Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to everybody for having me here today.
My opener changed last night, as I stood at the War Memorial for the first time and put my hands on the side. I'm not exactly storming the beaches of Normandy here today, but I got about 30 minutes of sleep last night.
I am not here lightly, and I am under some duress as I sit here, because I am an injured veteran. I have been in the system since 2017. It was the hardest phone call I've ever made in my life.
I receive veteran benefits, and I have veteran benefits in the works. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I feel uncomfortable with the testimony I'm going to provide today, because although it should be unlikely, I have a legitimate fear that my current benefits and ongoing claims may be affected as a result of my testimony, which is not quite as generous to Veterans Affairs as the colonel you just heard.
My name is Mark Meincke. I'm an army veteran who served with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. In 1994, I served as a UN peacekeeper during the genocide in Croatia. For the record, it was not ethnic cleansing—I hate that word—it was a genocide. Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism. I was on rotation for Operation Harmony. As a result of my service and numerous incidents that happened during my tour, I was injured with PTSD. Of course, in 1994, nobody had a clue what the heck that was.
I went undiagnosed for 23 years. If you want to see a 23-year train wreck, I'll give you my biography. That is a common story. I've run into Vietnam veterans and Korea veterans, people in their seventies and eighties, who are just now reaching out for help.
When I made that first phone call, it was a thousand-pound telephone. For some reason, in my distraught mind I decided to reach out to the Legion; it just seemed like the reasonable place to go. I got lucky. They took the ball and they ran with it. They were Johnny-on-the-spot. Bing, bang, boom, I got a veteran claim in.
The very first thing I said was, “I don't want any money and I'm not saying that these problems I'm having are from my service.” I was not saying that, because that's what we do. We say, “No, it couldn't be me. I know I need help, but I know that I can't afford the help, so maybe you can help me. But I'm not saying it's from my service.” It took me over two years to accept that what I was suffering through absolutely was as a direct result of my service. Genocide has a funny way of doing that.
As part of my healing journey, I took 10 months before I actually could see a therapist. To fill that gap, at the OSI clinic they did something called.... The name always escapes me. It's a stopgap measure that none of us likes and that has little to no value because of how it's operated. But it was something. It got me in the system and it got the ball rolling.
As I attended one of the 10-week programs or whatever it was, a fellow veteran who runs peer support put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Let's talk. You should come to peer support.” I said, “No, that's not for me, man. Peer support? What am I going to do? Hold hands and sing Kumbaya? That's not me.”
But he convinced me, and I went. It grew, and then I became a peer support facilitator a year later. People would drive for two hours to be a part of that group. From that, it evolved into a podcast, because I wanted to scale what I was doing to help more people. Now it's the largest of its kind in the world. People find help and access resources through my podcast.
As a result of that, the veteran this is all about came to me directly and gave me two recordings, which were said on Thursday to not exist. They are in my possession and they are on my phone.
That VAC caseworker did not inform him of services. Not only did the VAC caseworker offer MAID, but doing so was unprompted, and it was pushed after it was refused twice. You'd think saying no twice would do it, but it did not.
I have the transcript here. Of course, I cannot get a hold of the veteran because he was so distraught he left the country.
I will refer to the transcripts that I made personally to answer any and all of your questions.