Alberta veterans face uphill battle for mental health care
In Alberta, many veterans of Canada's military find themselves fighting a new battle when they return to civilian life — a struggle to get the mental health services they need.
Canada’s auditor general has criticized the aid that the federal government provides to veterans, saying that there are too many barriers and that the process is too lengthy and complex.
Many of Alberta’s veterans have experienced those frustrations first hand.
“Veterans’ Affairs has always been like that,” said Tom Rimmer, who spent 30 years with the Royal Canadian Navy before retiring to Edmonton.
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Many of the former military members the he knows have sought help for PTSD and other mental health services, only to find a long wait ahead of them, he said.
The auditor general’s report found that for first applications for mental-health benefits over the past year, only 75 per cent of Veteran’s Affairs decisions were made within 16 weeks. That left almost 800 veterans waiting for more than three months.
The report also found long wait times at clinics that treated former soldiers.
The system is further strained by a larger number of new veterans from the Afghanistan war, Rimmer said.
“The government’s trying to help," he said. "But there are so many of them coming out at one time, that it’s pretty hard to keep up with everybody.
“It should be faster than what they’re doing.”
The wait for services can be devastating.
“The longer it takes the person to get the help he or she needs, the worse that they will get,” said Albertine Payne, a veteran who volunteers with Veterans Emergency Transition Services in Alberta.
The charity helps veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Many former soldiers are either unaware that they might need mental health services, or reluctant to seek help, she said. When they do finally look to Veterans Affairs, they face more waiting.
“Sometimes it can take time, even as another veteran, to get their confidence that we are there to help.”
“They’ve separated from their families. They are at risk of being homeless.”