Jenifer Migneault says she chased after Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino on Thursday in an attempt to convince him to provide more training to veterans' spouses and recognize them as caregivers to support injured soldiers.
The veteran's spouse demanded to speak with Fantino following his appearance at the House committee on veterans' affairs, accusing him of forgetting about spouses as he walked through a throng of reporters — a scene that was caught on camera and reminiscent of Fantino's testy encounter earlier this year with veterans angry about the closure of federal offices.
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"The only thing I can tell you," she said to Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics, "is that while I was waiting for him outside for him to come out, suddenly all my friends I talked to everyday — the one that lives the same situation as I do — like they all came up in my mind and I needed to talk to him."
Migneault said there are schools to train social workers and psychologists, so why not offer that training to veterans' spouses who effectively fulfil the same roles for their loved ones? She said it would have a huge benefit to the lives of families, as well as the wounded.
"They need us to intervene in an appropriate way which, sometimes, we don't know how to. Unfortunately, you know, it leads up to divorces and a lot of pain and suffering and loneliness," she said.
"This leads to suicide, right?"
Migneault recalled the first time she realized the seriousness of post-traumatic stress disorder. Her husband, Claude Rainville, had gotten "really mad" after a disagreement and disappeared into the woods for four hours. Migneault said Rainville, who was diagnosed with PTSD eight years ago, walked 25 kilometres with a camera as his weapon, thinking he was still in the military and convinced the nearby farmers were out to kill him.
"He was completely disassociated," she said. "Let me tell you, when we found him, 4½ hours later, the man I hugged wasn't my husband."
"Do you realize that night I made love to him because I didn't know how to reach him?" she said
"You want to know more, Mr. Fantino? You need to hear more? Listen to us, we'll give you plenty of stories to convince you that we, as spouses, as caregivers, are your best secret weapon."
Latest controversy, no apologies
The incident with Migneault is the latest controversy for Fantino.
The Official Opposition called on the minister to apologize during Friday's question period in the House of Commons.
"All veterans and their families want is to be listened to and respected — something the minister was unable to do yesterday," said NDP House leader Peter Julian.
Parliamentary secretary to the veterans affairs minister Parm Gill responded by saying the department couldn't elaborate on any assistance that might have been provided to Migneault's husband owing to "respect of the veteran's privacy."
"As reported several weeks ago, Veterans Affairs has been in touch with this individual and his family at the minister's directions," Gill said.
He offered no apologies.
'Just give us the tools'
Parliamentary secretary to the prime minister Paul Calandra defended Fantino.
"Let's be a touch fair to the minister," Calandra said to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.
"He was over in the Promenade and we had votes that had to be undertaken," he said, referring to the location of a parliamentary office a few blocks away from Parliament, where votes are tallied.
"When a vote is taken, the bells ring and you rush to give those votes and then you come back to committee."
In response to a CBC News query, Fantino's office told CBC News he was busy in his riding and would not be doing any interviews. His staff also said they have no record of Migneault asking to meet with the minister, but that they "reached out to this veteran two weeks ago to ensure they are aware of all the programs available to them."
"Yes, they did call and yes they did verify," Migneault said. "They just don't get what we're saying."
"We are not asking for the end of the world here. Just give us the tools and we'll give you results. Real results."