One of my most important duties as your Member of Parliament is maintaining an open line of communication with you. Thank you for your engagement in this regard and for helping me understand the issues and challenges that you face in your day-to-day lives. It allows me to better serve and represent you.
Since being elected your Member of Parliament, my office and I have regularly heard from, and engaged with, Veterans in our communities. I have also been in contact with the Minister and his staff to help with your cases and to relay your concerns. The government has made significant progress in the past year, but we all recognize that there is still much work left to do.
In order to update you on Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) services and programs, and to maintain this open line of communication, I will be releasing a quarterly letter.
Cannabis for Medical Purposes
On February 28, I had the opportunity to meet with and hear from Veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and families at an open house in Oromocto. One of the main issues raised, which I have heard from Veterans over the past several months, is regarding changes coming to Veterans’ access to cannabis for medical purposes. I hear you and have discussed your concerns with the Minister and his staff.
Please allow me to explain the changes, why they were made, how they may apply to you, and what resources are available to you, including how we can help.
This policy change, which was announced November 22, 2016 and will come into effect May 22, 2017, requires that cannabis beyond 3g/day be authorized by a specialist for reimbursement from Veterans Affairs. Veterans will still be able to purchase cannabis above the 3g/day if authorized by a doctor, but Veterans Affairs will require authorization from a specialist to reimburse for larger quantities.
The 3g/day amount was set based on the upper limit of the best available medical evidence, including the recommendations of the College of Family Physicians.
Best practices established by other countries, and consultations with Veterans and other stakeholders, such as licensed producers, also informed the decision.
Cannabis for medical purposes is still a new and emerging therapy. The Government is committed to an evidence-based approach and a flexible policy that will adapt to new information and scientific evidence to best support the well-being of Veterans and their families. They will be launching a study in conjunction with the Canadian Armed Forces on the efficacy of cannabis for medical purposes as a treatment option, as well as working with the government’s health regulators to monitor peer-reviewed research being done within Canada and other equivalent jurisdictions.
The new policy also establishes a reimbursements rate of $8.50/gram. This change was made following consultations with licensed producers as to what is fair market value. At least 4 major authorized producers will offer all their strains to Veterans at the $8.50g/day rate.
The new policy will now reimburse oils, too. Currently, Veterans Affairs reimburses oils at the equivalent of $8.50/g, up to $25.50/day without the authorization of a specialist.
My office will continue to remain available should Veterans need help navigating this process. I encourage concerned Veterans to reach out to my office (1-506-452-4110) or to Veterans Affairs Canada (1-866-522-2122) in order to assist with this transition.
It is important that you know that there is help out there if you, or someone you know, is dealing with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI), including Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD).
As with the use of any drug or therapeutic treatment, it is essential that it is part of a larger treatment regime organized and overseen by a mental health professional or physician. Treatment that can also include peer support, exercise and counselling is ideal.
Fredericton has an OSI Clinic, funded by Veterans Affairs, and administered by Horizon Health in Fredericton. You do need a referral, but you don’t need a family doctor. A doctor at a walk-in clinic or a case manager can refer you, too. OSI Clinic services include:
- Specialized evidence-informed psychotherapy
- Medication treatment
- Skills training (e.g. managing emotions and/or pain)
- Group therapy and educational sessions
- Relationship and family counselling
- Real-time monitoring of the effectiveness of care in collaboration with the Veteran
- Consultation and professional education to community professionals
National Defence offers similar services through Operational and Trauma Stress Support Centres and there is one in Gagetown.
Veterans Affairs Canada also has a well-established national network of 4,000 mental health professionals who deliver mental health services to Veterans with PTSD and other operational stress injuries.
The Veterans Affairs-DND Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) Program ensures confidential peer support services to Veterans, CAF personnel, and their families impacted by an OSI. These services are provided by trained peer and family peer support coordinators with first-hand experience with OSIs (1-506-357-5932 or 1-506-450-5518).
Veterans and their families have access to a 24-hour/day, 365-days/year toll-free helpline for mental health counselling and bereavement services (1-800-268-7708).
Two mobile applications have been developed that provide information about OSIs – where to find support and ways to help manage symptoms and stress: PTSD Coach Canada and OSI Connect.
Finally, there are online resources. Veterans and Mental Health is an online tutorial for anyone wanting to learn about Veteran mental health issues, and for those supporting a loved one dealing with a mental health condition. The Operational Stress Injury Resource for Caregivers is a self-directed online tool for caregivers and families of CAF members and Veterans impacted by an OSI. It includes information on OSIs, their impact on the family and how to support a CAF member or Veteran through the treatment and recovery process.
