CLIQUEZ ici! / CLICK Here!
Latest News


Updated: 
30 Mar 2020

 

Return to News Index

 


  
Judge rules in favour of class action launched by special operations veteran
Social Sharing
Decision could mean bump in disability benefits for thousands of injured Canadian veterans


Richard Cuthbertson · CBC News ·
Posted: Mar 25, 2020 5:03 PM AT | Last Updated: March 25

VVi 30 Mar 2020


Simon Logan received an involuntary medical release from the Canadian Forces in 2016 after a career that included serving in the infantry, air force and special operations. (Submitted by Simon Logan)

Thousands of injured Canadian military veterans who served under especially arduous conditions are entitled to higher disability payments after a judge ruled Tuesday in favour of a former special operations soldier who challenged how the support is calculated.

The lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit against the federal government is Simon Logan, who served in Afghanistan and was a warrant officer when he received an involuntary medical release from the Canadian Forces in 2016 following a 28-year career.

The military calculates long-term disability at 75 per cent of a member's monthly pay, but the Department of National Defence had only used Logan's base salary to determine his payments, and did not include an allowance he earned as a "special operations assaulter." It meant Logan received only $5,100 per month in disability payments, instead of nearly $8,000.

The case was heard in Federal Court in Halifax in February. In a decision this week, Justice Richard Southcott ruled in favour of Logan and other former military members in similar situations, writing that monthly allowances should be used in disability calculations.

"When you're in the military, you're kind of handcuffed in what you can say or do," Logan, 58, who lives in the Ottawa area, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "But when I became a civilian, I just wanted to take matters that I thought were unjust and try and fix it."


Daniel Wallace, a partner with the Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper, represented Logan in the class-action lawsuit. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

He said the court's decision "means a lot for a lot of people" who earned allowances for working in particularly difficult environments, but didn't see that recognized when they were injured while serving under those conditions.

Logan said he wanted to keep private the nature of the injuries that led to his medical discharge and that he was not permitted to describe his role in special operations.

The Canadian Forces says special operations assaulters include personnel trained to perform counterterrorism missions, hostage rescues, special operations patrols and special reconnaissance and surveillance.

Paratroopers, divers

Halifax lawyer Daniel Wallace, who helped launched the class action on behalf of Logan, said there are roughly 6,800 former Canadian military personnel who received monthly allowances on top of their salaries and were involuntarily medically released from the Forces.

Allowances include payments to certain specialized groups like paratroopers, rescue specialists and divers, and for conditions like isolation, work on submarines or serving on a flight crew. There are also allowances covering things such as being posted to an area with a high cost of living.

Wallace said he can't estimate how much disability money members of the class action would be owed, but said it should be retroactive for members who were released after 1999, when the current policy was adopted.

"We hope that now that the court has heard the arguments on both sides and decided in favour of the class, we hope that the federal government will accept that decision," he said in an interview.

If there's no appeal, he said the next stage would involve sorting out interest and the timing of payments.

'Dramatic drop in pay'

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said in statement the federal government is now reviewing the decision and will determine next steps in consultation with the Department of Justice.

"The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces are committed to ensuring that all Regular and Reserve Force military members receive their due benefits," the statement said. "Taking care of our members is our utmost priority and we will continue to take steps to improve services."

At the time of his discharge, Logan was earning $10,665 a month, of which $3,730 was a "special operations assaulter allowance."
He said he subsequently learned of other veterans who had earned allowances while serving but had received less than they thought they were owed in disability payments.

"It's a dramatic drop in pay from what I was making. My expenses didn't go down, my mortgage didn't change," he said. "I know I made good money when I was in the military, I'm not denying that. But to take such a drastic change in income — doesn't matter how much money you make, that's a big deal, dropping 40 per cent, 50 per cent."

Read more...
Page top
Federal Court rules in favour of injured veteran's class-action suit

The Canadian Press

March 24, 2020 03:44 PM

VVi 26 Mar 2020 db
JCO12154602.jpg
A Canadian flag sits on a members of Canadian forces that are leaving from CFB Trenton, in Trenton, Ont., on Oct. 16, 2014. Thousands of injured veterans could be in line for payments from the federal government after the Federal Court ruled in favour of a former special-forces soldier whose class-action lawsuit alleged he was shortchanged on his long-term disability payments. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

OTTAWA — Thousands of injured veterans could be in line for payments from the federal government after a Federal Court ruled in favour of a former special-forces soldier whose class-action lawsuit alleged he was shortchanged on his long-term disability payments.

Retired warrant officer Simon Logan was medically discharged from the Canadian Armed Forces in February 2016, at which point he expected to begin receiving monthly payments equalling 75 per cent of his pre-release salary of $10,665.

Yet the disability payments only accounted for his base pay as a warrant officer and did not include nearly $4,000 in monthly allowances he had received while in the Forces, most of which were related to his service as a special-forces soldier.

The omission of those allowances represented a difference of nearly $3,000 per month in Logan's disability payments.

Logan's lawyers had argued in Federal Court that the allowances should have been included because they reflect the special skills and increased hazards that he faced while serving in uniform.

Government lawyers said the allowances should not have been included because Logan stopped being a special-forces soldier when he left the Forces.

But in his ruling on Tuesday, Federal Court Justice Richard Southcott said monthly allowances should count in the calculation for long-term disability. Allowances that are not received each month should not be included, Southcott added.

It was not immediately clear whether the government would appeal the decision.

Logan's lawyer, Daniel Wallace of Halifax-based firm McInnes Cooper, said his client was pleased with the decision and expressed the hope that the government would implement the decision and not appeal.

Wallace said approximately 6,800 veterans are part of the class-action lawsuit, though he could not say how much the government could end up paying out should it implement the court's decision.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2020.

Read more...
Page top
Canadian doctors urge caution on repurposing malaria medication to fight COVID-19
Canada part of a global study launched by the WHO to look into the use of chloroquine and other existing drugs

Amina Zafar · CBC News ·
Posted: Mar 24, 2020 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: March 24

VVi 24 Mar 2020 db

The drug, which treats malaria, has shown some efficacy against COVID-19-associated pneumonia in early research, but more study is required, experts say. (Barcroft Media/Getty Images)

Canada's top public health doctor warned against using malaria medication to treat COVID-19 on Monday, after U.S. President Donald Trump touted the option during a recent news conference.

People have taken chloroquine to prevent and treat malaria for decades. A related medication called hydroxychloroquine is mainly used to treat inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19. People in more than 180 countries have been sickened by the respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus humans have no immunity against.

Last week, Trump told reporters hydroxychloroquine had shown "very, very encouraging early results." But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was also quick to say that officials are trying to strike a balance between making the potential therapy available to physicians to use on seriously ill COVID-19 patients on an emergency basis while ensuring it is truly safe and effective through clinical trials.

On Monday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, added her own cautions.

"My message is that you should not take medication without the scientific evidence," Tam said. "It can be quite dangerous. These drugs are not without side-effects. In fact, there are quite significant side-effects."

The World Health Organization (WHO) is running a research network called Solidarity that has identified a "vast suite of potential drug therapies and combinations" that could be repurposed to treat COVID-19.

Tam said part of Canada's participation in the network includes making sure patients will receive drugs in the most scientific and safest way possible.

Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, is writing a review on the safety of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

Trump suggested using hydroxychloroquine together with an antibiotic based on the results of a small study by French researchers.
Juurlink said that study involving just 36 patients is the extent of the human research so far on using hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a treatment for COVID-19 — research with "so many holes you could drive a truck through it," he said.

Normally, an antibiotic is never recommended to treat a virus. But the antibiotic and antimarlarial combination has off-target effects beyond what it was designed to do, infectious disease experts say.

Juurlink said he's concerned about possible toxic overdoses from chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and side-effects such as:

Irregular heartbeat.

Low blood sugar.

Mood changes and psychosis.

"These are not drugs to be toyed with," Juurlink said.

The only way to tell if a treatment really works is to randomly assign a large number of patients to either take it or a placebo. Even then, rarer side-effects may not crop up until years later, once more people have taken the medication.

In the U.S. and Canada, doctors and pharmacists said hoarding hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 could hurt others, such as those who take the drug long term to keep chronic inflammatory diseases like lupus under control.

Pharmaceutical companies in Canada and worldwide are donating hydroxychloroquine to help medical researchers collect high-quality data on the safety and effectiveness of using the medication to treat COVID-19.

Trial to protect hospital staff

Dr. Kevin Kain is an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital, where he's part of a team of researchers designing a randomized placebo-controlled trial into the safety and efficacy of using hydroxychloroquine prophylactically to prevent COVID-19 infection. Their goal is to protect front-line health-care workers in emergency departments and intensive care by preventing the infection from taking root.

"This seems like the appropriate, high-risk group to establish that it works," Kain said. "Right now, people are using it without good evidence. I was around long enough to remember SARS, where a number of treatments were tried without appropriate trials, and in retrospect, a lot of those things actually caused harm."

In the lab, chloroquine works by suppressing the growth of coronaviruses such as SARS and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the French researchers said.

"It isn't entirely clear, but there's intriguing evidence that if you can get high levels of a mineral called zinc … inside a cell that's infected, it will inhibit replication of coronaviruses," Kain said. "Taking a lot of zinc by mouth doesn't do this because getting zinc into a cell is tightly regulated. Chloroquine seems to facilitate it getting into the cell."

Elsewhere in the world, Doctors Without Borders is preparing to treat patients with COVID-19, potentially with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine. The medical charity operates in more than 70 countries.

Jason Nickerson, humanitarian affairs adviser for Doctors Without Borders in Ottawa, said if a treatment stops the severe illness from COVID-19, then it would be incredibly beneficial, particularly in countries with less resourced health systems.

"How do we get these new technologies, once they're developed, to patients in all countries, everywhere?"

He called on governments worldwide to apply policies to ensure technologies like drugs that are developed with public funds remain affordable and globally accessible, since in a pandemic, the virus needs to be stamped out everywhere to protect people everywhere.

