Veterans and mental health care – a guest post
Today’s guest post has some personal reflections by a mental health professional who treats veterans with PTSD here in Kingston and the Islands and knows the life, family, and community context in which this doctor and his/her clients work.
I am not as concerned with wait times, We all know that wait times are too long. This has been identified over and over again in reports.
I am more concerned with the soldiers who have given up and will not access the services which do exist. They have given up because of frustration and shame . Frustration with a cumbersome system and shame about their illness. These Veterans and their families are at high risk, of isolation, separations, homelessness and self medicating with alcohol or drugs.
The VAC system was set up to serve ageing Veterans from WWII . There has been much work done in the past 10 years which attempts to over haul this system and make it more responsive and adapted to the needs of our current Vets, who are young and middle aged. Veterans who have served on UN Missions in Africa and the Balkans, and now Afghanistan.
These Veterans have different needs and some good programs have been developed to meet their needs. However, VAC has not been given enough resources to meet the need. And now even these good programs have become overwhelmed and are in danger of collapse. OSISS [Operational Stress Injury Social Support http://www.osiss.ca/ ] is one example of this. OSSIS is a world class program, developed in Canada. It is a Peer Support Network that can provide timely support . Much of the work is done by volunteers . But the people who keep the program running are often tasked with the work which should be done by 5 people.
In my experience, OSISS staff and VAC staff are hard working, dedicated and determined to provide care for Veterans and their families. But they are working past the limit of endurance and many are burning out. I have daily contact with this system and I can see the impact of overload and under-funding.
So, at this point, it is not only the Veterans and their families that we must be concerned about. We need to pay careful attention to the VAC and OSISS workers who are struggling to meet the demand for service , which will only increase in the next years. This system desperately needs funding and increased personnel. Buildings do not care for people. People care for people. More staff is needed, not more buildings. Cutbacks in staff is un-acceptable and counter productive. VAC does not appear to have a process for recruiting Psychiatrists which is effective. This has been identified as a priority on previous reports.
It is very important to understand that any money put into this system will come directly back to our communities. It will allow these Veterans to make their car payments and pay the mortgage and provide for their families in a way which is respectful. Veterans who receive good care , will give back to the community in many ways. From shoveling the neighborhood driveways, to coaching children on the soccer field, to volunteer work at schools and community centers. These are people who are highly motivated to work and care for their country. If we look after them well, this care will come back to our community and country.
J. McCulloch MD