Is Avoiding Embarrassment More Important Than Our Wellbeing?

I don’t have the words to adequately express my frustration and ongoing disappointment with the way our government is handling ill and injured soldiers and their families.  I just saw the headline “Canadian Forces Drops Job Offer After He Tells Trudeau System is Failing Wounded Soldiers” and I was a little shocked that the Department of National Defence would actually offer a job to Ret. MWO Westholm.  He has been very outspoken about the failings of the system that is supposed to care for ill and injured Vets. Perhaps they thought by having him on ‘their’ side he would change his tune. But after Westholm took the time to write letters of concern when yet another injured Vet died this summer, they decided he wasn’t right for the job. Really?

This is just another example of how they avoid the opportunity to make any real and positive change. If they are not able to look at where things have gone wrong (or even admit that things have gone wrong) then they are not able to move forward.
We need to be able to have a open and honest dialogue with people that have worked the front lines like Ret. MWO Westholm. I cannot think of a better person they could have invited to work on this massive project. He has literally dedicated his life to helping ill and injured and when that couldn’t happen within DND, he quit and continued to work on his own.
Now DND says he is not welcome because he criticized the system?  The system that leadership has repeatedly said needs a revamp? I’m not sure who was on the hiring committee, but he has been publicly criticizing the system since resigning from a leadership role at the JPSU in 2013.  

I completely agree with Westholm when he says “The focus is more on optics, making sure no one in the leadership is embarrassed” as quoted in the article.

As a wife of an injured Vet this makes me want to scream, and then cry.  The fact that our government is willing to spend more energy on how things LOOK as opposed to how they actually WORK is infuriating and heartbreaking.  Citizens need to be aware that millions of tax dollars are being spent on helping leadership avoid embarrassment versus getting to the heart of the issues and deal with the messy reality. That would require admitting that people are suffering, people dying, and families are truly the invisible casualties.  Whether is PTSD or physical injuries, thousands of Vets have a wide range of complex and chronic issues that are being compounded by multiple unnecessary roadblocks set up by the system that claims to help them.  So when the system doesn’t address their needs,  and in many cases actually exacerbates the problems, everyone around the Vet suffers too.

Please tell me that avoiding embarrassment is not more important than our military families wellbeing?

My Intentions Explained

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Exciting News from Veterans Affairs!

I didn’t say it was good news…

I just received a response to my open letter to the Canadian Government  (June 7, 2017) regarding the government appeared uninterested in investigating how they may improve their own services to avoid future tragedies such as the triple murder and suicide of an ill Veteran and his family in Nova Scotia last year.

I would invite you to read their email followed by my reply. This is such an important issue for so many veteran’s families; life and death in many cases. I would also greatly appreciate you sharing this post with anyone who may be interested in learning what VAC and DND don’t want you know.

Dear Ms. Whitford   (emailed received September 12, 2017)

I am writing in response to your e-mail, which was forwarded by the
Office of the Prime Minister to the former Minister of Veterans Affairs,
regarding a tragic event involving a Veteran that took place in Nova
Scotia last January.

First, allow me to explain that the decision about the judicial inquiry
is a provincial matter. Should you wish to express your views directly
to the Government of Nova Scotia, the coordinates are available at the
following link:

https://novascotia.ca/sns/access/contact.asp

That said, although for privacy reasons Veterans Affairs Canada cannot
comment on the specifics of this case, I would like to provide you with
the following information about the support available to Veterans who
have an operational stress injury (OSI), such as post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD).

Veterans Affairs Canada collaborates closely with the Department of
National Defence to provide Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans
who have an OSI with the care they need. Together, the two departments
have established a network of specialized treatment facilities, staffed
by highly trained practitioners. And, in Budget 2017, the Government
announced funding to create a new centre of excellence on PTSD and other
mental health conditions affecting Veterans.

In addition, eligible Veterans receive coverage from Veterans Affairs
Canada to access treatment by a private health practitioner—a licensed
psychologist, for example—of their choice. Currently, over 4,000
mental health care providers are registered with the Department.
Veterans, their families and caregivers can also
obtain confidential, short-term counselling by calling the VAC
Assistance Service, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Through this service, Veterans Affairs Canada will cover up to
20 face-to-face sessions with a mental health professional per issue
each year.

Through the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program,
military personnel, Veterans and their families can receive confidential
support from trained peers who themselves have dealt with an OSI and
lived through similar
experiences. The OSISS program—a joint initiative of the Department
of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada—contributes to
breaking down the barriers of stigma and has led many to seek the help
they need.

Furthermore, Veterans Affairs Canada teamed up with the Mental Health
Commission of Canada to develop Mental Health First Aid training for
Veterans and their families. Participants learn how to recognize the
signs and symptoms of common mental health disorders, how to provide
immediate aid to someone in crisis and where to access appropriate
treatment. Two self-help applications—PTSD Coach Canada and OSI
Connect—have also been created specifically for Canadian military
personnel and Veterans who are dealing with an OSI. And, a free online
resource (http://caregiverresource.theroyal.ca) is available to help
caregivers support their loved ones and look after their own needs.

I would like to mention that the Department’s Mental Health
Directorate monitors the latest scientific literature on emerging
therapeutic approaches that have the potential to assist ill and injured
Veterans in their journey to recovery. Veterans Affairs Canada and the
Department of National Defence are also actively engaged in research to
gain greater insight into the mental health issues facing our men and
women in uniform, and the results will help us to improve our programs.

Finally, Veterans Affairs Canada regularly reviews its suicide
prevention framework and suicide awareness and intervention protocol.
Together, this framework and protocol provide departmental staff with
clear screening procedures to help identify Veterans at risk and the
steps to follow to ensure their safety. Those who interact directly with
Veterans are required to take regular training on the latest
intervention techniques.

Veterans who are in distress, or their family members, are encouraged
to reach out by calling Veterans Affairs Canada’s toll-free number
(1-866-522-2122) or the Department’s 24-hour help line
(1-800-268-7708).

Again, thank you for writing and for your interest in the well-being of
Veterans and those who stand behind them.

Sincerely,
Michel Doiron

And my reply, dated Sept 12, 2017:

Thank you for your response, but it is the exact same text that everyone points to, everyone who has not actually tried to access those services and everyone who does not NEED the services.
I am the wife of a Veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2004 after being blown up in Afghanistan and I can promise you that this is not a short term problem for my family. Which is why short term counselling isn’t sufficient.  I sacrificed my career, my freedom, my own mental health, to care and advocate for him. It was a full time responsibility for which I paid dearly for.
I have now been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety, am unable to work full time (ironically I worked the Director of Military Family Services) . I have no doubt that it is related to the last 15 years of fighting with a system that would rather we disappear.
So don’t thank me for my “interest in the well-being of Veterans and those who stand behind them.” It is not with interest that I write you: it is with frustration and utter disgust in the system that is supposed to care for us.

FYI. All those services you mentioned in your email may appear like excellent resources, and perhaps they will be someday. But they are simply not the reality for most of us. Where they are in place, they are understaffed by undertrained and overworked people who are themselves burning out.

So I wish you the best of luck in your adventures managing this very broken system.  A system that is so critical to the lives and wellbeing of Veterans and their families, the forgotten casualties of war.

Sincerely, Robin Whitford
Spouse of Ret. Sgt. DJ Matthews SC CD

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Photo by Dan Matthews Photography