Read more...
Page top
Liberals defends $4M transfer from operating budget amid veterans' backlog fury

Mar 10, 2020 5:59 PM By: Canadian Press

VVi 22 Mar 2020



OTTAWA — The Liberal government is defending its decision to take more than $4.1 million from Veterans Affairs Canada's operating budget at a time when the department is struggling with a backlog of tens of thousands of disability applications from injured ex-soldiers.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay found himself under fire for the move during an appearance before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday, where he noted the reallocated funds went mainly to providing emergency help to veterans, and their families, who are considered especially at risk.

But the minister, who insisted eliminating the backlog of 44,000 applications for assistance from injured veterans is his top priority, later sidestepped questions about why the government didn't add more money to meet veterans' needs instead of taking funds from the department.

Veterans' advocates, including Canada's veterans ombudsman, have said long delays mean stress and frustration for veterans already suffering from physical and psychological injuries.

MacAulay pointed to the department's efforts to speed up the processing of applications through digitization and other internal changes even as he emphasized the billions in new benefits and services promised to veterans in recent years.

"The fact is we're doing everything to digitize the program, remove the paperwork," MacAulay told The Canadian Press. "What we want to do is make sure that we simplify the process, make it more efficient, and there's a large amount of money put into Veterans Affairs itself."

Veterans Affairs Canada's top civil servant, retired general Walter Natynczyk, told the committee the money transfer did not affect efforts to address the backlog and highlighted the department's internal efforts to approve applications faster.

Yet while the department has significantly increased the number of requests for assistance it is approving, Natynczyk acknowledged it has not been able to keep up with the applications filed each year.

Nor could MacAulay or Natynczyk say when the backlog will be eliminated. Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton last month called on the government to produce a detailed plan and timetable for dealing with the problem.

"It's pretty irresponsible to give figures on something," MacAulay told The Canadian Press when asked about Dalton's request. "We do not know what the applications will be."

Conservative and NDP MPs were unimpressed with the government's decision to take resources from the department's operating budget as the backlog grows and demanded to see a detailed plan to address the overall problem.

"I always hope that money is getting right out to the veterans who desperately need it," said NDP veterans-affairs critic Rachel Blaney. "But when we look at the depth of the backlog ... having those resources to address that should be more urgent in my opinion."

Conservative veterans-affairs critic Phil McColeman blasted the government and department for not having produced a detailed strategy for eliminating the backlog, including securing more resources, to ensure veterans receive the benefits and services they need in a timely manner.

"It's mismanagement," he said. "Why isn't someone who is doing the planning of solving the problem recognizing that funds are there for the resources that they need and aggressively going after getting those resources in place so that we can solve this backlog problem?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2020.

See more...
Page top
New Veterans Affairs office aimed at advancing gender equality

Mar 03, 2020

VVi 22 Mar 2020



OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Canada is opening a new office intended to better serve women and those with specific needs stemming from their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The office is aimed at removing barriers to helping veterans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or two-spirit.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay says the government is responsible for providing these members with the care and support they deserve.

The idea for the office flowed from discussions during the first annual Women’s Veterans Forum held in Charlottetown last year.

Since then, the department has spoken with veterans and interested parties to identify barriers some face due to their gender or sexual orientation.

Women account for 14 per cent of the estimated 670,000 veterans in Canada.
\
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2020.

Read more...
Page top
Veterans never saw the $105 million promised to them by Trudeau in 2019
Trudeau has shut down veterans’ calls for more funding in the past and has fought veterans in court.


by True North Wire
February 1, 2020

VVi 10 Mar 2020 db

Veterans did not see a penny of the $105 million promised to them by Justin Trudeau last year.

The sum remained untouched, despite being earmarked for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).

Since 2018, the Liberal government has failed to deliver on $327 million worth of funds promised to help veterans, according to Global News.

Trudeau has shut down veterans’ calls for more funding in the past and has fought veterans in court.
In 2018, during a town hall meeting, Trudeau was questioned by former corporal Brock Blaszczyk on why he continued to fight veterans groups in court while also re-integrating former ISIS fighters and awarding Omar Khadr several million dollars in an out-of-court settlement.

In response to the question, the prime minister told the former corporal that some veterans were asking too much of the government.
“Why are we still fighting against certain veterans’ groups in court? Because they are asking for more than we are able to give right now,” Trudeau told Blaszczyk, who lost his leg to a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan.

According to VAC, the department failed to meet a majority of basic service standards in the 2017-2018 year. 15 out of 24 service areas are behind on targets, including the rehabilitation program, disability benefits, and long-term care.

One key area of mismanagement by the Liberal government is a growing backlog of veterans waiting to qualify for disability benefits.
As of November 2019, up to 40,000 veterans were still waiting for a decision on their application. Among those waiting for a decision from the government, over one-third had been in the queue for over four months.

See more...
Page top
Retired soldier files human rights complaint against Veterans Affairs Canada

By Jesse Thomas Global News
Posted March 6, 2020 4:35 pm Updated March 6, 2020 6:09 pm

VVi 10 Mar 2020

News: Canadian veteran files human rights complaint against veteran affairs after decade long fight over medical access
close video

A Canadian Armed forces veteran and his family have filed a human rights complaint against Veteran Affairs Canada after what they describe as a fight with the government, for more than a decade, to access proper medical and mental health treatments.

Shane Jones joined the military in 1997 and says during his ten-year career, he encountered some traumatic experiences that have stayed with him since he was medically discharged from the Armed Forces in 2008.

Jones and his battalion were deployed to help in the recovery of the Swissair Flight 111.

The flight from New York was bound for Geneva, Switzerland Sept. 2, 1998, when it crashed into the ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia. A short circuit in an electrical system had ignited the covering of the thermal acoustic insulation in the plane’s fuselage. All 229 people aboard were killed.

Jones says that experience led to a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2001.

His final tour of duty in Afghanistan ended in a fatal collision when the light armoured vehicle he was driving flipped and rolled. A fellow soldier was killed and Jones suffered a traumatic brain injury that ended his military career.

Jones said these injuries have forever changed his life.

“On any given week I have two-to-four appointments,” said the 43-year-old retired corporal.

Jones says he’s now been having to fight the government and Veterans Affairs Canada to get the treatment he needs for his physical and mental well being.

“The last thing you want to do when you come home from serving your country is to have to turn around and have to fight your government,” said Jones. “I’m constantly having to fight for myself and my family, and fight for treatment.”

In 2016, Jones said his VAC case manager tried to close his file but he refused to let that happen.

A year later, there were changes to his medication coverage and he says his chiropractic treatments were no longer being covered.
Story continues below advertisement

Jones then began to protest and raise the issue publicly and on social media. He says that’s when a red flag was put on his file and his relationship with VAC staff began to fester.

“It’s not my husbands’ injuries that are making him and keeping unwell,” said his wife Veronica. “It’s actually the treatment from the department.”

Veronica says her husband’s mental health struggles and the effects of his brain injury have affected those closest to him.

Their 14-year-old daughter was diagnosed with secondary PTSD and said Veterans Affairs covered her initial 20 therapy sessions, but the coverage stopped in May, which Veronica says is against government and VAC policy.

“It says in the policy that if any benefits or treatments are to cease that VAC is to cover the costs until alternate arrangements are made.”

Global News reached out to Veteran Affairs for comment about the Jones’ family and their daughter’s loss of mental health coverage. In a statement, they said: “Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) has not made any recent changes to the policies that cover mental health services for family members. Due to the Privacy Act, VAC is unable to discuss specifics of an individual’s case.”

The family is now on the provincial mental health support waitlist and is paying out of pocket — roughly $600 a month — for their daughter’s treatments.

In the meantime, they have filed a human rights complaint against Veteran Affairs, which the Jones family says is currently being investigated.

Jones said he would never change his decision to serve in the Armed Forces but says he second-guesses how he’d deal with his exit from the military.

“I often wonder if I didn’t even bother with VAC would I have been able to get myself better?”

Jones says he wants to see a judicial review of his file — he doesn’t want other veterans to have to fight for their compensation and support.

See more...
Page top
Parliamentary Budget Officer says the government saved tens of billions by abandoning old Pensions Act for disabled veterans

Gloria Galloway, Parliamentary Reporter Ottawa
Published February 21, 2019 Updated February 21, 2019 Published February 21, 2019
This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

VVi 10 Mar 2020

The federal government put itself on track to save tens of billions of dollars over the lifetimes of disabled veterans – and significantly reduce benefits it pays them – when it replaced the old Pension Act with the New Veterans Charter in 2006, says a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

In addition, Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux says, while most disabled veterans will get a small increase in their lifetime benefits when the government’s new Pensions For Life program takes effect on April 1, the most severely disabled vets will get less than they would have if the benefits remained unchanged. About 3 per cent of veterans will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars each between the day they retire and the day they die.

Veterans with the most severe impairments “will be the main losers of the transition to the Pension For Life regime,” Mr. Giroux told reporters after the release of the report on Thursday morning. That’s because the government will remove the Career Impact Allowance Supplement that pays $1,145.36 every month to highly impaired vets with diminished earning capacity.

Veterans have been saying since 2006, when the New Veterans Charter took effect, that the plan paid disabled former soldiers much less than the tax-free monthly payments awarded under the old Pension Act.

The aim of the Charter, which relied heavily on lump-sum payments to compensate for disabilities, was to move to an approach based more on rehabilitation than monetary compensation. But it left less money in the pockets of veterans who applied for benefits after April 1, 2006.

Six severely disabled veterans of Afghanistan took the government to court in 2012 demanding that they receive compensation equal to that paid to veterans who applied for benefits before the Charter became law. Justin Trudeau campaigned with them in 2015 and promised to bring back the lifetime pensions should his Liberals win power.

But the veterans – who lost their case last year when it went to the Supreme Court – say the Pensions for Life that were introduced by the Liberal government in late 2017 do not come close to meeting what is given to Pension Act vets. And the PBO report proves them right.

