Federal government needs to raise alarm for veterans living with PTSD, War Pensioners

MANITOULIN—When a veteran is having issues relating to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they need to be able to talk to those who can provide them with the support they need immediately, not left to wait to hear from someone, says the president of the War Pensioners of Canada (WPC).

“I have written a letter to the Minister of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), relaying a local case of a veteran who suffers from PTSD,” said Colin Pick. “I have told the minister that at a time when the suicides of military serving members and veterans have exposed a problem with PTSD/OSI that the government indicates it is concerned about, some of the reasoning behind these happenings are still left unattended or not paid enough attention to. When veterans are dealing with PTSD and have counsellors who are supposed to be working with them but don’t pay attention to what the veterans are telling them, it’s no wonder there are problems.”

“They are just not paying attention to what veterans are telling them,” he said, pointing out, “First, one of the corrective actions that VAC counsellors and other VAC personnel reading a veteran’s medical file need to do much better, inclusive of psychologists and psychiatrists, is listen properly to what the veteran is telling them, or pay full attention to the time of year where events cause significant impact upon the mind of the veteran. This sets off triggers that cause stress, flashbacks, bad dreams or bad memories that cause pain and or depression, that if left unattended when a veteran cries for help, if not attended to quickly enough, can lead to suicide as the extreme.”

“As a prime example I have permission to use the situation of an 18-year veteran whose situation was first reported to me following his birthday in November 2010 and leading up to the Christmas season of December 2010,” wrote Mr. Pick. “After being told that he was a veteran who just stayed in his room and rarely ventured into the community, upon checking, I found he was in a depressed state of mind and felt that after 18 years of loyal service he had been royally screwed by the military and in 1996, cast aside to fend for himself on $1,158 dollars a month.”

“Upon his release in 1996, instead of being released as having stress, as his records indicated, the military circumvented things and saw fit to release him as having bipolar disorder, where the military had no responsibility, so it was the easy way out for them,” continued Mr. Pick.

“The above facts are well known to VAC, but since 2010, in trying to help him get possession of his medical file and after hitting several bureaucratic road blocks and red tape to simply get disclosure of his documents so that his claim forms could be filled out with factual information instead of trying to memorize dates etc, after a year of getting the run around, I got fed up and wrote to Prime Minister Harper, and your predecessor, Minister Blaney, and this veteran eventually got some action and was placed on a PTSD treatment program until October 31, 2013.”

“The situation that now exists is very similar to last year where, because he was depressed, with my promoting him to do so (the veteran) called the psychologist and emphasized he needed to speak with them because Christmas was a time when he feels felt so depressed,” continued Mr. Pick.

“On October 31, 2013 the treatment program ended, where he was advised that an extension of treatment would be requested for him. However, once again, at the very time of year where he needs help the most, he has had another birthday which bothers him greatly, followed by the Christmas season, which he hates because it reminds him of significant events during his military service, but he is unable to get hold of the psychologist other than to leave messages.”

“I know from my own life experiences surrounding Christmas, plus certain times of year and in trying to help other veterans (to get through the holidays), it is a known fact that Christmas is a time of year where one often feels obligated to overspend, some also tend to over eat, overdrink, over medicate, thus experience insomnia problems, then have added stress when the credit card bills come in January, thus eventual depression. And for those where help is not at hand when they need it most, some may resort to suicide because life seems to have closed in on them and they cannot cope any longer,” wrote Mr. Pick.

Mr. Pick said that in the case he described of the veteran in his letter, he has not made any indications of suicide, “but on five separate occasions between November to date (January 2) I have found him in a depressed state of mind due to chronic pain, besides the fact he has been having bad memories with severe insomnia and headaches, because of significant events relative to his service; bothering him so much that he goes to bed and stays there for a few days.”

Mr. Pick requested that Mr. Fantino ask that the veteran gets intervention and on track with additional treatment by the quickest means possible, “because when he was on treatment he was stabilizing and showing improvement.”

“Any veteran having PTSD issues at any time may call me for help or advice, there is now a 24-hour mental health help line that is advertised on television,” Mr. Pick told the Recorder. “Once again, there is lots of referral agencies and help out there. But unless they can be of use when the veteran needs it most, they do not have what the veteran needs.”

“This is where VAC and the military is still lacking, a veteran needs to talk to a fellow brother or sister veteran like now, and resource intervention needs to be on a 24 hour basis…not okay, I will get back to you,” said Mr. Pick.

On January 11, Jim Karygiannis, MP for Scarborough-Agincourt and Liberal Critic for Veterans Affairs, announced he has assisted a group of veterans to establish a toll free crisis line for veterans and soldiers who are in crisis.

“Losing one soldier or veteran to suicide is one too many,” said Mr. Karygiannis in a release. “Losing seven within two months is a national tragedy. Once again, our veterans are stepping up to the plate. They are volunteering to answer telephone calls from their brothers and sisters in arms who are in crisis.”

The toll-free number is 1-855-373-8387 and will be manned by veterans who will be available on a 24-hour basis. The callers will not be required to identify themselves.

Tom Sasvari