04/07/2014 05:33 EDT | Updated 06/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Why Fighting Veterans Affairs Is Like Fighting the Taliban

When you are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) you spend a lot of time being analytical. Whether it's a therapist, a doctor, or even yourself, understanding the origins of your PTSD is essential to your coping, and eventual treatment. And after years of personal analysis, I have come to the conclusion that it was both my time in Afghanistan and the failures within Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs (VAC) that aggravated my PTSD since returning home.

In fact, I have gone so far to argue that my experience in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban was equally as damaging to me mentally as the fight I face every day on the home front in Canada, with VAC. The ineptitude that the Department of Veterans Affairs operates under led to my first blog post and I can attest that I am not the only soldier who feels they have not been taken care of when coming home.

The truth of the matter is that the only part of VAC that I have no complaint about is my case manager, who only became involved in assisting me after she read a story about my struggles with VAC in the local newspaper and asked her superiors to contact me. Think about that. The only person within the VAC system who has helped me, was only able to do so after reading about my struggles with VAC in the newspaper. And now, thanks to the government, my local branch is gone, and the one ray of hope, my case manager, is now over two hours away from me in London, Ontario.

The current state of Veterans Affairs is shocking, but is made even more so by the fact that how it operates creates a very specific type of mental illness, known within the psychiatric field as "sanctuary trauma."

Sanctuary trauma was first described by Dr. Steven Silver in one of the earliest papers about the inpatient treatment of Vietnam War veterans. Silver defined "sanctuary trauma" as that which "occurs when an individual who suffered a severe stressor next encounters what was expected to be a supportive and protective environment" and discovers only more trauma."

Essentially, the Canadian government's "insurance company" methods of dealing with injured and maimed veterans only exasperated the stress these soldiers were dealing with. Additionally, because these soldiers held the Canadian government in such high esteem, the betrayal of said government created a loss of one's sanctuary, and thus "sanctuary trauma." In my case, being deployed to Afghanistan, shot by Americans in a friendly-fire incident that nearly cost me my life, and then returning home with the expectations of care and proper compensation from our government only to be repeatedly denied, called a liar, told there is not enough proof, and to be given a fraction of what I should rightful have, has resulted in not only PTSD, but severe sanctuary trauma. The way Canadian veterans are being treated is causing a syndrome that first became recognized in American Vietnam Veterans.

As if this wasn't enough, the closure of the nine Veterans Affairs offices over the last year has only enhanced the seriousness of the sanctuary trauma that veterans like myself are dealing with. The federal government claims that the over 600 new points of contact that Service Canada represent will be the answer. By that logic you can put forms behind the counter of every McDonalds and have thousands of points of contacts. The triple DDD policy of Delay Deny and Die will only continue to flourish unless legitimate changes are made.

And so, in order to received the type of services veterans feel they deserve, in the confidential location of a Veterans Affairs office, we are now forced to travel. Unfortunately, under the new charter, our travel costs are no longer reimbursed. Consider this for a veteran from Thunder Bay, Ontario. The closest VAC office he or she can go to is now in Winnipeg, Manitoba, an eight-hour drive in optimal weather. This 1,708 km trek creates wear and tear on one's vehicle and will take at least three tanks of gas to fill. Estimated at roughly $1.25 a litre, the gas mileage alone would cost this veteran $281.00 out of pocket. (Keep in mind, government employees receive mileage compensation at $0.55/km, $939.40 round trip.)

But that's not all. The veteran will have to eat throughout the journey for the two days it will take, and would also require a hotel room to spend the night. Calculated again with the rates available to government employees, breakfast would cost $18.00, lunch $15.00, and dinner $40.00, meaning a total of $73.00 per day in food, $125.00 in hotel accommodations. Now throw in lost wages for having to take two days off work, and potentially childcare. Could you think of anything you would rather spend 1,500 dollars on? The faceless organization that VAC represents has made it so that thousands of veterans are left in this position, further enhancing their sanctuary trauma.

The solution to this is simple. Every veteran who feels that the system has failed them, and in doing so caused them extreme mental trauma, should fill out a disability claim for sanctuary trauma. To do this, you will have to document the failures within VAC that has led you to this claim. Outline all of the insensitive methods that this department has done. Documentation of this will be our greatest asset, because as the system gets inundated with the claims for sanctuary trauma, along with them will come testimonies of veterans about the glaring deficiencies within VAC.

Now I know what you're thinking, "Bruce, if they won't even give you proper financial compensation for being shot in the head, what is the point of claiming sanctuary trauma?" To that argue that if VAC refuses to recognize the existence of sanctuary trauma amongst its veterans, it will show how behind this organization is on the medical comprehension of the side effects of PTSD. There is 30 years of research on sanctuary trauma and by refusing to recognize a well-documented syndrome, then the government is showing that the main reason for the New Veterans Charter had not been to focus on rehabilitation of soldiers suffering from mental illness but the money-saving tactic in the implementation of lump sum payments. By flooding the system with these claims and outlining decades of failures, veterans can finally use the system to their advantage.

Here are just some of the reasons why I am claiming sanctuary trauma because of Canada's Department of Veterans Affairs: you closed my office, you gave me $22,000 for 5 per cent of my brain, you denied my Permanent Impairment Allowance, I have been appealing my pension for eight years, and the insurance company way of dealing with me. All of these failures will be on record within the department Sanctuary Trauma will be in a way a complaint department within the VAC system. If 1,000 soldiers submit a claim with 15 to 20 issues then there will be 15,000-20,000 registered complaints within the department.

By claiming sanctuary trauma then VAC will have to address the way it does business. Soldiers will be able to show VAC what is wrong with their system through disability claims, and the only way to stop more claims would be to fix the system. Once a claim is submitted then VAC has a choice to deny the claim or approve it.

As stated earlier, denying a 30-year-old syndrome with dozens of publications would prove just how inept the system is. An approval would then show that the department is taking responsibility for the sanctuary trauma its system caused and to prevent any further claims a reform of the system will have to be implemented.

Every vet that feels they have fallen between the cracks or have been fighting their pensions for decades needs to take a serious look at claiming sanctuary trauma, so that we can start taking steps towards change and truly creating a sanctuary within our country for the soldiers who safely return home.


Current MPs With Military Experience