An Afghanistan war veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder says he's not getting the compensation he's entitled to from Veterans Affairs Canada.
'I had a major breakdown ... I tried to take my life.' —Steven Ruttan, veteran diagnosed with PTSD
Steven Ruttan believes he's entitled to a lump-sum payment of at least $200,000 for PTSD, but Veterans Affairs Canada says he will get $60,000.
The Quebec resident said his complaints to bureaucrats have fallen on deaf ears.
"I feel that I'm being slapped in the face. These people are supposed to be here for us and they're not. They give you the least amount of help they possibly can, and it's just not fair,” Ruttan said after he contacted CBC News Montreal with his story.
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Ruttan served in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, as part of a crew that operated an M-777 howitzer heavy artillery gun.
A year and a half after he returned home, Ruttan started to suffer from symptoms of PTSD.
"I experienced anger, anxiety attacks. I turned into an agoraphobe — I couldn't leave the house for days at a time. I had a major breakdown. I downed a whole bottle of pills. I tried to take my life," Ruttan said.
He reached out for help after his suicide attempt.
Ruttan was diagnosed with PTSD, severe depression and dissociative disorder.
He spent three months getting treatment last year at Ste. Anne's Hospital, a veterans' hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que.
He still regularly sees a psychiatrist, a psychologist and a social worker.
He has now returned to work part time at a military desk job at the base in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
Cash payment based on criteria
Ruttan told CBC News that while his mental health has improved, his battle with bureaucracy at Veterans Affairs Canada has been a nightmare.
"It's horrible. It's horrible. It's stressing. They don't ever give you a proper answer. They're not taking care of us. I feel they're letting us down."
Soldiers injured mentally or physically in combat are entitled to a lump-sum cash payment.
The amount varies based on a complicated set of criteria. The maximum any soldier can receive is about $300,000.
Veterans Affairs says all he's entitled to is the $60,000 he has received.
Based on his own calculations, Ruttan thinks he's entitled to much more.
In a statement emailed to CBC News, Veterans Affairs pointed out that Ruttan is still drawing a full military salary and that treatment and rehabilitation are being fully covered.
The statement also said that Ruttan may qualify for other benefits once he leaves the military.
Veteran advocate says Ruttan being 'low-balled'
'I'm not surprised that he's being treated and low-balled in such a manner.' —Sean Bruyea, veterans advocate
Sean Bruyea, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force captain who now works as an advocate for veterans, reviewed Ruttan's case.
Bruyea said he believes Ruttan should have been awarded $240,000.
"I'm not surprised that he's being treated and low-balled in such a manner with this lump-sum award, but it does pain the heart to see veterans continually treated this way even after the high-profile cases that have come forward before him," Bruyea said.
Bruyea said Ruttan can appeal the amount, but appeals can take years and create stress for veterans who are already vulnerable.
"This is a typical morass that veterans enter into, especially the most seriously disabled," said Bruyea. "When we're talking about basic injuries like a bad knee or a bum shoulder or a twisted ankle, these cases are easy to figure out. But when you're talking about more complex cases, unfortunately the department has made it more difficult to get a fair hearing and a fair decision."
Ruttan is tired of the waiting and uncertainty. He expects to leave the military soon and look for work in Alberta.
He said he had hoped to use the money to pay some debts and put a down payment on a house.
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He has a three year-old daughter whom he sees only occasionally.
"That's what this money was going to — the stability of a home to be able to take care of my daughter. I had lots of plans for this money. It was a game-changer," Ruttan said.