January 4, 2011 – 12:55 pm
A study presented by two nursing professors from the University of Western Ontario casts a disturbing spotlight on the state of mental health care for military veterans. The study monitored homeless populations in Toronto and London, Ont., and found that many of these individuals formerly served in our armed forces.
If the findings hold true on a national scale, the authors warn, there could well be thousands of veterans living on our streets.
This is unacceptable, and raises more questions about the already-troubled agency tasked with looking after the needs of our once-warriors, the Department of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).
It should be noted that VAC already has announced that it is moving to make mental health care a priority. And, obviously, no government agency could ever prevent all the Canadians under its purview from succumbing to substance abuse or mental illness — the two largest risk factors for homelessness. But because of the societal debt owed to military veterans, and because of the heavy psychological toll placed on them by their former jobs, our government has a special obligation to ensure that VAC is doing the very best it can. And recent news suggests that this obligation is not being met.
Over the past year, it has been revealed that many recent veterans have been short-changed by miserly lump-sum support payments, which provide injured veterans with less financial support than a disabled member of the civil service would receive through an ongoing pension. Pat Stogran, the first veterans ombudsman, did not have his term renewed after he levelled blistering criticism at the government’s record on veterans issues. Bureaucrats traded freely in the confidential health records of Sean Bruyea, an outspoken critic of VAC. And veteran Dennis Manuge last week received the Supreme Court of Canada’s approval to push ahead with a lawsuit against VAC, relating to the clawback of support payments made to him after he suffered a permanent injury while serving in the army.
Thousands of other veterans were similarly treated.
It is not enough to support the troops only while they are in uniform. Our veterans deserve the best in medical care, life-long support for their unique
mental and physical health needs, and, at the very least, a warm bed to sleep in at night. It is a sad irony that many of the men and women who defend
our way of life should find themselves on our society’s margins when their service to the country is done.