Had the Pension Act remained in place, the PBO says the government would have spent $50-billion over the lifetimes of veterans who are currently in the system and of those who will apply for benefits over the next five years. The introduction of the New Veterans Charter – now called the Veterans Well-being Act – cut that figure to $29-billion, the PBO says.

The Pensions For Life will increase it slightly to $32-billion.

Harjit Sajjan, who is now both Defence and Veterans Affairs Minister after the resignation from cabinet last week of former veterans minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, said the new program will look at all of the potential needs of veterans.

“When it comes to our veterans, our government is absolutely committed to making sure that we look after them. We need to make sure that we went through a very thorough assessment, talked to veterans’ groups, talk to veterans to make sure that we’re meeting their needs,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters. “We knew that the Pension Act itself didn’t look at the totality of the current veterans. So that’s one of the reasons we had to look at the uniqueness to each veteran. And that’s why the Pensions For Life is so important.”

One of the people who has been the most critical, both of the New Veterans Charter and of the planned Pensions For Life, is veterans advocate Sean Bruyea.

He has launched a defamation suit against Seamus O’Regan, the Indigenous Services Minister who had the veterans’ portfolio prior to Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Mr. O’Regan accused him of “stating mistruths,” and making “numerous other errors” after Mr. Bruyea wrote a column last year saying the Pensions For Life will pay some veterans less than those who are already in the system – and much less than what is given to veterans such as him who fall under the old Pension Act.

Mr. Bruyea said he felt vindicated after the release of the PBO report.

“On average, there’s a small increase for the vast majority of veterans," Mr. Bruyea said, “but those are not the ones that have the most needs. The ones that have the most needs, the most severely injured veterans, will be worse off under this Pensions for Life.”

See more...
Page top
Collateral damage: Families of soldiers with PTSD struggle after Veterans Affairs counselling cut
'The department is disconnected from ... what goes on in injured veterans' households,' says one spouse


Murray Brewster · CBC News ·
Posted: Feb 28, 2020 4:59 PM ET | Last Updated: March 3

VVi 02 Mar 2020 db

Shane Jones's combat tour in Afghanistan ended in 2005. But the war followed him home.

The retired corporal's family — including his teenage daughter — have had to walk on eggshells often in the years since.

An armoured vehicle rollover left Jones with a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress, injuries that changed him forever.

"My husband is not a violent man," said Veronica Jones, Shane's wife. "My husband suffers from severe PTSD.

"And for our daughter, growing up ... If you live by the cesspool, everybody gets splashed."

The Eastern Passage, N.S., family is among many affected by Veterans Affairs' move to tighten access to department-sponsored mental health services for veterans' family members.

The crackdown was prompted by the embarrassing revelation almost two years ago that a convicted killer — the son of a former soldier — received PTSD counselling for the murder he committed.

Veterans Affairs issues a denial

In an appearance before a House of Commons committee last week, a senior Veterans Affairs official denied that any families had been "cut off" from counselling services.

That comes as startling news to Jones and other veterans' families, whose therapy bills are now being paid out-of-pocket after initially being covered by the department.

Those relatives now want the opportunity to plead their cases before the Commons veterans committee when it reconvenes next month for hearings on the restrictions.

The public debate over the last several years has been limited to whether former soldiers are getting adequate help and treatment, said Veronica Jones.

"There needs to be an actual conversation about what the families are going through and how the families need support," she said.

Her 14-year-old daughter Ruth was diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder by two doctors, who have attributed her condition to the stress of living in a home with someone who has a severe brain injury.

Veterans Affairs paid for her counselling — then cut her off in September as part of a sweeping reinterpretation of its guidelines.

'I am heartbroken'

She no longer fits one of the criteria for receiving funded treatment — that treatment be "short-term." Veterans Affairs also questioned her diagnosis.

Her parents are now paying $600 per month for counselling and hoping the backlog in the provincial system eases.

"I am actually heartbroken," said Veronica Jones. "I think the department is disconnected from the reality of what goes on in injured veterans' households."

The couple has fought repeated battles with Veterans Affairs for the better part of a year over the support provided to Shane Jones.

Their confrontations with the bureaucracy have been heated at times.

Shane Jones's family says his file was red-flagged: Veterans Affairs staff filed a complaint with the RCMP that went nowhere. Now, the Canadian Human Rights Commission is looking into a claim of discrimination filed against the department by Shane Jones.

A scandal triggers a policy shift

If the department knows "there are minor children living in the house with someone who has severe PTSD, then they should be covering the children," Veronica Jones said.

The department tightened the rules governing when families can receive subsidized counselling after facing a firestorm of criticism in the summer of 2018 over the case of convicted killer Christopher Garnier, the son of a former soldier who was given taxpayer-funded PTSD treatment because of the murder he committed.

Former veterans minister Seamus O'Regan, blindsided by the revelation, asked for a review. That's when the bureaucracy kicked into gear.

The current minister, Lawrence MacAulay, has asked his officials to be as flexible as possible in deciding whether family members qualify.

As part of a year-long review, the department has notified 133 families, in writing, that their counselling benefits may be discontinued, according to numbers from MacAulay's office.

The figures do not include, however, the number of families who were informed directly by case workers or counsellors that their mental health services had been cut off.

That's a very different picture from the one Michel Doiron, the department's assistant deputy minister of service delivery, offered MPs last week when he told the Commons veterans affairs committee that no one had been cut off.

"When people say they've been cut off, nobody has been cut off," he said on Thursday.

"Some individuals did receive information saying that we're giving you an additional year and working with you to say either you stay in the program, or, if you're no longer eligible based on the criteria of the program, we will work with you to find a mental health practitioner."

Challenged during the hearing by Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, Doiron later said he wanted to "clarify" the remark.

He confirmed that "some people had been refused" coverage but said he could not tell the committee whether the individuals' bills had been covered by the department previously.

In the cases where family members were cut off, Doiron said, the mental health services they were receiving could not be linked to a veteran's recovery. According to the department's guidelines, taxpayer-funded treatment for family members must help a former soldier — a rule that clearly was not followed in Garnier's case.

Kim Davis of Lawrencetown, N.S., found out she had been cut off when she arrived at her counsellor's office for a session in mid-February.

She said she was astonished that Doiron would say what he said before the Commons committee.

"Oh my God, I've met him," said Davis, whose husband, Blair, is a former soldier who has struggled with mental health issues since returning from Bosnia.

"He knows my husband is a veteran with PTSD. He knows I receive counselling as a result of my husband's PTSD."

Davis has spoken out on behalf of veterans' families in the past and has appeared before Commons committees on three other occasions. She has even pointed federal officials to international research on the impact a soldier's PTSD can have on spouses and children.

Veterans Affairs "constantly touts that their decisions are based on research and backed up by research," she said.

"Well, this policy ... goes against every research paper out there."

See more...
Page top
Veterans claim victory at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, continue fight for better health care in Quebec
Post WWII veterans gain access to Ste. Anne's Hospital


By Kwabena Oduro Global News
Posted February 28, 2020 5:57 pm

VVi 01 Mar 2020

Ste. Anne’s Hospital in the West Island, has opened up more beds for veterans. The move will allow those who served after the Second World War to receive care and services at the hospital. Global's Kwabena Oduro explains

There’s good news for veterans who, until now, have been denied access to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.

A leader in the fight for better care for veterans, Wolf Solkin recently shared this victory on his Facebook page.

“There was an entente arrived at between the federal and provincial government to permit eligible long term care to those categories,” wrote Wolf Solkin, a Second World War veteran and the acting president of the Veteran’s Committee at Ste. Anne’s Hospital.

The categories Solkin refers to include post-Second World War vets who did not serve overseas, as well as vets who served with the allied forces, peacekeepers, those who participated in Cold War deployments and also fought in Afghanistan.

“It took considerable effort from vets and cooperation between federal and provincial authorities but this news means vets barred from this special service will soon be able to benefit from it,” Solkin said.

Thanks to the new agreement, Solkin says there has already been a change in admissions at the hospital.

“Even in the last few weeks, we have received several eligible veterans. The caveat is they must be eligible for admission under the provincial protocols and criteria for long-term care beds,” he said.

The CIUSSS de l’ouest de l’ile de Montréal, that oversees the hospital, told Global News that more beds are indeed being made available to vets.

“And we think this is a major improvement and a change we have been fighting for the last several years and it’s a very positive action,” said Solkin.

Solkin began fighting for better treatment for vets not long after the federal government transferred management of the veterans’ hospital to Quebec in 2016. After complaining about the province’s standards of care, Solkin finally launched a class action lawsuit in February 2019.

“The judges that initially reviewed our situation recognize that we are dying here every day, which is natural at our age. We came here to die, not to live, but to die with dignity, with care, with respect — which I maintain we’re not getting,” he said.

In a statement, the health care agency told Global News they will not comment on the allegations raised by Solkin concerning the class action lawsuit because a judicial process is currently underway.

“We reiterate that providing our veterans and residents with the care and services to which they are entitled is always at the forefront of our priorities,” the agency said.

The court date for the class action law suit has been set for November 2020.

Read more...
Page top
www.1015thehawk.com
Scathing critique of the way veterans with PTSD are treated

February 24, 2020 05:47 pm

VVi 29 Feb 2020

The 15th day of testimony at the Desmond Fatality Inquiry in Guysborough has adjourned.

The day was spent with Dr. Paul Smith, the family doctor who treated Lionel Desmond in 2015 and 2016, and signed off on his firearm license application.

He delivered a scathing critique of the way veterans with PTSD are treated.

Dr. Smith told the inquiry they lose their jobs and community.

“They’re treated like lepers. They’re cast to the wind, and it’s all about pills and psychotherapy. It’s pathetic,” he said. “There’s a large percentage of guys that no longer want to deal with the system at all, and they’re the ones that I see, and they’re probably the most volatile and dangerous people in the world, in terms of risk to themselves.”

He said many of them lose trust in the military stress clinics they’re sent to after discharge; they feel betrayed by the armed forces.
Dr. Smith said veteran’s affairs doesn’t treat them like they’re valuable either and, whether that’s a resource issue or an attitude, many take it personally.

