Assisted death offer casts doubt on Veterans’ mental health supports: advocates – National
Canadian military veterans and advocates say the case of a veteran being offered medical assistance in dying by a Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) employee should trigger an investigation into the agency’s ability to take care of the mental health of ex-soldiers.
With many soldiers who served in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq suffering from traumatic brain injuries – which can lead to suicidal thoughts – veterans say the need to provide proper care is more important than ever.
« (My fear is) can someone who is on the edge be pushed in the wrong direction or negatively impacted by a suggestion… of something like physician-assisted dying? » said the retired sergeant. Tobias Miller, who was injured while serving in Afghanistan.
« When you have to battle your own brain daily telling you things you don’t want to hear, I kind of wonder how a department whose only job is to take care of us and help us heal would step in and … would make an offer that could see veterans hurting each other.
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Sources tell Global News that a VAC duty officer brought up medical assistance in dying, or MAID, unprompted in a conversation with the veteran, who was seeking treatment for a stress disorder. post-traumatic and traumatic brain injury. Global News does not identify the veteran who was seeking treatment.
But multiple sources tell Global News that the combat veteran never raised the issue, nor was he looking for MAID, and was deeply troubled by the suggestion. These sources and VAC told Global News that the discussion took place, with VAC confirming that it was investigating the incident.
Sources close to the veteran say he and his family were disgusted by the conversation and feel betrayed by the department responsible for helping veterans. The sources said the veteran was seeking services to recover from injuries sustained in the line of duty and had experienced positive improvements in his mental and physical health. They say MAID’s unsolicited offer disrupted his progress and adversely affected the veteran’s progress and his family’s well-being.
Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada – an organization focused on providing mental health services to veterans – said the “completely misguided” discussion and its impact show how fragile mental health care can be, especially for former soldiers.
« You have a chance, » he told Global News. “Every conversation matters, as they may be delayed so that they no longer receive care or feel comfortable reaching out and accessing independent support.”
Although post-traumatic stress and other mental health impacts have always been a side effect of military service, traumatic brain injury has been called a « signature injury » for veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in due to the high number of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). ) used, including roadside bombs.
The number of soldiers who suffered head trauma is not regularly tracked, but a 2010 military report suggests that about 6% of Canadians who served in the Middle East during the early years of the conflict were injured.
A year later, the Globe and Mail reported on a National Defense study that found Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were hospitalized for head injuries between 2006 and 2009 at nearly three times the rate of Americans. who fought there in previous years.
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Miller, who suffered a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and suffers from PTSD, says he personally heard negative and even suicidal “voices” in his head before he learned to « fight this voice and ignore it ».
Someone without these coping mechanisms might be more responsive to suggestions like assisted death, he adds, making it more alarming that such an offer could be made by a VAC worker.
« One of my thought processes was, is this department out of touch with modern veterans? » he said.
“I worry, and most of us (veterans) worry, has this been done to anyone else? Has anyone else this suggestion been made to? »
The department did not respond to questions from Global News about the number of times assisted dying was offered to veterans through this particular VAC employee or other Veterans Affairs individuals. , nor on the advice employees have received for providing such advice.
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VAC told Global News that providing advice on medical assistance in dying « is not a service of VAC » and that employees do not have the mandate to make such a recommendation to clients.
The department noted, however, that it may offer assistance to veteran clients and their families after the veteran has already made the decision to pursue an assisted death with their primary care provider, who by law is responsible. to make such a recommendation.
In a statement released Tuesday following the Global News report, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said he had asked Deputy Minister Paul Ledwell – who directly oversees the department – « to ensure that this won’t happen again ».
« What happened to this veteran is completely unacceptable, » he said, adding that the incident « should never have happened. »
MacAulay said he had been assured « appropriate administrative action would be taken », but did not elaborate on what that would mean. VAC would not discuss the nature of the ongoing investigation or the details of the consequences the employee may face, citing confidentiality concerns.
Maxwell of Wounded Warriors Canada says VAC employees need to be better trained to help veterans deal with mental health issues as they transition to civilian life.
He now fears that this veteran’s experience may deter others from seeking the benefits they are entitled to from the department.
« It’s just devastating, it’s unacceptable, » he said.
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For his part, Miller says greater transparency is needed to restore the relationship between VAC and veterans, who he says are in critical need of support.
« We are one year after the fall of Kabul, » he said. “There are a lot of raw emotions in the veteran community right now. There are a lot of veterans wondering if their sacrifice, their blood and their treasure was worth it.
« Having a department whose responsibility it is (to look after veterans) to say, ‘Well, maybe we could help you out of not being here’, does that reinforce the feeling that it’s not Wasn’t worth it, that it was wasted? ”
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