Military spouses need more help coping with PTSD, NDP says

The New Democrats are calling on the government to increase support for spouses of military members to deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

One woman was told to leave her husband after seeking help

NDP MP Peter Stoffer, pictured here in 2012, is urging the government to provide more assistance to military spouses. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The New Democrats are calling on the government to increase support for spouses of military members dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

At a news conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday afternoon, Peter Stoffer and Sylvaine Chicoine, the party's veterans affairs critic and deputy critic, were joined by three women who made impassioned pleas to restore programs that helped spouses of military members deal with the effects of PTSD. 

One of the women, Paula Ramsay, said her husband is currently serving in the military and went on two tours to Afghanistan. She said after the first tour, he was diagnosed with an operational stress injury. But because the paperwork was mismanaged, she said, he was sent again.

"After a second tour, he came back with PTSD — full blown PTSD," Ramsay said.

When Ramsay sought help, she said she was told to leave her husband. She eventually went back to school to take a social worker course.

"I needed help. I did not need a job," she said. "I took the social service worker course so that I could get the help that I needed to manage my family."

Ramsay said National Defence stopped offering the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course in 2011.

"This is important to bring back to give to the spouses and to give to every military member," she said.

Ramsay was joined by Jenifer Migneault and Celine Drapeau, who are both living with partners who served in the military and have PTSD. They said they are just a small fraction of the men and women who dealing with similar problems.

Stoffer wants the government to ensure that all support systems are in place "immediately upon request" and that it won't cut back on programs, even if some individuals might be doing better. 

"Everybody should know that post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t ever leave you," he said. 

When asked what sort of programs the NDP would propose, Stoffer said it depends on families.

"Get the government to sit down in their homes and say, 'What is it that we could do to assist you in order to assist your husband?' Let them design the programs. Don't let it come from Ottawa."

Review of Veterans Charter

Stoffer, who's a vice-chair of the House committee on veterans affairs, said he will push this issue at a meeting Tuesday afternoon to review the Enhanced New Veterans Charter.

The charter currently has some provisions available to assist military spouses, namely career transition services if they meet eligibility requirements. It also provides help for families in case the military member dies in service.

But in a phone interview with CBC News, Stoffer said it doesn't include such provisions in the case of a loved one returning home suffering from PTSD. 

The NDP MP suggests more funding and programs to train family members on how to help rehabilitate those returning from active service, especially in lieu of an adequate number of mental health professionals in the military. 

It could be done on the ground level, Stoffer said, at local bases and joint personnel support units.

He also goes further and suggests that perhaps government could provide a stipend to families in those situations, where a spouse is likely to pull back from his or her own job to stay home to provide care.

“We have to make sure that they themselves have the resources at their disposal to be able to assist their loved ones," Stoffer said.

"The alternative is divorce. Or this veteran ends up under a bridge somewhere — homeless.”

Or, Stoffer added sombrely, suicide.