Near the end of the day, inquiry lawyers asked Dr. Smith how treatment could be improved.

“It’s all about allowing people to develop relationships,” he said. “Without relationships they commit suicide, it’s that simple.”
Testimony continues Tuesday.

See more...
Page top
Veterans Affairs taking a harder line on therapy for families of former soldiers, ombudsman says
Veterans Ombudsman Craig Dalton says the shift in approach caught him off guard


Murray Brewster · CBC News ·
Posted: Feb 23, 2020 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: February 23

VVi 29 Feb 2020 db

Lt.-Col. Craig Dalton, as chief of staff for Task Force Kandahar, speaks to reporters July 15, 2010 in Kandahar. Dalton, now the veterans ombudsman, says Veterans Affairs has been quietly restricting therapy funding for veterans' family members. (Bill Graveland/The Canadian Press)

Veterans Affairs has been quietly tightening access to the mental health services received by families of injured former soldiers, the country's veterans ombudsman said Friday.

Craig Dalton, who said his office has received a flood of complaints about the policy shift, added the new restrictions were imposed not through a change in policy but more subtly, through a reinterpretation of the existing rules by the bureaucracy.

"The more restrictive interpretation will result in less support for family members," said Dalton, who has been seeking answers from the department after receiving calls from worried family members — some to his direct line. "We've heard from a number of folks over the last 48 hours."

Some families have been told in writing, he said, that their counselling and support services will cease. Others have gotten phone calls from Veterans Affairs staff to explain how things are changing.

Dalton said it all caught him off guard.

"We were aware they were looking at changing the interpretation of the policy. We didn't know exactly what that would be like," he said.

A half-dozen families who've been told their mental health support was being limited or scaled back have reached out to CBC News, refusing to speak publicly for fear of retribution.

Veterans Affairs' policy of paying for the counselling of family members came under intense fire in the summer of 2018, when it was revealed that a convicted killer was getting taxpayer-funded treatment for the PTSD caused by the murder he committed.

Christopher Garnier had never served in the military, but his father was a member. He was sentenced almost two years ago to life in prison for the second-degree murder in 2015 of an off-duty Nova Scotia police officer, Catherine Campbell.

No policy change, department says

According to the department's policy, last updated in 2010, Veterans Affairs must meet three conditions when paying for family members' counselling: the treatment must be for a short period of time, a veteran must be relying on the family member as a caregiver and the services being funded "must focus on achieving a positive outcome for the veteran, not on treating a family member's own condition."

CBC News asked the department if there had been a change of policy or if the existing guidelines were being more strictly enforced.
Veterans Affairs spokesman Josh Bueckert insisted the policy had not changed but, in an emailed response, did not say whether the department's interpretation of the rules had become more strict.

He did say family members who require long-term support or mental health treatment for their own conditions will be assisted in "locating other resources" by Veterans Affairs staff.

Backlog of applications for veterans' benefits grows by the thousands

A spokesman for Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay stood behind the department, saying the policy "has remained fundamentally the same" for a decade and the bureaucracy has been told that it must be applied with compassion.

"Minister MacAulay has reminded his officials that the policy is to be applied as flexibly as possible, with the goal of ensuring that our veterans and their families receive the care and support they deserve," said John Embury, the minister's communications director.

Dalton said both he and and his predecessor, Guy Parent, have argued that the existing policy is too restrictive.

"We've called and recommended for family members to have access to mental health support in their own right," he said.

See more...
Page top
'We deserve better': Veteran shares frustration over claim application backlog
Veterans waiting too long for benefits and aid


A major back log within Veteran Affairs is affecting benefits and aid for thousand of former service members. CTV's Jeremie Charron has more

Videojournalist/Producer Jeremie Charron @JCharron
Published Friday, February 21, 2020 7:42PM CST

VVi 29 Feb 2020 db

WINNIPEG -- A growing number of veterans across the country are being affected by a major backlog within Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).

In an annual report, the veterans ombudsman highlights the issue which is keeping thousands of former service members waiting to find out if they qualify for benefits and aid.

Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton is calling on the federal government to come up with a clear plan to eliminate the backlog within Veterans Affairs.

Most recently, Veterans Affairs Canada revealed that there were 44,000 applications waiting to be processed at the end of September, which was a 10 per cent increase from six months earlier.

WINNIPEG VETERAN SPEAKS OUT

Winnipeg’s Cameron Jones wrote a letter to the Prime Minister on Feb. 8, expressing his frustration with VAC.

Jones spent 37 years serving with the Canadian Armed Forces. Last June, he submitted a claim for ongoing treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It took them six weeks to send me the information package," said Jones. “I then booked an appointment with my specialist, he did his part of the report, I did mine, and the specialist sent it off and it took them basically 32 weeks to say ‘no you filled out the wrong paperwork’”

Jones was told he needed to reopen a claim he started in 2016, which had taken two years to complete.

Now – he said he’s forced to start over and wait once again.

“Thirty nine weeks on average, so they've already wasted 32 weeks, now I've got the new paperwork, which they don't have yet because the specialist has to fill it out, once they receive that, the 39 week clock starts,” said Jones.

He said the delay has impacted him financially and emotionally.

'WE KNOW THERE'S MORE TO BE DONE': VAC

In a statement to CTV News Friday, the department said: "The work to improve our operations is ongoing and the Veterans Ombudsman’s Office (OVO) has provided valuable insights and recommendations in this report."

"We know there is more to be done – that is why we are changing how decisions are made and looking to find better ways to communicate with Veterans and their families."

According to the Royal Canadian Legion, it’s an area which needs work.

“The turnaround times have to improve, but more importantly for us the transparency is a must, and that will alleviate a lot of the calls we get here,” said Ray McInnis, Director of Veterans Services, The Royal Canadian Legion.

“They need to hire more people or do what they have to do to get the system better,” added Jones.

He said he’s been able to receive some treatment on his own - but is adamant changes need to be made, in order for veterans to get the help they need in a timely manner.

“We served the country with distinction, we deserve better,” he said.

See more...
Page top
Ombudsman calls for national consultations, plan for supporting veterans

The Canadian Press
Lee Berthiaume
February 21, 2020 1:53 PM EST Last Updated February 21, 2020 4:23 PM EST

VVi 29 Feb 2020 db

Lt.-Col. Craig Dalton, chief of staff for Task Force Kandahar, tells reporters that Canada has given command of Kandahar city to the U.S., Thursday, July 15, 2010 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Veterans ombudsman Dalton is calling for nationwide nationwide consultations to develop what he says is a much-needed vision and plan for supporting former service members and their families.Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA — The watchdog for Canadian veterans is calling for nationwide consultations to develop a much-needed vision and plan to support veterans and their families with all their needs.

The call by veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton follows more than a decade of anger and broken political promises over the financial compensations available to those hurt in uniform through the three benefits regimes that have been in place at different times over the years.

The current “Pension for Life” scheme was rolled out by the Liberal government last April and provides more money to most former military personnel than the “New Veterans’ Charter” it replaced.

Yet both have been blasted for offering less money than the original Pension Act, which the Charter replaced in 2006. That is despite the Pension for Life and New Veterans’ Charter having additional rehabilitation programs and other supports to try to offset the difference.

Dalton believes the bitter debate around the three regimes misses the mark. Rather than talking about how much money veterans can receive under each, he said, the focus should be on whether veterans and their families are getting what they need.

The challenge, he added, is there is no clearly articulated vision, let alone a plan, for what the government wants to achieve for veterans.

“There’s been considerable investment in veterans’ programming in recent years, and there’s no doubt that investment has made a difference in the lives of veterans and their families,” Dalton said in an interview with The Canadian Press this week.

“But that investment is still taking place in an environment where we do not have a clear strategy, a clear vision for what we are trying to achieve for veterans in this country.”

It is in this context that Dalton would like to see the government hold nationwide consultations with veterans and non-veterans alike, including service providers and advocacy groups, to find out what they really need and to chart a path toward accomplishing the task.

“Government goes coast to coast to coast when they’re developing things like legalizing marijuana or talking about gun-control policy or copyright infringement or budget and everything else,” he said.

“So I think it would be great if we were to have a national conversation to say: What is our vision for veterans? That could then inform discussions about whether we are meeting their needs or not and if they’re not … where is the best place to do that.”

Canada would not be the first country to conduct such an exercise. In fact, it was the recent experiences of the United Kingdom and Australia that prompted Dalton to start thinking about the need for a broader vision for veterans.

Dalton suggests the federal government could learn a great deal from the British experience, where the government unveiled a new veterans’ strategy in November 2018 that included consultations and annual reports to Parliament as the plan is implemented.

In the absence of such a vision, Dalton worries successive governments will continue to struggle to meet veterans’ needs.

“When you look at the amount of change that’s occurred in the area of veterans’ programming over the last 10 to 15 years, it’s significant: Programs added, programs removed, programs altered, all without a real clear understanding of where we are hoping to go,” he said.

“Not that those programs weren’t addressing needs that emerged but did those discussions take place inside of some sort of a broader framework focused on a future vision for veterans?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2020.

See more...
Page top
  Invisible injury

By: Sharon Adams
Article originally featured in Legion Magazine

VVi 29 Feb 2020

If a soldier’s moral conscience is damaged, the problem and the solution can both be hard to find.

January 30, 2019 — For almost a decade, Canadian Armed Forces reservist James (not his real name) has been haunted by memories from one of his three tours to Afghanistan—haunted by something he did not do.

An Afghan civilian reported to him that a member of the Taliban had set an improvised explosive device (IED) along a route travelled by patrols returning to base. The informant said he could see the terrorist lying in wait, ready to blow up the next military vehicle to come by.

Although he was in radio contact with a Canadian convoy using that road, James had been ordered to pass such information only up through the chain of command, where it would be verified and orders issued. He was warned that charges would be laid against anyone who passed along information otherwise. “They said, ‘We’re a unit, one organization…the information is going to come from us, not you as an individual.’”

