Veterans Affairs stands by policy paying for PTSD help for murderer who never served

The chief of psychiatry for Veterans Affairs says a program that is paying for the PTSD treatment of a convicted murderer from Halifax who never served in the military aims to help the rehabilitation of veterans by supporting their families.

Tory critic wants Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan to intervene in case involving Christopher Garnier

Christopher Garnier, shown at Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax on Nov. 21, 2017, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of off-duty police officer Catherine Campbell. He has been receiving treatment from a private psychologist that is funded under his father's benefits with Veterans Affairs Canada. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The chief of psychiatry for Veterans Affairs says a program that is paying for the PTSD treatment of a convicted Nova Scotia murderer who never served in the military aims to help the rehabilitation of veterans by supporting their families.

Dr. Alexandra Heber said she could not discuss Christopher Garnier's situation directly, citing privacy issues, but said decisions about who can access taxpayer-paid benefits are made on a case-by-case basis.

"If part of the rehab plan for the veteran says that there are issues with a family member that are impeding the veteran from getting well, then a decision can be made to provide care for the family members," Heber told CBC News.

Garnier, 30, of Halifax, was convicted last year of second-degree murder in the 2015 death of off-duty Truro, N.S., police officer Catherine Campbell. An expert at trial testified Garnier developed post-traumatic stress syndrome as a direct result of strangling Campbell.

While behind bars, Garnier has been receiving treatment from a private psychologist funded under the Veterans Affairs benefits of his father, a former military member. The decision by the department has outraged Campbell's family and angered some veterans.

Veterans Affairs said there are no specific rules barring people who have been convicted of murder or other serious crimes from receiving benefits from the department.

Members of the military who were dishonourably released can still apply for help, and decisions are made on an individual basis, said department spokesperson Marc Lescoutre.

Tories call for change

The court heard because Garnier's father, Vince, also has PTSD, getting treatment for his son helps them both, and Veterans Affairs covers the psychological help.  

Vince Garnier did not respond to an interview request from CBC.

The federal Conservatives' critic for Veterans Affairs says the decision to extend benefits to Christopher Garnier is "just outrageous."

"It's hugely bizarre and surprising that he would even come anywhere near qualifying this, let alone the fact that he's murdered a police officer," said MP Phil McColeman.

MP Phil McColeman, the Conservatives' critic for Veterans Affairs, says the decision to extend benefits to Garnier is 'just outrageous.' (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

McColeman is calling on Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan to intervene.

"Make sure this individual does not get paid treatments through Veterans Affairs and that the money Veterans Affairs has should go into helping veterans and helping their dependent families," McColeman said.

He said if Garnier needs PTSD treatment, he should be tapping into resources available through the prison.

Veterans' families troubled

Kim Davis of Lawrencetown, N.S., is married to a veteran who came home from a tour in Bosnia with PTSD and calls the treatment Garnier is receiving "very troubling." 

Davis and her daughter receive psychological help through Veterans Affairs to deal with the toll her husband's PTSD has taken on their family. 

"After fighting with my husband's case manager about five years ago, we were able to seek psychological services for my daughter and myself." 

She doesn't understand why Garnier is benefiting from the same program that is helping them.

"He's going to be in the prison system — they have psychologists and psychiatrists in there," she said. "Why is Veterans Affairs covering the cost of this when this is a crime he committed himself?"

Fred Rideout, a Windsor, N.S., veteran, said he was not aware that his family members could have counselling paid for by Veterans Affairs until he read CBC's story about Garnier's PTSD treatment.

Rideout said he has experienced trauma during his time in the military that included recovery work after a plane crash in Labrador, and that he suffers from PTSD, severe depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Windsor, N.S., veteran Fred Rideout says his family has been dealing for years with his mental health issues, but his Veterans Affairs case manager never mentioned they were eligible for help. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Rideout said his family has been dealing for years with his mental health issues, but his Veterans Affairs case manager never mentioned they were eligible for help. 

"And yet, this guy pops out of nowhere and was convicted of murder ... and somehow miraculously Veterans Affairs is able to process his claim and grant him treatment benefits," Rideout said. 

"That to me as a veteran, it leaves a really bad taste in my mouth."

About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.

With files from Jenny Cowley and Cassie Williams