Transition to Civilian Life
Veterans have discussed with me the reality that programs and benefits are complex, confusing and stressful to navigate. For example, Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans do not know if post-traumatic stress disorder support should come from the Department of National Defence (DND) or Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), or who they should go to if they require family support. To confuse matters further, there are often overlapping programs that exist between DND and VAC and as a result, too many Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans face long wait times or fall through the cracks.
To address this, VAC and DND have engaged in a joint effort to examine the best way to streamline and simplify the dual support systems at VAC and DND.
Budget 2017 announces that the Government will be undertaking a transformation of both DND and VAC programs to ensure our women and men in uniform have a better transition from the Canadian Armed Forces to VAC. The Government will initiate a convergence action plan that will see VAC and DND addressing the overlap and gaps that currently exist for Canadian Armed Forces members released from the military. The plan will also simplify benefits so that Veterans will have a streamlined, client-centric process that is easier to navigate, gets Veterans their services quicker and helps them transition to civilian life.
These efforts will contribute significantly to building a new relationship of trust with Canadian Armed Forces members, Veterans and their families.
Veterans and CAF members have raised with me their concerns regarding the use of the antimalarial drug Mefloquine. My office is in close contact with relevant federal departments and I will communicate actively on this matter as I receive information.
Veterans who believe they have a disability related to their military service are encouraged to apply to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance and can contact the department through the toll free line (1-866-522-2122), or the website (http://www.Veterans.gc.ca). Every situation is unique and they work with Veterans on a case-by-case basis.
As the MP for Fredericton, I held my first Veterans consultation last March, have met one-on-one with Veterans over the course of the year, and hosted an open house on February 28. I will continue to engage with and listen to Veterans through such activities, as well as use opportunities such as this newsletter to communicate updates and information.
The Minister also makes it a priority to hear from Veterans and stakeholders and has established six Ministerial Advisory groups, including:
- Service Excellence
- Mental Health
- Care and Support
The Minister has also hosted three stakeholder summits, which bring together a larger group of Veterans and stakeholders. Feedback from the Advisory Groups and the summits have contributed directly to announcements in Budget 2017, such as the Caregiver Recognition Benefit.
The “Have Your Say” engagement tool (http://www.Veterans.gc.ca/eng/about-us/have-your-say) on the Veterans Affairs website allows you to submit your suggestions to these Advisory Groups and to inform discussion at the stakeholder summits. I encourage you to visit the website and provide your feedback. You may also share such feedback with my office.
Fulfilling Commitments to Veterans
Through Budget 2016, the government is delivering on six of its mandate commitments, including:
- Increasing of the Disability Award to a maximum of $360,000, putting more money in the pockets of 65,000 Veterans. Veterans having received a Disability Award will begin receiving cheques April 1st, 2017.
o This was in accordance to a recommendation by the Veterans Ombudsman. The Minister remains committed to introducing the option of a disability pension, too.
- Increasing the Earnings Loss Benefit from 70% to 90% of a Veteran’s pre-release salary to ensure that Veterans undergoing rehabilitation have the financial support they need during recovery.
- Expanding the Permanent Impairment Allowance to ensure Veterans are more appropriately compensated for the impact of service-related impairments.
- Increasing the survivor’s estate cash exemption amount to increase access to a dignified funeral and burial through the Last Post Fund.
- Reopening the nine Veterans Affairs offices closed by the previous government. The government has already re-opened offices in: Corner Brook, NL; Brandon, MB; Sydney, NS; Kelowna, BC; Saskatoon, SK; Charlottetown, PEI; and Thunder Bay, ON. Offices in Windsor, ON; Prince George, BC; and Surrey, BC will reopen by May 2017.
- VAC has also opened a new service location in Fredericton in January 2017 at 65 Regent Street, Suite 130 – 1st Floor which will enhance the level of service offered to Veterans in our region.
- Hiring over 300 additional full-time employees to assist Veterans and improve service
o VAC is also well on its way to reducing the Veteran-to-Case Manager ratio from 40:1 to an average of 25:1, which will have an important impact on service delivery, reduce wait times, and increase one-on-one support.
Important progress has been made. In the government’s first budget, significant items were addressed that demonstrate the government’s commitment to Veterans. Six items in the Minister’s mandate letter are already being delivered on.
Just last week, Budget 2017 further committed to financial security for ill and injured Veterans; investment in education and career development to help Veterans transition to post-military life; and support for families. You can find more information on the measures Budget 2017 takes to help Veterans here: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/about-us/department-officials/minister/budget.
In my next letter, I will elaborate on the specific commitments made to veterans and their families in Budget 2017.
I look forward to working with Veterans, families, stakeholders, and Parliamentarians to make more improvements. I will do my best to proactively communicate changes with you on a regular basis. I encourage anyone with questions, concerns, or ideas about Veterans Affairs and my efforts to support you to reach out to my office.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I look forward to continuing this work and our discussion.
Matt DeCourcey, MP