isn’t going anywhere.

As it stands, Veterans Affairs Canada is failing to provide active soldiers and veterans with that confidence. On Tuesday, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson released a report outlining the department’s sorry record when it comes to mental health support for former military members.

To access services like psychological care and prescription medication provided under the department’s disability benefits program, veterans must provide evidence that military service caused or aggravated a chronic mental health condition. According to the A-G, 24 per cent of the 15,385 veterans who applied for mental health disability benefits between April 2006 and June 2014 were denied those benefits. Of the 1,297 veterans who challenged the denial, 65 per cent were successful.

“Of the 843 veterans with a mental health condition who successfully challenged their denied eligibility, 695 waited between six months and three years for a favourable decision,” the A-G reports. “Furthermore, 128 veterans waited from three to more than seven years to receive a favourable decision.”

Seven years. For people dealing with severe depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, just getting through one day can be a challenge.

The wait times are unacceptable, of course, and they look terrible on the Conservative government. Suddenly the impetus behind a surprise weekend announcement of $200 million for veteran’ mental health services is revealed.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if the government could get out in front of problems at the department rather than react after it’s too late? At the same press conference announcing that convenient $200 million, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino was on the defensive over $1.1 billion in lapsed funding at a department that has shed nearly 1,000 full-time employees over the past three years and faces persistent complaints from severely injured veterans who feel they’re being short-changed by a tone-deaf bureaucracy.

It’s well past time for this government to step up and properly care for our veterans, and it’s on all of us who say we care to make sure that it does.
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