Evidence of meeting #14 for Veterans Affairs in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was veterans.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Bernard Butler  Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Charlotte Stewart  Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

November 29th, 2011 / 9:50 a.m.

NDP

Réjean Genest Shefford, QC

Good day.

As you know, veterans are facing a whole new problem. In fact, today, our armed forces not only protect, they are also involved in wars, in particular, in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has been very hard on our soldiers. I know it because this situation has had an impact on certain members of my own family. One sees a physical wound, but it is hard to have a sense of the distress caused by post-traumatic stress. A soldier that has been two or three times in Afghanistan can have had enough and decide to give it all up. Usually, a military career lasts 10, 15 or 20 years, but a soldier can decide to put a stop to it because of the very difficult situations he has had to face. Very often, soldiers feel they don’t have the right to demonstrate any kind of weakness, particularly on a psychological level. The army frowns upon any kind of psychological problem.

Do you have a service that allows you to determine if a soldier has a problem, particularly some form of distress related to post-traumatic stress? What kinds of services are available? Sometimes, soldiers in distress make bad choices when it comes to benefits. They don’t know if they should choose a lump sum or a series of payments.

Provincial psychiatric hospitals aren’t able to identify the problem. You are getting rid of military hospitals, but military psychologists are the ones who really have a handle on this problem.

Given all of these facts, how do you think you will be able to really help veterans, how will you ensure that they are able to overcome the problem and adapt to civilian life that is so different from military life?

9:55 a.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

Your question speaks to a very important issue facing those who are leaving the military today. The important element here is that mental health, including PTSD, is an issue that is very complex and the response to it and the way that we work with it is multi-faceted.

When someone is about to leave the military, even if it's a career that they've loved and enjoyed, as they begin to transition out, especially if they have a post-traumatic stress disorder or any other disorder, they typically would have been case managed within DND before they leave the department. As they are transitioning, the case manager, who is a nursing officer within DND, would have been working with them to give them the support they needed. For most of those individuals, that begins when they are in DND; it doesn't start when they come to Veterans Affairs Canada.

In the military they've made a lot of progress in opening up discussion around issues like this, as has society in general. Mental health is beginning to be treated more openly as an illness like any other. So in the military it will be recognized and they will begin to get case management services. When they transition, the partnership with VAC means that we will find out more about that person before they leave. We'll know a bit about their history and some of the issues they're facing. They likely will have been receiving treatment within the military. When they transition to Veterans Affairs Canada, we work with them in a transition interview to make sure that we bridge the services to the extent possible, so that they come to us in such a way that we're supporting them at the point when they leave. So, as soon as they leave, we're able to support them from that step forward.

Our case managers are trained to understand mental health issues and post-traumatic stress. If an injured individual doesn't want to share that, our case managers are trained to use certain cues and certain questions to try to elevate the issue or tease it out and find out more. It's becoming very much a part of the day-to-day work of our case managers.

Once they have identified that the individual is looking for help, the person will have access to a full range of treatment, be it from a psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical care managers, or people in the community who provide very customized service for post-traumatic stress. Beyond that, we can put them in touch with the peer support network I spoke about a moment ago. It consists of about 26 individuals across the country who have gone through the same thing, who have had a military career, left it, and suffer from an operational stress injury—an umbrella term that includes PTSD and other anxiety issues, etc. They can have peers give them counselling and support.

At the end of the day, there's a rehabilitation program designed to help that individual become stabilized with their PTSD, to understand it, to get the support they need, and to engage their family fully in it because that's going to be key. Our goal is early intervention. The sooner we get access and conversation going with the individual, the greater the chance of success.

We have about 14,000 clients of Veterans Affairs who have mental health issues, and upwards of 10,000 of them have post-traumatic stress disorder. It's becoming very much front and centre in our world. With our research colleagues in Bernard's area, we're finding out more and learning from other countries about what they're doing. So this is all coming together to provide the kind of support that these individuals would need.

When they are in treatment for this in Veterans Affairs' rehab program, there's no time limit on that. It's not like they come into a rehab program and they have six months to get better. It's not like that at all. They take the time they need, and that's a cornerstone of the new Veterans Charter. That's a policy that exists now that was not available to us before this charter was put in place.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you very much Ms. Stewart. We let it go on a little long, because it's a very thorough answer. We appreciate that.

That ends the second round. We did say we had the witnesses until 10:15. If it's the will of the committee, we could go around and take a quick question from everybody before we go into committee business. I'm just going to go by a show of hands, and then I can sort the time out.

I see five people. We don't have time to have questions from them all unless it's a 30-second question.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Okay. Who is on for the first round ?

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

It depends how long.... We can go with one short question.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Eve Adams Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Do you want to do four, two, and one, then?

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

We'll do the same as in the first round, but we'll shorten the time so that we get out of here at 10:15. So you really have about a minute for a question and an answer, or a little bit more.

Is that agreed?

10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

First is Ms. Mathyssen, and as I said, just one question, please.

10 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Basically this is a request. A lot numbers are swirling around concerning pensions, benefits, and lump-sum payments. If possible, I would like to have a chart, please, outlining the monetary benefits and the criteria used to determine those benefits, so I can see the various categories and what is available by way of financial support and pension benefits.

If that's possible, I'd appreciate it.

10 a.m.

Director General, Policy and Research Division, Department of Veterans Affairs

Bernard Butler

Absolutely. Yes, it's certainly possible, and we'll provide it to you.

10 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you very much.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Greg Kerr

Thank you.

Now we go to Mr. Lobb for a quick question.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks.

Most of the discussion has been on new veterans. I have a question about traditional veterans. If a veteran has a relationship established with Veterans Affairs and now requires a lift for his home, can you tell us how the procurement for that works or how he would go about getting it?

If I have time, I'd like a follow-up question.

10 a.m.

Director General, Service Delivery and Program Management, Department of Veterans Affairs

Charlotte Stewart

A traditional veteran would in some cases have a case manager, depending on their situation. The case manager is on the ground—