So, that’s what James did. Sent the information up. “And waited, and waited, and waited.”
Then over the radio came words he dreaded to hear: “Contact IED.”

“I heard the second-by-second, minute-by-minute update.” Heard the reports as ammunition in the LAV started to cook off. Heard the desperate comments of comrades in failed rescue attempts.

“I’ve always questioned if that delay, because of people’s egos, because of following rules, if that cost lives…in situations like this, in situations of life and death, fuck all that, none of that matters.

“I have to live with that every day. Every time I see these guys’ pictures in the news, every time I remember that tour, it affects me.
Those guys would possibly be here and aren’t because I followed the rules. I obeyed the orders. I have that guilt.”

James is still serving and asked not to be identified in this article. Although he has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, those unextinguished feelings of guilt are a hint of a different kind of injury, one as old as armed conflict.

“Those unextinguished feelings of guilt are a hint of a different kind of injury, one as old as armed conflict.”

Moral injury. It’s an injury not to the body, not to the mind, but to the inner self, the conscience or moral compass—some say the soul or spirit.
Moral injury can coincide with a post-traumatic stress injury, but it can be altogether separate. Not everyone who has PTSD also has a moral injury and conversely, not everyone with a moral injury has PTSD. But some people suffer both.

Veterans with moral injury can be haunted by something they did not do, as in being unable to rescue someone or intervene in wrong-doing—or something they did do, such as having to choose which life to save, or accidentally killing an ally. It can be caused by witnessing or learning about an act that goes against deeply held beliefs, such as the killing of civilians or children, a massacre, or enemy execution of a helpful civilian.

And it can be caused by betrayal of deeply held beliefs—lives unnecessarily sacrificed; orders violating rules of engagement, military ethical codes or the Geneva Convention; a devastating lie from a source who should be entirely trust-worthy; dishonourable conduct.

“One of the most frequent causes of soul injury is betrayal,” said Vancouver psychologist Marv Westwood. Feeling abandoned by comrades or chain of command when ‘I’ve got your back’ is a mantra of service; being shamed and shunned by the very people they were willing unto death to serve.

Over the years, Legion Magazine has interviewed many veterans who have suffered moral injuries. A sniper in Croatia in 1993, who helplessly watched the massacre of an entire village, but was prevented by rules of engagement from intervening. A submariner who survived the fire on HMCS Chicoutimi in 2004, and felt sailors’ lives were held cheap by command and survivors’ health needlessly endangered.

One young soldier during the October Crisis in 1970 had his faith in the military and his own moral compass shaken by a warning that he could be ordered to shoot fellow citizens, leading him to question, even now, whether he would have pulled the trigger.

A female soldier in the early 2000s was shamed into feeling guilty and disloyal for reporting sexual assault by an officer in garrison, while also feeling violated by the assailant, whose duty it was to protect her, as well as the chain of command that belittled her.

Shame and guilt are hallmarks of the injury, negative emotions that become life’s background noise, an earworm of intrusive thoughts, a combination of memories and self-condemnation looping through the mind. They lead to self-medication with drugs and alcohol and other actions described in psychology literature as “parasuicidal behaviour.” People can become so demoralized they reject anything that might raise the spirits, so hopeless and suspicious they can trust no one. Shame and guilt lead to many attempted—and too many successful—suicides.

Moral injury violates core beliefs about what is right and wrong, good or evil, just and unjust. It goes far beyond hurt feelings, to the anguish of dark nights of the soul.

“The profession of arms is profoundly moral in nature,” said Megan M. Thompson, a research scientist with Defence Research and Development Canada. From a government’s decision to deploy to an army’s strategic plan to the actions of an individual soldier manning a gun—decisions at all levels involve justice, fairness and the right thing to do. “It involves high stakes, deeply held values and the well-being of others.”

Ethics separates combat and warfare from murder and slaughter—and demands a higher standard of behaviour from soldiers, sailors and air force members—on and off the job. Military professionals in Canada are guided by written rules and provided with ethics training. “Ethics is a fundamental principle of the culture of our men and women in uniform,” said Department of National Defence spokesperson Ashley Lemire.

DND’s Statement of Defence Ethics requires military members “at all times and in all places” to respect the dignity of all persons, serve Canada before self, and obey and support the law, acting with integrity, loyalty, courage and stewardship. That’s backed up by the Defence Ethics Programme Code of Values and Ethics, which requires members to behave “in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny.”

The code gives many examples, but says “expected behaviours are not intended to cover every possible ethical situation or issue that might arise.” It also encourages members to seek advice and support from “other appropriate sources within their organization.”

“Moral injury violates core beliefs about what is right and wrong.”

For 26 years, retired chaplain Jim Short was one of those sources. Moral injury “has been around since the beginning of time, the beginning of warfare,” he said.

But the term was not in use in the 1990s, at the start of his career, when the military was dealing with fallout from a peacekeeping mission during which a Somali citizen was beaten to death by members of the subsequently disbanded Canadian Airborne Regiment. Nor in Bosnia, where Canadian soldiers witnessed massacres, genocide and other atrocities; nor Rwanda, where they dealt with child soldiers. The 1990s brought attention to the need for ethics training, said Short. Coincidentally, it also marked the evolution of diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress and preventive training.

But “when I went to Afghanistan, people were distressed, and it wasn’t related to a particular incident of trauma,” as with post-traumatic stress. Among the troubled souls were soldiers with moral and ethical dilemmas related to killing the enemy or who felt guilt and shame from celebrating insurgents’ deaths.

Chaplains are non-combatants, but go on deployments, sometimes accompanying troops even to forward operating bases to support and help those who come under fire. “We don’t carry weapons,” said Short. “And we don’t have the power of command. We’re the one profession that has equal access to all ranks. A troubled private can’t just knock on the door of a major and say, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you.’ But they can do that to a chaplain. We’re approachable.” They help all troops, regardless of denomination or religion, or lack thereof.

Chaplains are experienced in determining the needs of those who’ve been through moral trauma, and are often the first step to wellness for the morally injured. “You cannot simply quote the ‘just-war’ theory to them. Sometimes they need to connect to their religious roots or they may need to talk about their concept of good and evil and God. They may need to be connected with other people who have gone through the same thing.” Short knows this from personal experience: he himself has suffered a moral injury and is being treated for post-traumatic stress.

Many chaplains have therapeutic training, work in mental-health clinics or as part of a mental-health team. “A really important function is to identify and refer.”

Confidentiality is key. “Troops know that if they go to the medical people, things are going to start to be written down.” Chaplains recognize that “they may be having a struggle, but are able to function fairly well, so we don’t want to make them a casualty,” either on deployment, or once they return home.

But what can and should be done to help those with moral injury? Clouding the issue are disagreements about what moral injury is, how it should be treated, whether it is preventable, whether it’s a leadership issue, a legal issue, or a spiritual issue best handled by chaplains, and what is the most effective method of ethics training. Research provides few answers, particularly in Canada, with its smaller military and pool of scientists.

Evidence-based methods of prevention and treatment are slow in coming, because there is, as yet, no diagnostic criteria for moral injury. Some argue there never should be, because it is not a medical condition.

“The problem is, what can you do to treat and prevent it when it hasn’t even been defined yet,” said CAF senior psychiatrist Colonel Rakesh Jetly. “There’s a risk of putting a medical model onto something that may not be an illness. That doesn’t mean people aren’t suffering. But it may be premature to call it an illness when it may just be a distressing part of the human condition.”

Some people believe moral injury is a disease unto itself, others that guilt and shame are a complicating factor of another disease or condition, such as PTSD. “Some believe it may explain why a lot of people don’t get better with traditional [PTSD] therapy,” said Jetly. Recent U.S. research documented that while most patients showed improvement of symptoms, two-thirds still met the criteria for PTSD diagnosis after treatment with the two most widely used therapies.

Some argue that PTSD treatments involving repeatedly recalling the trauma in order to normalize the fear reaction may actually worsen the shame and guilt of a moral injury. Others report success in adapting PTSD therapy for those with moral injury.

DND and CAF are heavily involved in international research to define military moral injury, establish a way to measure it, identify potentially morally injurious events and facilitate prevention and treatment. Research so far has established a relationship between ethics, morality and mental health, said Jetly. Having mental-health issues raises the risk of moral injury, and moral injury can cause mental-health problems.

As the international military debate goes on, as researchers try to make sense of it all, soldiers, sailors and air force personnel are dealing with the effects of moral injuries and the situations that give rise to them.

Data from the 2013 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey shows 58 per cent of personnel deployed overseas between 2001 and 2013 were exposed to events that heighten risk of moral injury; 39 per cent were unable to help injured women or children; 32 per cent felt responsible for Canadian or allied personnel; six per cent had difficulty distinguishing civilians from combatants.

“We ask our soldiers to make ethical decisions under circumstances that can—but do not always—affect moral decision-making,” said Thompson. Aside from operational stressors—harsh weather, rough living conditions, sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, fear—military personnel, including junior ranks, have to make quick decisions under great stress and often with insufficient information. The right thing to do may not immediately be clear. One set of values may violate another and a negative result will happen regardless of action taken, or inaction. The mission may have several competing and incompatible goals—combat, area stabilization, a humanitarian component.

Modern conflict presents unique challenges, said Thompson. Insurgents don’t wear uniforms. They have moral codes quite different from western forces and play on those differences to provoke a disproportionate response or retaliation.

Those responses, and other ethical infractions and misconduct which lead to moral injury, can be curbed, reducing dishonourable behaviour and long-term mental-health problems, including suicide, said U.S. Army Colonel Christopher Warner at a NATO seminar on moral injury.

A decade ago, research found less than half of U.S. troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan believed non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect. A third described local populations in derogatory terms. One in 10 had damaged civilian property and five per cent had hit or kicked civilians. A third believed torture is acceptable to save a comrade. Less than half would report a team member’s unethical behaviour. “A reduction in nearly all levels of behaviour” followed the institution of ethics training, which included teaching leaders how to maintain ethics on the battlefield, said Warner.

