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Marla Newhook: Make veteran care the top priority at Ste. Anne hospital

I think it’s admirable that the unions representing the 600 employees of Ste. Anne Hospital for veterans are putting forth a proposal that would see the hospital provide a wider range of geriatric services.

However, as Remembrance Day approaches, I think the main players in the eventual transfer of the veterans’ hospital from federal to provincial jurisdiction are leaving out the most important people in all of this: the veterans themselves.

Put aside for the moment the salary differential between federal and provincial hospital workers, employee pensions and union affiliations; let’s put the issue of veteran care at the heart of the matter.

There are many reasons to be grateful to our Canadian war veterans. But, according to Don Leonardo, founder of the website Veterans of Canada, we should be especially thankful to them for paving the way for universal health care in Canada. Veterans were covered under a federal health plan until it was merged with Medicare when it was established in 1957. But conventional history tells a different story, making a hero of then Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas.

The eligibility requirements of obtaining a much-coveted bed at the veterans’ hospital, or even collecting a war pension through Veterans Affairs, are limited to those who served in the Second World War and the Korean conflict. For the remaining 600,000 or so veterans since the Korean War, they are excluded from the same programs that WWII and Korean War vets are entitled to, like long-or short-term medical care.

As of March, according to Veterans Affairs, there were approximately 107,000 Second World War veterans and 10,000 Korean vets. But that number is dropping as the population ages.

There are approximately 558,000 Canadian Forces veterans under the age of 70 (average age is actually 55) and they are eventually going be senior citizens needing geriatric care.

Once those ineligible CF veterans turn 65, they’ll be treated no differently than any other senior citizen with no special consideration when it comes to geriatric care. There is dire need for quality health care for seniors in Quebec for the average citizen, never mind the brave men and women who have put their lives in danger for their country.

To paraphrase Leonardo, why would anyone choose a job where your life is at risk only to be treated poorly when you are at your most vulnerable?

And if there is any time to be reminded of this, it’s in the days leading up to Remembrance Day, when the focus, however brief, is on our war heroes.

The date of the transfer of the Ste. Anne Hospital is slated for March 2013, but the terms of the turnover are still unclear.

If I were sitting at that negotiating table, I would insist that Canadian Forces veterans are given priority over civilians when it comes to providing long-term care there.

Think about that in the moment of silence on Remembrance Day.

Marla Newhook is a journalist and mother of two. She works part time at West Island Citizen Advocacy as the publicity representative. She is a resident of Pincourt.

2 comments

  1. By james neal

    Couldn’t agree more. The dedicated men and women of our armed forces richly deserve special consideration, and our thanks for standing up for all of us, allowing us to enjoy the quality of life we now have.

  2. I was on duty with the Canadian Forces in 2009 when I received the H1N1 shot (AREPANRIX by GSK GlaxoSmithKline) and had a severe adverse reaction resulting in PERMANENT neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory symptoms: dizziness, vertigo, irregular heart rhythms, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and pain, and numbness in hands and feet. My physical fitness changed from special forces fit to that of a 70 year old in a matter of days. I advised the military doctors that my change in health occurred following the H1N1 vaccination and although they noted my concerns on 8 different occasions, they did not investigate the link. Due to the severity of my symptoms I was unable to continue performing my duties and was released from the military. Following my release, the military determined I was disabled and altered my release record due to the severity of my symptoms. Two years later Alberta’s health officer in charge of the Immunization program for Alberta reviewed my medical history and verified I had an adverse reaction to the H1N1 vaccine. I applied to Veterans Affairs for disability benefits and was denied on 3 separate occasions. Even though I was on duty training personnel when I received the vaccination, Veterans Affairs stated “There is no evidence that your barriers to reestablishment are related to your service time”. Regarding another application, a Veterans Affairs doctor reviewed my file and stated my condition was not related to service, ignored medical information from several of my doctors, altered the conclusion of one of my neurologists reports, and speculated that had the military determined my diagnosis was related to service there was no medical treatment that would relieve my symptoms. I forwarded this report to my neurologist who indicated the doctors conclusions were false and that he should have consulted a specialist who was familiar with my condition and symptoms. Veterans Affairs admitted the doctor had made errors, but refused to review the original application advising me to appeal the decision through an Administrative review which would take another 6 – 8 months. Since I left the Canadian Forces 19 months ago I have been hospitalized on numerous occasions totalling 30 days. Spent more than $10,000 paying for medication and therapy to manage my symptoms. I am now unable to afford the specialized physiotherapy which costs thousands of dollars each year and am unable to work due to my disability.

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