Soldiers parade from Parliament Hill as they take part in the National Day of Honour in Ottawa on Friday, May 9, 2014. Canada’s veterans ombudsman is calling on the federal government reverse to restrictions on the provision of mental-health services for the families of retired military personnel. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

OTTAWA — Canada’s veterans ombudsman is calling on the federal government to reverse recent restrictions on the provision of mental-health support to members of veterans’ families who need treatment because of their loved one’s service in uniform.

The demand from ombudsman Nishika Jardine is in a scathing report released Tuesday, one year after Ottawa imposed the restrictions following outrage over Veterans Affairs Canada having paid for Christopher Garnier’s counselling sessions.

The son of a veteran, Garnier was convicted in 2017 of having murdered an off-duty police officer in Halifax and was in prison at the time his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was being covered by the government.

The Liberal government responded to the controversy by ordering Veterans Affairs staff to take a second look before approving funds and services for veterans’ families, particularly those convicted of serious crimes.

Family members can now only get federal support if their own treatment aids the recovery of a relative who served in uniform, and if the treatment is set up by the veteran’s doctor. They are also only allowed 25 sessions per year, and can’t see more than one professional at a time.

Jardine’s report suggests the new restrictions have harmed many veterans’ families, who the ombudsman says face unique challenges such as constant moves and long separations.

There is also the stress that comes from knowing a loved one is deployed on a potentially dangerous mission, and the many difficulties that come from living with someone who has returned and is now suffering from physical and mental injuries.

“To be really crystal clear, we’re talking about when their mental-health issues can be clearly linked to their being part of a military family,” Jardine said in an interview.

“We’ve come to agree to acknowledge that when a military member serves or a veteran has served, that their family serves right alongside them.”

The report quotes a disabled veteran whose young child had started having panic attacks after Ottawa cut their support and the wife of a veteran suffering from PTSD and whose children have similarly been able to access support only with federal help.

“They did not ask for this, they did not ask for a broken father, all they often want is a dad who is not sick, a normal dad,” the report quotes the wife, who is not named.

“How do you give this to them? They seek counselling to help them understand via age-appropriate methods and skills that are beyond my scope as a mother.”

Some of those quoted also questioned how the government could justify the restrictions when Canadian Armed Forces commanders have repeatedly stressed how supporting military families at home contributes to successful missions abroad.

The ombudsman’s report criticizes how the government rolled out the new restrictions without notifying or consulting with families, many of whom found out about the changes from their doctors and psychologists.

“It was to those family members to find out that partway through their treatment, that the treatment isn’t going to be able to be continued,” Jardine told The Canadian Press.

The ombudsman notes that one of her predecessors first called on the government in 2016 to provide more mental-health support to veterans’ families and describes the issue as a matter of fairness.

“The provision of mental-health care to family members is an issue of fair outcomes in that service-related needs are not being met by current programs,” the report says.

In a letter to Jardine on Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay suggested the department did not have the authority to “offer funding for treatment benefits for a veteran’s family member in their own right.”

While MacAulay left the door open to expanding the department’s authority, he emphasized that Veterans Affairs would look at “alternative resources … and be as flexible as possible where it can” while considering what new measures might be needed.

The letter was provided to The Canadian Press by MacAulay’s office.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

mental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, top, is shown on the bench after NHL action against the Clagary Flames  in Calgary, Alta., Thursday April 9, 2015. Sutter says he has "unfinished business" as he returns to coach the Calgary Flames. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal
Darryl Sutter has ‘unfinished business’ in return to Calgary Flames

Darryl Sutter has ‘unfinished business’ in return to Calgary Flames

Walter Gretzky talks to people while at the funeral of Celtic music legend John Allan Cameron at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Pickering, Ont., Monday, Nov. 27, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘A legend in his own right’: Hockey world pays tribute to the late Walter Gretzky

‘A legend in his own right’: Hockey world pays tribute to the late Walter Gretzky

Jordan Spieth follows his approach shot to the ninth green during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Conners builds 1-shot lead at Bay Hill as McIlroy lurks

Conners builds 1-shot lead at Bay Hill as McIlroy lurks

Team Canada skip Brad Gushue makes a shot as he plays Team Ontario at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 5, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

Switzerland's celebrates after the final match at the Women's Curling World Championship in Silkeborg Denmark Sunday March 24. 2019. The 2021 world women's curling championship is back on the curling calendar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Ritzau Scanpix - Henning Bagger
Women’s world curling championship back on calendar, added to Calgary bubble

Women’s world curling championship back on calendar, added to Calgary bubble

Most Read