Ottawa announces $200M in funding for soldiers' mental health services
The federal government has announced it will invest about $200 million over the next six years to expand mental health services and research for Canada's veterans, members of the military and their families.
The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces also announced that about $16.7 million in ongoing funds will also be made available to support soldiers and veterans.
Minister of Veterans Affairs Julian Fantino and Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson made the announcement Sunday in Halifax.
The new initiatives include the opening of a new Operational Stress Injury clinic in Halifax, set to open in the fall of 2015, the government said in a statement.
The clinic will provide assessment, diagnosis and treatment services for any veterans and soldiers living with operational stress injuries, as well as their families.
Additional satellite clinics will be opened in St. John’s, N.L., Chicoutimi, Que., Pembroke, Ont., Brockville, Ont., Kelowna, B.C., Victoria and Montreal.
In addition to the clinics, the funding will also go toward:
- Programs designed to raise awareness about mental health issues and support Canadian Armed Forces members and their families;
- Brain-imaging technology, to help researchers diagnose and treat soldiers, as well as technology to help digitize CAF members’ health records;
- A new four-year pilot project that will expand access to Military Family Resource Centres at seven different locations across the country;
- Research on issues including: new treatments for soldiers with mental health conditions, how to transition soldiers from military to civilian life, and veteran suicides and suicide prevention.
Fantino said the new initiatives are based on the latest research and evidence-based approaches to mental health and suicide prevention among members of the military.
"Our government honours the service and sacrifice of our veterans and our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces, and we are committed to ensuring that they have access to the mental health support and services they need when they need it," he said in the statement.
Mental health has become a growing concern for current and former membersof the Canadian Forces.
In August, a Statistics Canada survey found approximately one in six full-time members of the Canadian Forces reported experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder or alcohol abuse within the past year.
Current and former soldiers face a variety of mental health challenges, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, panic and anxiety disorders. Suicide has also become a growing issue among veterans struggling with mental health problems.
"We're losing more soldiers now to suicide than we are in active combat," mental health advocate Mark Henick told CTV News Channel on Sunday. "This is not at all surprising to me, givenwhat they're exposed to."
Henick said he's "grateful" for the funding, which maybe used to hire therapists to help veterans.
'A good start'
Canadian Veterans Advocacy Director Jerry Kovacs says that while the funding announcement is a "good start," it will take time for the new services and centres to become available to soldiers and veterans.
"In essence it's good – it's a good announcement," he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. "But for these places to become operational and people to receive these services is another thing altogether.
"These people need help now, and not six months from now and not a year from now."
He said it was especially important to address mental health issues among soldiers and veterans, as CAF members are now participating in Canada's mission in Iraq.
"Money spent on mental health for our veterans and our military is money well spent," he said.
'Politically motivated' timing
The funding announcement comes days after it was revealed last week that more than $1 billion in funds went unspent over the past seven years, rather than being used for support services for soldiers and veterans.
The Conservatives came under fire by the opposition and some veterans' advocacy groups over the lapsed funding.
"This isn't new money," NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told CTV’s News Channel on Sunday. The Opposition leader said the Conservatives got caught not spending their money, and are now attempting to win back political support by spending that money. "They're essentially re-announcing money that was supposed to be there already," Mulcair said.
While he's in favour of Sunday's funding announcement, Mulcair says spending the money earlier might have helped the government avoid closing nine Veterans' Affairs offices across the country.
"This is in a political context where they got caught not spending," Mulcair said.
Kovacs echoed those sentiments on News Channel Sunday. He said the funding announcement is "politically motivated" and timed to come out just ahead of an important national conference on veterans' health.
"This government wanted to get ahead of the ball on this one," Kovacs said.
The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research is slated to hold its fifth annual conference in Toronto early next week. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino is scheduled to deliver a speech at the event, and the government's new funding measures will give him something positive to discuss, Kovacs said.
The announcement also comes just days ahead of Auditor General Michael Ferguson's fall report on the government's mental health services and benefits for veterans. Ferguson's report is expected on Tuesday.
Vets need help now
Among the new spending initiatives is a planned operational stress injury clinic slated to open in Halifax in the fall of 2015, around the same time Canadians will head to the polls for a federal election.
Kovacs said he's glad to hear the clinic is coming, but one year is a long time for many vets to wait for help.
"The care and attention required is immediate, not a year from now," he said.
Earlier in November, a coalition of veterans' organizations announced that its members would not pose for photos or allow themselves to be quoted in federal press releases until Ottawa improved the way it treated veterans.
The coalition said the government is not providing adequate health and retirement benefits for injured soldiers and those suffering with mental health problems. They also expressed anger over the government's recent move to close a number of Veterans' Affairs offices across the country.