For veterans transitioning to civilian life, 'the amount of care available is limited': ombudsman

National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

'We've been at it for a few years trying to get a policy in. And we're still waiting,' Gary Walbourne says

'We need to make sure that before we transition these soldiers out of the military that we have put in place the safety net they require,' says National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The suicide of Canadian veteran Joseph Allina in front of the Seaforth Armoury in Vancouver has sparked debate around whether the Canadian Armed Forces and the federal government are doing enough to support soldiers transitioning out of the military.

National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman Gary Walbourne spoke to Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition, about where Canada's response is lacking.

I know you can't speak to the specifics of this case — but what's your reaction when you hear a story like this? 

I think about the sadness of it.

We need to make sure that before we transition these soldiers out of the military that we have put in place the safety net they require. That we hold the member until all benefits and services required are put in place.

We've been at it for a few years trying to get a policy in. And we're still waiting — and that's unfortunate.

Joseph Allina was suffering from PTSD and living in Langley. He had to travel to West Vancouver to see his psychiatrist, a round trip of 107 kilometres. What would be a reasonable distance for a veteran with PTSD to travel to receive appropriate health care?

I don't know if we can talk about reasonable distance, Stephen, but what we can talk about is taking into consideration the restrictions or limitations that may be on the individuals.

What I'm talking about is having a system in place that makes sure that soldier doesn't have to do that.

Master Cpl. Joseph Allina during one of three tours in Afghanistan before he retired from the military in 2016. The 35-year-old killed himself in July after struggling with PTSD. (Submitted by Sandra Weissinger)

Joseph's stepfather — a former soldier — says psychiatric or psychological care needs to be specific to veterans suffering PTSD as it relates to the military. Are people getting that kind of care?

The amount of care available is limited. This type of expertise is a little limited in the country and that may pose some restrictions.

Should the Canadian Forces be offering dedicated military health-care services for veterans who live in a metropolitan area?

The Canadian Armed Forces need to ensure that we do not release a member until all the services they require are in place and if that means they need to be available in a metro centre or an urban centre — however that looks like — that's where we need to end up.

But how is that a solution? Because some of those services may never be in place.

Well, these are some of the conversations we need to have. 

Whatever that looks like at the end of the day is going to have to be designed by the Canadian Forces with the thought process in mind that they are responsible to ensure that the transition for these members is what they need it to be.

Ultimately, who is responsible for the death of Joseph Allina and other veterans who have died by their own hands after living with PTSD?

I don't think I'm going to go down the road of talking about who is responsible for suicide.

Suicide is a result of mental illness at times. So I don't think it's an issue of who's responsible for suicide.

I want to talk about having systems in place and benefits.

Sure, but who is responsible for soldiers not getting the medical and psychiatric care they need?

The responsibility is a government-wide responsibility, it rests with Veterans Affairs Canada and with the Canadian Armed Forces. I think the lines of responsibility are clear there.

This interview has been edited for clarity; you can listen to the full interview below.

Stephen Quinn, host of The Early Edition, spoke with National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman, Gary Walbourne about whether the Canadian Armed Forces and the Government are doing enough to support veterans suffering with PTSD. 6:56


Where to get help

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Toll-free: 1-833-456-4566
Text: 45645
Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre