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‘You have no idea how to handle it’: Veterans say more needed for transition services gaps

WATCH ABOVE: From medical care to finding a new identity, two Canadian veterans explain the challenges of leaving the military and discuss how Ottawa should help.

After serving the country they swore to protect, veterans say they’re still faced with a difficult transition to life beyond the uniform.

“I had amazing difficulty figuring out how to re-invent myself,” says retired Sgt. Alannah Gilmore in an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.

“I had depression, the PTSD was elevated… all this stuff is now being thrown at you and you have no idea how to handle it.”

READ MORE: ‘Never really talked about it:’ Mental health conversations for veterans evolving with increased investments

Gilmore served in Afghanistan as an army medic and was released from service in 2015. She says the barriers faced by herself and other veterans are overwhelming.

“All of a sudden we’re now cast out and expected to figure out how to navigate a system that we’ve not been a part of,” says Gilmore.

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However, the uncertainty of navigating the health care system, the delays in transitioning into civilian life and the paperwork aren’t the only obstacles they face.

READ MORE: Paperwork burden stands in the way of helping Canadian veterans, caseworkers say 

In September 2018, the Trudeau government agreed to pay $100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit with disabled veterans. But the settlement came only after a four-year legal battle.

“I don’t quite understand why we get nickeled and dimed so hard,” says Gilmore.

“I think it’s time for politicians to admit to that… instead of making us fight for everything.”

‘I was prepared to be killed in action. I wasn’t prepared for Canada turning its back on me’: Veteran
‘I was prepared to be killed in action. I wasn’t prepared for Canada turning its back on me’: Veteran

The frustration being voiced by veterans isn’t new, and neither are the incidents in which they’ve found themselves without the care they need. A recent report says that as of November 2018, almost 40,000 Canadian veterans were still waiting to receive disability benefits.

After an election campaign that saw more promises by the federal parties to honour the services of those in uniform, many still feel things won’t get any better.

“I don’t want to be cynical,” says retired MCpl Jeff Depatie in the same interview.

”But I don’t want to hold my breath.”

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READ MORE: ‘Both are burnt to me’: Veterans struggle with parties after broken promises

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs Canada says it funds a network of 11 operational stress injury (OSI) clinics, along with satellite service sites close to where they say veterans live.

“In addition, the department funds a national network of approximately 4,000 mental health professionals,” says spokesperson Josh Bueckert.

“Our objective is to ensure all releasing members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Veterans and their families feel supported.”

Depatie says that while there are programs in place to support veterans, there’s still more work needed.

“It’s not nailed down yet,” says Depatie. “There should be a more robust program there to help soldiers move into the next portion that doesn’t have a government feel to it.”

READ MORE: Parliament unanimously approves plan to stop leaving money unspent at Veterans Affairs Canada

Through her advocacy, Gilmore now pushes for better mental heath services for veterans and their families with the Royal Canadian Legion’s OSI special section and Veterans Affairs Canada. She says her work has set her down a new path.

“I found a purpose even though I wasn’t wearing the uniform,”  says Gilmore. “I was still good for service, I was still good to serve veterans.”

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READ MORE: 11 veterans set to move into Calgary ‘Homes for Heroes’ tiny home village

At the heart of it, Gilmore says that all veterans are looking for is a standard quality of life.

“The fact is that we served [and] now we have people who truly need us,” says Gilmore.

“They need our help. Why can’t we just do that?”

VAC Assistance Service can provide psychological support for Veterans in need and is available 24/7 to Veterans, former RCMP members, their family members or caregivers. Call toll free 1-800-268-7708. Further services can be found at the Veterans Affairs Canada.