Good morning. My name is Veronica Morin. I would first like to thank you for the opportunity to allow me to speak on behalf of myself, my family, and other widows and families like mine.
Through the Jay Treaty and section 289 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, my late husband, Sergeant Darby Morin, became a U.S. Army soldier in 2004. He was killed in action on August 22, 2009 during his deployment in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York.
We have two sons together, one of whom was born on Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. I made the choice to move back home to Saskatchewan where we were from in order to have family support, because we had no family stateside.
I would like to acknowledge that I am aware of the differences between the U.S. and Canadian care support systems for military families, and based on my experience of having both countries work together in bringing my husband home to be buried on our reserve, I assumed the Canadian support would carry on after the funeral. Both countries' military personnel were in attendance, including political delegates like our former premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall.
During my transition between the countries, I quickly realized I was completely alone in my search for support. Nobody, including my family members, knew how to help me with my needs. Due to my U.S. income, I was unable to obtain affordable child care. During my short stay in Fort Drum after my husband's passing, I took advantage of the on-post free child care so I could have a little time for myself to grieve and deal with the loads of paperwork.
My children were three years old and 18 months at the time of their dad's passing. My oldest was a daddy's boy and had to deal with his memories of his dad, and the youngest currently deals with the lack of his memories of his dad. I didn't expect free child care in Saskatchewan when I moved home, but hoped for access to benefits the Canadian military might offer their widows and their dependants, so I tried to apply for a subsidy for daycare. Because of my non-Canadian income, I did not qualify for this. This was also an issue with trying to obtain financing for a reliable vehicle and loans.
I began to deal with suicidal thoughts from feeling like a hopeless case and the stresses of not having the time I needed to deal with my grief, my physical health, and my own well-being. These issues started a cycle of anxiety and bouts of depression. I was not only grieving the loss of my husband, but also the loss of our military lifestyle, our support, and my self-identity without my husband.
What my sons and I needed was support specifically for military loss and our transition to civilian life in another country. This is not always a welcoming country to us as aboriginal people, and my sons are always still talking about wishing they had a place like TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors stateside, where they could meet and relate with other kids who have had their parents pass away in the service as well.
I even went as far as reaching out to the Dundurn base and Hugh Cairns Armoury in Saskatoon for any support and inclusion they might have to offer us. The response I always got was that they were not able to help me because we were a U.S. military family, and I never met anyone who understood my explanation of why my husband was a Canadian native fighting for the U.S. forces and how that was even possible.
As an indigenous family, I always saw us as equal to U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, and I had a hard time accepting that this was not the case.
My sons and I have had to deal with more than just our losses. I also found myself now having to try to explain racism and discrimination to my sons according to their age levels. I had never imagined that my six-year-old would come home from school telling me how he tried to colour his hands with a beige crayon so that he could look like all the other kids in his school.
At the same time, my older son was beginning to display signs of depression. He stopped wanting to talk about his dad with me, which hurt because he was the only one who had the same memories as I did of our family life. What hurt more was seeing him put his head down and try to avoid recognizing his dad's memory at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the schools. I always made sure that the schools had a wreath for indigenous vets. My son acted ashamed to even mention that his dad was a native vet.
My husband was a very proud native soldier and always made it known that he was representing our country in our community of Big River reserve and our first nations people. He would have been so upset with me if I didn't man up to make sure his sons didn't lose their native pride.
I've been trying to keep up with the information provided to our country through the Veterans Affairs website. I had even sent an email last spring inquiring about why the names and profiles of my husband and other widows' husbands weren't listed—for example, army reservist Corporal Derek Smallboy from the Big River First Nation and army Private Kyle Whitehead from Pelican Lake First Nation.
I had also inquired about the vetfit program as a healthy outlet to physically work out my grief. The email correspondence stated that they would get back to me in 90 days with an update of a new gym they would work with. This email was sent prior to January 2018, and I've recently inquired about it again only to be told that they still didn't have any updated information for me. I have personally tried and made an honest effort to seek help for myself and to try to help anyone else who was going through what I was going through in dealing with the military.
I spend a lot of time with the widow of the late Kyle Whitehead still, and the widow of the late Derek Smallboy is actually my aunt. They always come to me thinking that I have information for them, and I don't. All I have is the information that I have found for myself, which I don't even know where to look for, but I'm constantly still trying.
Even for mental health support, I have tried so many different counsellors to try to meet my specific needs with my military loss. Eventually, I found a counsellor who had made an offer to research support suitable to my family's needs. I'm happy to announce that my counsellor of five years, the past five years, has informed me that she is moving to a new position for a new mental health program starting this week offered to military vets dealing with PTSD and mental health issues.
I just want to let everyone know that I'm so thankful for having the opportunity to come here, because with the last nine years and everything that I have dealt with, I have personally made it my own endeavour to try to use my loss as a tool to bridge the racial gap. I grew up mostly on the reserve. I know what it's like to live in both worlds, and I'm very open-minded. I understand that a lot of non-native people, non-indigenous people, have a hard time trying to communicate this too. I get that; I understand that. I try to do the best I can to use this as a tool to open it up, to talk about things openly and forgivingly.
Again, thank you so much for this opportunity.