Canada invests in career-long ethics training, said Lemire, including an ethics module for new recruits, annual ethics training, leader-led dialogue, briefings, awareness activities and scenarios. Its Road to Mental Readiness training is also geared to improve performance in the short term, and long-term mental health.

But nothing prepared Tim Garthside for the moral and ethical situations he faced in Afghanistan.

“The defining piece of soul injury is the depth of injury,” says Garthside, a signals operator during a day-long firefight in Panjwaii on Aug.

3, 2006, which took out an estimated 90 Taliban at the cost of four Canadians killed and at least 10 wounded.

Garthside’s job that long, long day was to relay messages to and from infantry in Panjwaii and CAF headquarters. His shift started with an IED incident.

“There’s people injured and one dead, but they’re taking fire,” he recounted. “Medevac will not fly in if they’re taking fire; they need a clear landing zone. I have in one ear the infantry asking for medevacs and in the other ear, HQ telling me that no one’s coming.”

Elsewhere in the battle, Taliban were being rooted out and eliminated in airstrikes directed by an onsite Afghan counterintelligence source. A pilot reported a man on a roof armed with a rocket-propelled grenade gun. Garthside asked command what to do, and relayed the kill order. “They cut him in half, and within five seconds, intelligence says their phone went dead. So, in effect, I killed a guy that was enabling us to save Canadian lives.”

At the end of his shift, an officer asked if he was OK. “I said I was fine,” Garthside said, something he continued to say for years. But he wasn’t.

Back home, he had trouble sleeping. “I wasn’t in the infantry and I wasn’t on the front line. I thought there’s no way there could be anything wrong with me because I didn’t get shot at or blown up.” Insomnia morphed into depression, physical and psychological pain, isolation from friends and family, self-medication with alcohol and drugs.

“It took six years for me to want to kill myself,” said Garthside. He received immediate support at a branch of The Royal Canadian Legion, where he met a veteran who referred him to a psychologist and the Veterans Transition Program, a peer group program which has helped hundreds of veterans with PTSD over the past 20 years.

“It 100 per cent saved my life at the time,” he said. So much so that he volunteered for the program, eventually participating in training videos involving therapeutic enactment. During one session, “I realized I blamed myself for the death of that Afghan man.” He calls it a soul injury. “The psychological pain was like that of being cut in half. And it ran to the very core of who I am.”

“The degree of pain they experience is tied to the degree of goodness,” said Westwood, co-founder of the program, which has been altered to accommodate those with moral injury. “Although the morally injured often see themselves as a failed person, their anguish actually proves how honourable they are.”

This program helped Garthside wrestle his demons, but there havebeen few randomized control trials comparing effectiveness of different treatments, no handy list of evidence-based therapies.

“In the end, it may be that there is no one right treatment that will be effective for all situations,” Thompson wrote in a CAF report. Since moral injury knows no borders, ideally a multinational, randomized control trial could identify best practices for the care of moral injury, which could be tailored for differences in national and cultural practices and individual clients’ needs.

Individualized support has helped Garthside turn his life around. He is working toward a degree in social work, and at press time was looking forward to becoming a father. He still sees a therapist weekly for PTSD, and is still coping with his moral injuries.

“There was literally nothing I could do but tell those guys no one was coming. In a way, I was betraying those guys. Even if it was headquarters that made the decision, I’m the talking head. And saying I did my job and I did my job well or whether it was a mistake, the reality is that Afghan man is dead. That’s the piece that beats your insides out, that still does.”

Still, he has a better perspective on it today. “I was acting for the greater good. I’m not healed, but I have so many more tools to cope. I have more depth of character to draw on. That shift in perspective allows me to re-engage with life. Instead of being in a live production, I’m looking at a picture.”

See more...
Page top

More veterans are getting cancer, and some suspect it's due to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan

Lisa Gutierrez, The Kansas City Star
November 01, 2019 at 07:21 PM

VVi 03 Feb 2020 db

Lloyd Blair joined the Marine Corps as an 18-year-old itching for a fight after hijacked planes rocketed into the World Trade Center towers and set the world on fire. He pulled two tours in Iraq. The first landed him in the hell of Fallujah where some of the bloodiest fighting took place.

There he was, not long out of high school, fighting in the desert, ducking bullets while carrying 40, 50 pounds of full battle rattle on his back.

The stench of human feces flowing out of Fallujah in shallow creeks suffocated the air. There was smoke everywhere. "I mean, there was stuff burning all the time in Fallujah," says Blair, who is 35.

He didn't give a second thought to the smoke billowing from the burn pits where the military torched its own trash, not until he was diagnosed with testicular cancer after he came home.

Cancer doesn't run in his family, said Blair, who lives in Lee's Summit. So he was confused about why the cancer that befell Lance Armstrong had found him. Looking for answers online, he came across hundreds of other worried veterans with the same diagnosis.

A McClatchy investigation of cancer among veterans during nearly two decades of war shows a significant increase in cancer cases —like Blair's — treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

The review, based on VA health care data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, found the rate of treatments for urinary cancers — which include bladder, kidney and ureter cancers — increased 61 percent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2018.

The rate of treatments for blood cancers — lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia — rose 18 percent in the same period. For liver and pancreatic cancer treatments the increase was 96 percent, and for prostate cancer it was 23 percent.

The VA has disagreed with McClatchy's findings, however data from its own cancer registry provided to McClatchy also shows a significant rise during a similar time frame.

McClatchy chose to look at the rate of veteran cancer treatments beginning in fiscal year 2000 to see what happened in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when U.S. forces were involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The rate of cancer treatments for veterans at VA health care centers peaked earlier this decade and has declined over the past several years, but is significantly higher than before 9/11.

The barber vet: 'An eye for an eye'

The word is out that the Corner Barber Shop in Northmoor, Missouri, is friendly to those who serve and have served in uniform, be they police officers or veterans. There's usually a veteran sitting in Blair's chair.

At his work station, Blair's barbering supplies sit on a thick black rubber mat advertising Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey whiskey with the slogan, "Fly Straight Drink Responsibly."

The shop is a big open room spare of furnishings except for guest seating, a pool table and two barber chairs — owner Rich Dedrick's is closest to the door.

Jabberjawing about LC's Hamburgers and football — both barbers are Raiders fans, their customers are not — and the beef jerky from the bar next door ping-pongs off the walls over the buzzing of razors. Conversations turn polite when a woman is in the room. "Somehow we got a five-star rating," Dedrick joked one recent morning. "We're trying not to screw it up."

Blair was a client here before he joined the Marines as a teenager. When he came home from Iraq, the shop owner made him an offer he didn't refuse.

Dedrick worried about his friend, concerned that working on cars was too solitary a gig for someone who came home from war a different man, one with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dedrick knew Blair to be a "self-motivated" man "who goes for it when he sets his mind for something."

Blair needed to be around people, Dedrick thought. Drinking wasn't helping. So the long-time barber threw his friend a lifeline.

"He's like 'Man I don't want you sitting at home. Why don't you go get your barber's license and I'll let you cut in that chair right there?' And that's what I did," said Blair, who displays his barber licenses from Kansas and Missouri at his work station.

The barber shop sits in Blair's neck of the woods north of the river. He was 5 when he and his father moved to the Kansas City area from Los Angeles. Some of the tattoos that cover his arms pay homage to his birthplace — the words "California Life" are inked on his upper right arm along with a buxom Latina woman in a hat.

Blair, a member of the Class of 2003 at Park Hill South, was in classes on Sept. 11, 2001.

"As soon as 9/11 happened, it was kind of the jump for all of the kids of my time," said Blair. "We watched it happen. We were getting ready to be out of high school, and it kind of just ruffled my feathers.

"My grandfather was in the Navy through Korea and Vietnam. A lot of my other family were in the Marine Corps, Army, Air Corps. … I just kind of felt the need to do that as well, to serve my country."

His dad, a mechanical engineer, had pushed him toward college, he said. But, "I wasn't as good in school as my dad, you know what I mean? Math and stuff like that," said Blair. "I was more of a hands-on type of kid." So he waited until his dad went out of town on business to meet with recruiters.

"I was supposed to go into the Army and I went into the recruiting station to turn in my paperwork and there were a couple of (Marines) who had just got back from the first push through Iraq and they were in their dress blues," he recalled. "And they were kind of talking crap about the Army.

"They were like, 'only sissies go in the Army.' So they kind of got me hook, line and sinker."

Days later, in February 2003, he headed to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, MCRD, in San Diego. He went to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Weapons Company.

"I joined infantry off the cuff," said Blair. "I knew what I was signing up for. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to be infantry and I wanted to go to Iraq and make right what was wrong to us. An eye for an eye. That's the way it should be."

'A common way to get rid of waste'

The fighting was close-up.

"Nowadays when you go to the Middle East it's house-to-house fighting," said Blair. "It's not going out into the field and there's 10 million guys lined up in a line and they just watch each other. That's not what it is. They hide in the houses and they shoot from the windows, the tops of the buildings."

His mission took him into an industrial part of the city to search buildings for weapons caches. "So on a day-to-day basis that's what we were doing, going through and finding where they were storing all their guns and ammunition and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), finding them before they could use them on us."

In Fallujah he lived on an FOB — Forward Operating Base — and that's where he saw his first burn pit.

The VA's website describes burn pits as "a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food," the website says.

"Basically, it's just a big trash pile," said Blair. "So if you've ever been to, like, a city dump, that's all it is. It's where we threw all our trash.

Basically everything. Bloody camis. Old batteries. Everything. Old food. And then they would set it on fire with diesel fuel and let it burn."

The pit that Blair lived near in Fallujah sent smoke pouring into their sleeping quarters and showers, he said. "I didn't even think anything about it. It wasn't one of our priorities. That was for the guys that were in charge of the base. We just went in there and slept," he said.

"I think the reason a lot of us didn't smell anything weird was because our noses were so dead to smell because of how it smelled everywhere around there. So when they're doing the burn pits it didn't smell any different from the rest of the city."

At the time, he was more focused on staying alive.

