March 24, 2017 9:41 am
Updated: March 24, 2017 2:09 pm

N.S. Opposition, disabled veterans and families call on government for help

N.S. Opposition, disabled veterans and their families are calling on both the provincial and federal government for help. Global's Natasha Pace reports.

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An independent group of disabled veterans, their spouses, families and widows gathered at the Nova Scotia legislature Friday morning to call on both the provincial and federal government to do more for the men and women who serve our country.

READ MORE: PTSD: What happens when Canadian military members ask for help?

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“Don’t join the Canadian Armed Forces. If you get wounded or injured, Veterans Affairs Canada is unwilling or unable to help you,” said David MacLeod, a disabled veteran who served in Afghanistan.

MacLeod said Nova Scotia has the largest veteran population per capita in Canada and that the provincial government needs to step up and request more help from the feds.

“Our veterans need better care,” MacLeod said.

“It’s necessary for provincial governments to secure, from the federal government, increased healthcare funding and supports for veterans and their families. In doing so, the provincial government addresses financial shortfalls that were accepted in December 2016. By gaining greater resources from the federal government it reduces the burden on Nova Scotia taxpayers and an overtaxed healthcare system.”

NS PC leader Jamie Baillie said that when veterans do not get the help they need from Veterans Affairs in Ottawa, they end up in the Nova Scotia healthcare system.

“I stand proudly by our veterans and will do everything I can to ensure that their pleas do not fall on deaf ears,” said Baillie in a release.

“The province and the country are failing these veterans and that is unacceptable.”

READ MORE: VETS Canada looking to help female veterans

Kim Davis is a veteran’s spouse and advocate for Canadian veterans. She said families of veterans are on the front lines – fighting alongside their spouses or children for help from Veterans Affairs. Davis said she, and other family members, often become primary care givers for veterans – they have to administer medications, act as taxi drivers to transport veterans to and from appointments and deal with suicidal loved ones.

“I married my husband because I love him. I stay with him because I love him. I fight for him because I love him. I am not going to let my husband take his life and deal with the consequences afterwards,” Davis said.

“Why do they (veterans) have to go to war with our Canadian government to get help? To get financial security which is all they were asking for from this government during the election. Financial security and a lifelong pension that cannot be touched because its under the pension act.”

Davis says more and more, veterans are being released with serious mental health issues.

Earlier this year, Afghanistan veteran Lionel Desmond shot and killed his wife Shanna, mother Brenda and 10-year-old daughter Aaliyah before turning the gun on himself. Family members have said Desmond suffered from PTSD and did not get the help he required.

Davis agrees that what happened to the Desmond family should serve as a wake-up call for the government.

READ MORE: Not helping veterans could turn into national security problem: Military Ombudsman

“The military fights for your freedom. They protect you,” she said.

“When something happens and it’s a drastic or a catastrophic eent that happens even in this province, you ask the military, ‘come help us.’ We’re asking the community to help them. They’re being reintegrated back into a community where the supports are not even being set up for them.”

The group has identified several systematic failures within Veteran Affairs that undermine the health, welfare and care of veterans’ and their families. They are as follows:

  •     Bureaucracy blocking access to benefits and services
  •     Undermining provincial healthcare planning by continuing to download the cost of the war onto the provinces
  •     Unwillingness of the Liberal government to provide promised lifelong pensions for disabled veterans in accordance with the Pension Act
  •     Systematic misinformation from the Minster of Veteran Affairs
  •     Minster of Veteran Affairs’ failed veteran engagement via Stakeholders Summits and Advisory Groups
  •     Unwillingness of the Office of the Veteran Ombudsman to be more assertive

In addition to better access to healthcare, veterans like Medric Cousineau are also fighting to be treated fairly under the law. Cousineau is a former captain for the Canadian Forces who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He has written more than 100 letters to the federal government in an attempt to get them to recognize psychiatric service dogs the same way that other services dogs are recognized – and allow them to be eligible as a medical expense tax credit.

READ MORE: NS veterans want Medical Expense Tax Credit to include psychiatric service dogs

“That policy is discriminatory” he said. “You have discriminated on the basis of my disability. That I am not being treated fairly under the Income Tax Act of Canada.”

While veterans and their families know Veterans Affairs is a federal department, they feel the provincial government needs to step up and demand more for their veterans.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said the province’s health minister, Leo Glavine, has been meeting with his federal counterparts trying to get issues addressed.

McNeil also said he’s hopeful the recent federal budget will be able to provide some help for veterans.

“I was pleased to hear in the federal budget that the federal government is moving towards a centre of excellence around PTSD,” he said.

“I believe that that centre should be here, we are home to all branches of the Canadian military and will continue to work to see that that happens.”

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