War Pensioners President Pick applauds Auditor General’s urging of more mental health help for vets

CANADA—Canadian Auditor General Michael Ferguson has identified a gap in Veterans Affairs Canada’s mental health services in the 2014 Fall Report of the Auditor General of Canada that was released last week, stating that the department needs to “do more to overcome the barriers that slow veterans’ access to services and benefits.”

“In our audit of mental health services for veterans, we found that Veterans Affairs Canada has put in place important mental health supports,” said Mr. Ferguson in a video press statement on the report. “However, in many cases, the department is not doing enough to facilitate veterans’ timely access to mental health services and benefits. Veterans Affairs Canada needs to do more to overcome the barriers that slow veterans’ access to services and benefits. These barriers are: a complex application process, delays in obtaining medical and service records from National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, and long wait times for getting access to qualified health care professionals in government-funded operational stress injury clinics.”

“This means that, from the time they first contact Veterans Affairs Canada, about 20 percent of veterans have to wait more than eight months before the department gives them a green light to access specialized mental health services,” continued Mr. Ferguson. “We found that the department delivers a variety of outreach activities that target its existing clients and soldiers being released from military services. However, it could do more to reach other groups who can encourage veterans to seek help, including, in particular, family doctors and families of veterans.”

The Expositor spoke with War Pensioners of Canada President Colin Pick who commented that he was pleased with the Auditor General’s report.

“It is good that the Auditor General has brought this issue to light,” Mr. Pick told The Expositor. “There is a (service) gap that needs to be addressed for veterans. The bottom line is that veterans are not being looked after and the government needs to put more money into services. Also the services themselves need to be expedited when soldiers return from service. The quicker soldiers and veterans can get the help they need from Veterans Affairs the better they are able to cope.”

“The longer veterans with mental health issues have to wait for help, the longer they internalize the trauma and the worse their condition becomes,” continued Mr. Pick. “The delay also causes added stress to the veterans’ family. The government needs to eliminate delay. I have dealt with veterans issues for many years and in many cases it can be two to three years of going back and forth with Veterans Affairs before someone gets the help and support they need. That is unacceptable.”

The Auditor General report notes that the findings are important “because Veterans Affairs Canada has a legislative responsibility to facilitate access to the specialized care required by veterans with mental health conditions.”

The report concludes with seven recommendations including: “Veterans Affairs Canada should analyze the Disability Benefits application process, qualify and document barriers to timeliness, and take correction action; National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces should take further steps to accelerate the transfer of services and medical records to Veterans Affairs Canada; National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces should work with the Operational and Trauma Stress Support Centres to implement solutions to provide timely and access for psychological and psychiatric assessments; Veterans Affairs Canada should work with the Veterans Review and Appeal Board to identify whether reasons for successful reviews and appeals indicate a need to modify the application process; Veterans Affairs Canada should update its outreach strategy to include family physicians; and Veterans Affairs Canada should assess and report on the effectiveness of its mental Health Strategy and develop performance measures for strategy and outreach activities for veterans with mental health conditions.”