The kind of cancer Lance Armstrong had

Blair came home with medical problems he didn't have before — PTSD and a traumatic brain injury sustained in a Humvee explosion, he said. Two weeks after he was discharged in 2007 he collapsed in pain at his father's house in Kansas City and wound up having emergency gall bladder surgery.

He got sick again in 2013 with pain in his lower abdomen. "So I went to the VA and they said I had an infection and sent me home with some antibiotics," he said.

Two years later in 2015 he was on his way to the VA hospital in Kansas City. He worked there as a service officer for the VFW, helping other vets secure their veterans' benefits. He was riding his motorcycle when he felt excruciating pain below the belt.

He went straight to the hospital's emergency room and that became the day he learned he had Stage 3, advanced, testicular cancer.

"The doctor came in the room and he didn't really say anything, and then he's like, "Hey, you know who Lance Armstrong is? Well, he beat it, so can you.' And then he walked out of the room," Blair said.

Doctors that day removed one of his testicles "that was basically coated in cancer," he said. But things got much worse.

More tests over the next few days showed the cancer had spread. "That's when they told me 'We're sorry, you have lymphatic cancer as well." He spent the next month getting chemotherapy treatments and today is in remission. He's been told the cancer could come back "three days or 30 years from now."

Because he knew cancer did not run in his family Blair started researching, typing into Google phrases such as: "How many Iraq veterans are coming down with testicular cancer?"

He quickly found one online forum that alone had nearly 400 "guys who all came back and got testicular cancer," he said.

The American Cancer Society says on its website that testicular cancer "is largely a disease of young and middle-aged men" and "is not common: about 1 of every 250 males will develop testicular cancer at some point during their lifetime."

Blair already knew, through his work with the VFW, that some veterans suspected that being exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan made them sick, some critically. It became his concern, too.

Veterans groups and members of Congress are working on ways to make it easier for veterans to get their illnesses connected to their service. The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, run by the VA, has collected health information about more than 170,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Stars and Stripes reported earlier this year.

The VA denies a direct connection, stating on its website: "At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits. VA continues to study the health of deployed Veterans."

Like Vietnam and Agent Orange

Blair is not angry that he got cancer. He talks about it like most people would discuss a hangnail. Yeah, I had it. I don't anymore.

"You just keep on going. You can't let it get to you. It is what it is," he said. "I went in during a time of combat and I volunteered.

"I wasn't 'volun-told' like most of the Vietnam guys. I had a decision and I made that decision, and so that's why I don't bag on any of the government agencies or anything. I love my country, I love my government. Some of it's stupid right now, but I would never cross my government."

He holds no animosity toward the VA, either, "because they've kept me alive on just about everything I've been through."

But he still wants to know, more so for his fellow veterans, if his cancer was somehow caused by his service to country.

"Obviously none of us knew the burn pits had bad stuff in them," he said. "We didn't realize, just like (Vietnam vets) didn't realize that Agent Orange was going to give them diabetes and different cancers and a lot of them were going to pass away before their 50th birthdays. They didn't know any of that."

Dedrick joked that Blair is so patriotic that "I'm not sure he doesn't p**s red, white and blue."

Two years ago while he was at Headlines Barber Academy in KCK learning his way around a set of clippers, Blair and a couple of veteran buddies took on a new mission. They founded a nonprofit called Veteran Barbers for Veterans as a hand-up for any vet in a hard place.

They began raising money to fund scholarships for veterans who want to go to barber school. And, they turned a 24-foot trailer into a mobile barber shop to take on the road and give free haircuts and shaves to veterans, active duty military and first responders.

They want to take the shop-on-wheels across the country to veterans' events, VA hospitals, anywhere they can meet a vet. They've been to Columbia, Missouri, and Las Vegas already. But they've been sidelined by red tape, some requirement about needing a bathroom onboard, Blair said.

For now he counsels his fellow brothers in arms from his work station, where the conversations aren't always about barbecue and football.

"There's nobody that knows more about a person than his own barber," said Dedrick.

When McClatchy presented initial findings to the VA, the agency said it disagreed with McClatchy's approach. The VA said an analysis of billing data would create an overcount, and that its internal cancer registry system did not show a significant rise.

"According to the latest official VA cancer data, the annual total number of cancer cases among enrolled veterans peaked in 2010 and has been declining since," the VA said in a statement. "Colorectal and prostate cancer have been declining, while hepatocellular and skin (melanoma) cancer have been increasing. These trends largely mirror national cancer trends."

There are multiple ways to track cancer rates, and each has limitations.

Studies have found that the billing data used in McClatchy's analysis, which covered all treatments provided by the VA coded as cancer according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), has a tendency to overcount, while data from cancer registries such as the one used by the VA has a tendency to undercount.

McClatchy asked the VA through a Freedom of Information Act request for the internal data that the VA referenced in the statement above.

FOIA Response

In its response to that FOIA request, the Veterans Health Administration said parts of the cancer registry system were not being maintained.

"[The VA Central Cancer Registry] is not a viable source of VA cancer registry data at this time," the Veterans Health Administration wrote in a response to our open records request. "There are no staff working on [the VA Central Cancer Registry] so it is not functioning to any standard."

The VA then sent McClatchy raw data from its cancer registry that could not be adjusted for population and did not include a breakdown by service.

While the VA in its statement noted a decrease in cancers from 2010, viewing the raw cancer registry data over a longer period, from 2000 to 2017, showed an increase in some cancers. It was a similar trend to McClatchy's analysis of billing data over fiscal years 2000 to 2018.

The VA's cancer registry data shows the number of blood cancers increased 41 percent, while bladder, kidney and ureter cancers increased 70 percent. Skin cancers have increased 48 percent, brain cancers are up 20 percent. Liver and pancreatic cancers are up 151 percent — although they represent only a small number of actual cases. Prostate cancers are up 9 percent.

McClatchy's analysis of billing data showed decreases in treatments for brain, respiratory and testicular cancers. VA's cancer registry system showed increases in brain, respiratory and testicular cancers. The differing results are due to differences in methods of calculation and the makeup of the two datasets.

"Don't let anyone convince you that the information you're pulling is wrong. It's not wrong. It's just different from what VA has used," said Susan Lukas, a former VA official who now advocates for military reservists and veterans through the Reserve Officers Association.

"One of the outcomes of your research comparing ICD codes to identify veterans with cancer is that it may be time for VA to use this international system instead of their internal cancer register."


See more...

Page top

More veterans are getting cancer, and some suspect it's due to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan

Lisa Gutierrez, The Kansas City Star
November 01, 2019 at 07:21 PM

VVi 17 Jan 2020 db

Lloyd Blair joined the Marine Corps as an 18-year-old itching for a fight after hijacked planes rocketed into the World Trade Center towers and set the world on fire. He pulled two tours in Iraq. The first landed him in the hell of Fallujah where some of the bloodiest fighting took place.

There he was, not long out of high school, fighting in the desert, ducking bullets while carrying 40, 50 pounds of full battle rattle on his back.
The stench of human feces flowing out of Fallujah in shallow creeks suffocated the air. There was smoke everywhere. "I mean, there was stuff burning all the time in Fallujah," says Blair, who is 35.

He didn't give a second thought to the smoke billowing from the burn pits where the military torched its own trash, not until he was diagnosed with testicular cancer after he came home.

Cancer doesn't run in his family, said Blair, who lives in Lee's Summit. So he was confused about why the cancer that befell Lance Armstrong had found him. Looking for answers online, he came across hundreds of other worried veterans with the same diagnosis.
A McClatchy investigation of cancer among veterans during nearly two decades of war shows a significant increase in cancer cases —like Blair's — treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

The review, based on VA health care data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, found the rate of treatments for urinary cancers — which include bladder, kidney and ureter cancers — increased 61 percent from fiscal year 2000 to fiscal year 2018.

The rate of treatments for blood cancers — lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia — rose 18 percent in the same period. For liver and pancreatic cancer treatments the increase was 96 percent, and for prostate cancer it was 23 percent.

The VA has disagreed with McClatchy's findings, however data from its own cancer registry provided to McClatchy also shows a significant rise during a similar time frame.

McClatchy chose to look at the rate of veteran cancer treatments beginning in fiscal year 2000 to see what happened in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when U.S. forces were involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The rate of cancer treatments for veterans at VA health care centers peaked earlier this decade and has declined over the past several years, but is significantly higher than before 9/11.

The barber vet: 'An eye for an eye'

The word is out that the Corner Barber Shop in Northmoor, Missouri, is friendly to those who serve and have served in uniform, be they police officers or veterans. There's usually a veteran sitting in Blair's chair.

At his work station, Blair's barbering supplies sit on a thick black rubber mat advertising Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey whiskey with the slogan, "Fly Straight Drink Responsibly."

The shop is a big open room spare of furnishings except for guest seating, a pool table and two barber chairs — owner Rich Dedrick's is closest to the door.

Jabberjawing about LC's Hamburgers and football — both barbers are Raiders fans, their customers are not — and the beef jerky from the bar next door ping-pongs off the walls over the buzzing of razors. Conversations turn polite when a woman is in the room. "Somehow we got a five-star rating," Dedrick joked one recent morning. "We're trying not to screw it up."

Blair was a client here before he joined the Marines as a teenager. When he came home from Iraq, the shop owner made him an offer he didn't refuse.

Dedrick worried about his friend, concerned that working on cars was too solitary a gig for someone who came home from war a different man, one with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dedrick knew Blair to be a "self-motivated" man "who goes for it when he sets his mind for something."

Blair needed to be around people, Dedrick thought. Drinking wasn't helping. So the long-time barber threw his friend a lifeline.

"He's like 'Man I don't want you sitting at home. Why don't you go get your barber's license and I'll let you cut in that chair right there?'

And that's what I did," said Blair, who displays his barber licenses from Kansas and Missouri at his work station.

The barber shop sits in Blair's neck of the woods north of the river. He was 5 when he and his father moved to the Kansas City area from Los Angeles. Some of the tattoos that cover his arms pay homage to his birthplace — the words "California Life" are inked on his upper right arm along with a buxom Latina woman in a hat.

