Nova Scotia

Norwegian war hero to get care at Halifax veterans' hospital after months of struggle

Up until now, Veterans Affairs has refused Petter Blindheim, 94, a bed at the facility, saying he did not meet the criteria for care.

Veterans Affairs Canada also to review long-term care needs for veterans

Marilyn Blindheim and her husband Petter Blindheim have been married for 47 years. The Blindheim family says they're happy about today's decision to finally admit Petter into Camp Hill. (CBC)

The family of a decorated Norwegian-Canadian war hero says that after months of struggle, Petter Blindheim, 94, will finally be admitted to a Halifax veterans' hospital for long-term care.

Peter Blindheim, Blindheim's son, says he met with Halifax MP Andy Fillmore on Friday, who gave him the news in person.

"It's a shocker, it's a big change from what we were told yesterday," Blindheim told CBC News Friday.

His son called the decision to finally open a spot for his father at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital not only "a positive outcome for us, it is going to have a positive outcome for Canada."

Veterans Affairs launches review

The federal government's decision is part of a new agreement between the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Veterans Affairs Canada to provide broader access for veterans to 15 beds at the hospital.

Libby Douglas, the director general of service delivery and program management for Veterans Affairs Canada, said all veterans interested in moving into Camp Hill would still have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

But in general terms, she said any veteran who is eligible for care at a community facility in the province would now be considered for one of the 15 beds.

That means there would also potentially be opportunities for newer veterans to access Camp Hill.

The department also announced on Friday it would conduct a review of long-term care needs for veterans. Douglas said it was too soon to provide details on the substance of the review or a timeline.

Protests and 'bureaucratic BS'

Blindheim is now in the process of being admitted to Camp Hill, according to his son. Marilyn Blindheim said she'll be in to visit her husband every day. 

"Camp Hill's the place for him because he's a Second World War veteran, he's a hero," she said. "I know in my heart I just can't take care of him anymore, I'd love to but it's just too much on me."

Up until now, Veterans Affairs has refused Blindheim a bed at the facility. His treatment by the department led to a protest last week and even prompted Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil to call on the federal Liberals to stop the "bureaucratic BS."

'Feel the heat, you see the light'

Veterans Affairs initially told the family Blindheim was not eligible for Camp Hill because he enlisted during the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War and fought as part of the resistance, rather than an Allied country.

The department later said Blindheim wouldn't be allowed at Camp Hill because there was adequate care at existing provincial facilities.

"Once you feel the heat, you see the light, as they say," said former NDP MP Peter Stoffer, who's been vocal through Blindheim's case. 

"Hopefully the bureaucrats will learn from this that stuff of this nature should be very straightforward in the future. These men and women are asking for just a little bit of respect and dignity and care at the remaining ends of their lives."

Lots of behind the scenes work

In an interview, Fillmore said it was obvious right away that Blindheim needed a bed and people at all levels of government worked together as quickly as possible to make the change announced Friday.

"When you try to shift direction on the ship of state and that command goes down to the engine room, it takes a little time to turn that big ship," he said.

Veterans Affairs initially told the family Blindheim was not eligible for Camp Hill because he enlisted during the German occupation of Norway in the Second World War and fought as part of the resistance, rather than an Allied country. (CBC)

While the initial reaction in a disputed case such as this is to consult the rule book, Fillmore said it was clear that wasn't going to cut it.

"What we've learned through this is that those rules simply weren't good enough," he said. "They weren't meeting the need."

Fillmore praised Blindheim and his family for their advocacy work and the change they've helped bring about for other veterans. The changes happening in Nova Scotia will eventually be rolled out across the country, he said.

"The first thing that my dad said when I sat down and told him was, 'Well what about the other veterans? It won't look good if I just go there,'" said Peter Blindheim.

Regulations 'not currently compassionate'

Peter Blindheim said the federal government's change of heart was a 'shocker.' (CBC)

In a statement, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr did not mention Blindheim's case. However, he said the federal government has been working closely with Nova Scotia MPs and the provincial health authority to overcome "challenges faced by veterans in accessing long-term care in Nova Scotia."

"The Veterans Health Care Regulations are not currently compassionate or flexible enough to address the urgent needs of our veterans," said Hehr in a statement.

With files from David Irish