Additional $200M announced for military mental health programs over 6 years

WATCH ABOVE: The federal government says it will spend $200-million dollars to support the military on that front. But as Ross Lord reports, critics say this announcement is more about political damage control than about helping vets.

OTTAWA – The federal government has announced $200 million over six years to support mental health needs of military members, veterans and their families.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces also announced Sunday that an additional $16.7 million in ongoing funds will be available to support forces members, veterans, and their families.

Health records to be digitized

The government says some of the money will fund completely digitizing the health records of all serving personnel, investing in brain imaging technology and extending access to Military Family Resource Centres.

It also says there will be additional investments in research aimed at finding better treatments and faster recoveries for serving members and veterans with mental health conditions.

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Among the areas of research that will be undertaken is looking at how forces members transition from military to civilian life with an emphasis on those with service in Afghanistan.

WATCH:Veterans Affairs minister Julian Fantino announces more money for military mental health programs

The research will also look at the causes and prevention of veteran suicides, and ways to improve the recognition, diagnosis, treatment and well-being of veterans with mental health conditions.

The announcement says the Canadian Forces will hire additional staff to help educate serving members and their families in managing their reactions to stress, and recognizing mental duress.

The announcement comes just days after veterans learned that the federal department responsible for their care and benefits was unable to spend upwards of $1.1 billion of its budget over seven years.

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Like other departments unable to spend their appropriation within the budget year, Veterans Affairs was required to return its unspent funds to the treasury.

The Royal Canadian Legion wrote Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino on Thursday, demanding a detailed accounting of which programs had lapsed funding and why.

READ MORE: $1.1B in lapsed funding for veterans ‘not lost money’: Fantino

The figures put before Parliament show the veterans department handed back a relatively small percentage of its budget in 2005-06, but shortly after the Conservatives were elected the figure spiked to 8.2 per cent of allocation.

Mike Blais, head of watchdog group Canadians Veterans Advocacy, said the measures announced Sunday would provide a “marginal benefit” to veterans but stop short of what is needed.

“It’s not enough resourcing, it’s not enough effort put forward in accepting this obligation” to mental health.

An Auditor General’s report on mental health services and benefits for veterans is due out Tuesday, and Blais said the funding roll-out was timed to get ahead of what is expected to be a scathing review.

“I think this is not an act of good faith – it’s an act that they’re responding to what’s going to be a very unfavourable Auditor General’s report,” he said.

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Also announced Sunday was a new operational stress injury clinic, slated to open in Halifax in the fall of 2015.

In addition to the clinic in Halifax, Veterans Affairs Canada will expand satellite services in nine locations throughout the country, which are funded by Veterans Affairs, but are operated by provincial health authorities.

There are currently outpatient clinics in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Ont., Ottawa, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., Quebec City, and Fredericton.

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