Blair, a member of the Class of 2003 at Park Hill South, was in classes on Sept. 11, 2001.

"As soon as 9/11 happened, it was kind of the jump for all of the kids of my time," said Blair. "We watched it happen. We were getting ready to be out of high school, and it kind of just ruffled my feathers.

"My grandfather was in the Navy through Korea and Vietnam. A lot of my other family were in the Marine Corps, Army, Air Corps. … I just kind of felt the need to do that as well, to serve my country."

His dad, a mechanical engineer, had pushed him toward college, he said. But, "I wasn't as good in school as my dad, you know what I mean? Math and stuff like that," said Blair. "I was more of a hands-on type of kid." So he waited until his dad went out of town on business to meet with recruiters.

"I was supposed to go into the Army and I went into the recruiting station to turn in my paperwork and there were a couple of (Marines) who had just got back from the first push through Iraq and they were in their dress blues," he recalled. "And they were kind of talking crap about the Army.

"They were like, 'only sissies go in the Army.' So they kind of got me hook, line and sinker."

Days later, in February 2003, he headed to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, MCRD, in San Diego. He went to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Weapons Company.

"I joined infantry off the cuff," said Blair. "I knew what I was signing up for. From the get-go, I knew I wanted to be infantry and I wanted to go to Iraq and make right what was wrong to us. An eye for an eye. That's the way it should be."

'A common way to get rid of waste'

The fighting was close-up.

"Nowadays when you go to the Middle East it's house-to-house fighting," said Blair. "It's not going out into the field and there's 10 million guys lined up in a line and they just watch each other. That's not what it is. They hide in the houses and they shoot from the windows, the tops of the buildings."

His mission took him into an industrial part of the city to search buildings for weapons caches. "So on a day-to-day basis that's what we were doing, going through and finding where they were storing all their guns and ammunition and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), finding them before they could use them on us."

In Fallujah he lived on an FOB — Forward Operating Base — and that's where he saw his first burn pit.

The VA's website describes burn pits as "a common way to get rid of waste at military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan."

"Waste products in burn pits include, but are not limited to: chemicals, paint, medical and human waste, metal/aluminum cans, munitions and other unexploded ordnance, petroleum and lubricant products, plastics, rubber, wood, and discarded food," the website says.

"Basically, it's just a big trash pile," said Blair. "So if you've ever been to, like, a city dump, that's all it is. It's where we threw all our trash.

Basically everything. Bloody camis. Old batteries. Everything. Old food. And then they would set it on fire with diesel fuel and let it burn."

The pit that Blair lived near in Fallujah sent smoke pouring into their sleeping quarters and showers, he said. "I didn't even think anything about it. It wasn't one of our priorities. That was for the guys that were in charge of the base. We just went in there and slept," he said.

"I think the reason a lot of us didn't smell anything weird was because our noses were so dead to smell because of how it smelled everywhere around there. So when they're doing the burn pits it didn't smell any different from the rest of the city."

At the time, he was more focused on staying alive.

The kind of cancer Lance Armstrong had

Blair came home with medical problems he didn't have before — PTSD and a traumatic brain injury sustained in a Humvee explosion, he said. Two weeks after he was discharged in 2007 he collapsed in pain at his father's house in Kansas City and wound up having emergency gall bladder surgery.

He got sick again in 2013 with pain in his lower abdomen. "So I went to the VA and they said I had an infection and sent me home with some antibiotics," he said.

Two years later in 2015 he was on his way to the VA hospital in Kansas City. He worked there as a service officer for the VFW, helping other vets secure their veterans' benefits. He was riding his motorcycle when he felt excruciating pain below the belt.

He went straight to the hospital's emergency room and that became the day he learned he had Stage 3, advanced, testicular cancer.
"The doctor came in the room and he didn't really say anything, and then he's like, "Hey, you know who Lance Armstrong is? Well, he beat it, so can you.' And then he walked out of the room," Blair said.

Doctors that day removed one of his testicles "that was basically coated in cancer," he said. But things got much worse.

More tests over the next few days showed the cancer had spread. "That's when they told me 'We're sorry, you have lymphatic cancer as well." He spent the next month getting chemotherapy treatments and today is in remission. He's been told the cancer could come back "three days or 30 years from now."

Because he knew cancer did not run in his family Blair started researching, typing into Google phrases such as: "How many Iraq veterans are coming down with testicular cancer?"

He quickly found one online forum that alone had nearly 400 "guys who all came back and got testicular cancer," he said.

The American Cancer Society says on its website that testicular cancer "is largely a disease of young and middle-aged men" and "is not common: about 1 of every 250 males will develop testicular cancer at some point during their lifetime."

Blair already knew, through his work with the VFW, that some veterans suspected that being exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan made them sick, some critically. It became his concern, too.

Veterans groups and members of Congress are working on ways to make it easier for veterans to get their illnesses connected to their service. The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, run by the VA, has collected health information about more than 170,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, Stars and Stripes reported earlier this year.

The VA denies a direct connection, stating on its website: "At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits. VA continues to study the health of deployed Veterans."

Like Vietnam and Agent Orange

Blair is not angry that he got cancer. He talks about it like most people would discuss a hangnail. Yeah, I had it. I don't anymore.

"You just keep on going. You can't let it get to you. It is what it is," he said. "I went in during a time of combat and I volunteered.

"I wasn't 'volun-told' like most of the Vietnam guys. I had a decision and I made that decision, and so that's why I don't bag on any of the government agencies or anything. I love my country, I love my government. Some of it's stupid right now, but I would never cross my government."

He holds no animosity toward the VA, either, "because they've kept me alive on just about everything I've been through."

But he still wants to know, more so for his fellow veterans, if his cancer was somehow caused by his service to country.

"Obviously none of us knew the burn pits had bad stuff in them," he said. "We didn't realize, just like (Vietnam vets) didn't realize that Agent Orange was going to give them diabetes and different cancers and a lot of them were going to pass away before their 50th birthdays. They didn't know any of that."

Dedrick joked that Blair is so patriotic that "I'm not sure he doesn't p**s red, white and blue."

Two years ago while he was at Headlines Barber Academy in KCK learning his way around a set of clippers, Blair and a couple of veteran buddies took on a new mission. They founded a nonprofit called Veteran Barbers for Veterans as a hand-up for any vet in a hard place.

They began raising money to fund scholarships for veterans who want to go to barber school. And, they turned a 24-foot trailer into a mobile barber shop to take on the road and give free haircuts and shaves to veterans, active duty military and first responders.

They want to take the shop-on-wheels across the country to veterans' events, VA hospitals, anywhere they can meet a vet. They've been to Columbia, Missouri, and Las Vegas already. But they've been sidelined by red tape, some requirement about needing a bathroom onboard, Blair said.

For now he counsels his fellow brothers in arms from his work station, where the conversations aren't always about barbecue and football.

"There's nobody that knows more about a person than his own barber," said Dedrick.

When McClatchy presented initial findings to the VA, the agency said it disagreed with McClatchy's approach. The VA said an analysis of billing data would create an overcount, and that its internal cancer registry system did not show a significant rise.

"According to the latest official VA cancer data, the annual total number of cancer cases among enrolled veterans peaked in 2010 and has been declining since," the VA said in a statement. "Colorectal and prostate cancer have been declining, while hepatocellular and skin (melanoma) cancer have been increasing. These trends largely mirror national cancer trends."

There are multiple ways to track cancer rates, and each has limitations.

Studies have found that the billing data used in McClatchy's analysis, which covered all treatments provided by the VA coded as cancer according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), has a tendency to overcount, while data from cancer registries such as the one used by the VA has a tendency to undercount.

McClatchy asked the VA through a Freedom of Information Act request for the internal data that the VA referenced in the statement above.

FOIA Response

In its response to that FOIA request, the Veterans Health Administration said parts of the cancer registry system were not being maintained.

"[The VA Central Cancer Registry] is not a viable source of VA cancer registry data at this time," the Veterans Health Administration wrote in a response to our open records request. "There are no staff working on [the VA Central Cancer Registry] so it is not functioning to any standard."

The VA then sent McClatchy raw data from its cancer registry that could not be adjusted for population and did not include a breakdown by service.

While the VA in its statement noted a decrease in cancers from 2010, viewing the raw cancer registry data over a longer period, from 2000 to 2017, showed an increase in some cancers. It was a similar trend to McClatchy's analysis of billing data over fiscal years 2000 to 2018.

The VA's cancer registry data shows the number of blood cancers increased 41 percent, while bladder, kidney and ureter cancers increased 70 percent. Skin cancers have increased 48 percent, brain cancers are up 20 percent. Liver and pancreatic cancers are up 151 percent — although they represent only a small number of actual cases. Prostate cancers are up 9 percent.

McClatchy's analysis of billing data showed decreases in treatments for brain, respiratory and testicular cancers. VA's cancer registry system showed increases in brain, respiratory and testicular cancers. The differing results are due to differences in methods of calculation and the makeup of the two datasets.

"Don't let anyone convince you that the information you're pulling is wrong. It's not wrong. It's just different from what VA has used," said Susan Lukas, a former VA official who now advocates for military reservists and veterans through the Reserve Officers Association. "One of the outcomes of your research comparing ICD codes to identify veterans with cancer is that it may be time for VA to use this international system instead of their internal cancer register."
———
©2019 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)
Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

See more...

Page top

Home

Latest News

Self Help VAC Links

VVi Database

CSAT Forum

Email Webmaster

VeteranVoice.info Disclaimer and Non-Endorsement

      The Veteran's Duty

 

    

         We, the veterans of today, 

         are  to prepare the way  

        for those that follow..... 

Tell Another Vet About VVi

VAC www.veterans.gc.ca

OVO www.ombudsmanveterans.gc.ca

Service Canada www.servicecanada.gc.ca

Your MP www.parl.gc.ca

  

Share/Bookmark

VVi on Twitter VVi on FaceBook VVi on Linked In Skype name: 'veteranvoice.info'