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CAF / VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy: VAC Action Plan Implementation Updates

Third Anniversary Report

October 2020 marks the third anniversary of the Joint Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) Suicide Prevention Strategy. This report summarizes VAC’s actions, undertaken since the inception of the action plan, in an effort to help prevent suicide and to enhance the well-being of CAF Veterans and their family members. 

The Joint CAF/VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy and accompanying department-specific Action Plans are organized along seven Lines of Effort which encompass the seven Domains of Well-Being, which VAC uses in its approach to support Veterans and their families (see table below). Of the 63 Action Items appearing in the VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan, to date, 81% have either been completed or are labelled as ongoing, 19% are in progress.

Implementation Status of the VAC Suicide Prevention Action Plan

Implementation Status of the VAC Suicide Prevention Action Plan
Completed Ongoing In Progress
38% 43% 19%
Life skills 1. Communicating, engaging and educating
2. Building and supporting resilient Veterans and CAF members
Social Integration 3. Connecting and strengthening Veterans and CAF members through families and community
Health 4. Providing timely access to effective health care and support
Purpose 5. Promoting well-being of CAF members through their transition to life post-service
Finances 6. Aligning protocols, policies, and processes to better manage risk and stress
Housing and physical environment
Culture and social environment 7. Continuously improve through research, analysis and incorporation of lessons learned and best practices

Highlights of 2020 Accomplishments

Protecting the mental health of Veterans and their families is key to suicide prevention. Over the past year, the department has made tangible accomplishments that will lead to faster decisions for Veterans who are waiting for benefits and services. We have also increased our oversight with vulnerable Veterans and are working with CAF to improve the transition process.

Reducing Wait Times

  • We have hired and trained 350 staff to make disability benefits decisions so that Veterans receive their benefits faster.

Vulnerable Veterans

  • Improved guidance for staff on caring contacts, postvention and how to limit access to lethal means during high suicide risk periods.
  • Increased access to virtual resources like Mental Health First Aid for the Veteran community in partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
  • Reviewed 130 files of Veterans who have a homeless indicator to better identify and serve those in need.
  • Expanded the role for health professionals in case management and developed a framework to better measure the outcomes for Veterans.

Improving Transition

  • The transition trial at CFB Borden has been expanded to include all non-medically releasing members.  With the success at CFB Borden, the transition trial has been expanded to CFB Petawawa and is scheduled to start in early 2021.
  • VAC and CAF have continued to work together to ease the transition process by:
    • Developing a shared screening tool for better data sharing between the two departments.
    • Aligning a releasing CAF member’s current treatment benefits with VAC’s program.
    • Implementing a My Skills and Education Translator that helps translate military skills to the civilian workforce.
    • Revising the Member Transition Task List and adding to My VAC Account so that a Veteran can track their progress.
    • Creating a waiver of special authorization requirements for Veterans who are already receiving CAF benefits related to their disability.

To better understand the transition process, our research group completed a longitudinal qualitative study called The Road to Civilian Life. The results are helping us better understand the challenges of transition.

Overall Accomplishments

I. Improving the Transition Process
(Lines of Effort 2 & 5)

The release and transition of CAF members to post-military life can be a period of increased stress. Early intervention is at times required to mitigate any negative impact. Nearly one-third (19 items) of the VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan items focus on facilitating a successful transition to post-military life for releasing CAF members.

The reorganization of the joint Seamless Transition Task Force is a key completed item of the VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan. The Task Force is working to improve the transition process to ensure that all members of the CAF, Veterans and their families are prepared for and supported during their transition to civilian life. There are a total of eight (8) Implementation Teams working on numerous initiatives, including the CAF / VAC Borden Transition Trial which will be instrumental in developing and testing a new transition model. In support of this work, new services and tools are also being developed to improve our service delivery, such as providing CAF members with easy access to needed information about VAC, as well as, the ability to track their transition progress and develop their personalized transition plan with a user-friendly online portal. A new VAC Screening Tool, for instance, has been implemented to assess risks, identify unmet needs and to ensure that necessary benefits and services are in place prior to release. In addition, we have created a communications plan to raise awareness of VAC programs and services, earlier rather than later.

Additional initiatives in progress to mitigate stress associated with transition:

  • A Member’s Transition Task List is being refined and will be made available online, as well as via My VAC Account, in late fall 2020 to assist the member in ensuring that all necessary steps are followed to ease and ensure a smooth transition.
  • Second Career Assistance Network (SCAN) seminars continue to be offered early in the transition process. As part of the Enhanced Transition Training package, this content has been made available online and is now mandatory for transitioning CAF members.
  • Additional data-driven guided web forms are available via My VAC Account to assist Veterans applying for VAC benefits.
  • A Transition Assistance Initiative is underway in which Veteran Service Agents and identified CAF Transition Advisors will soon begin initiating check-in calls to releasing members 30 days prior to release, and at determined intervals post-release. This initiative is being piloted in conjunction with the CAF / VAC Borden Transition Trial.
  • We are issuing a Veteran Service Card to all releasing CAF members and eligible Veterans honourably released and with completed basic training.
  • For timely access to treatment, we have established a priority process, called “Yellow Zone”. This ensures that recently released Veterans submitting a psychiatric disability claim and without existing treatment benefits receive timely treatment services.
  • Alignment of treatment is underway to ensure releasing members, already receiving mental and physical health treatment through CAF funding, can make informed decisions on their future healthcare needs. Releasing CAF members can now request a review of their current treatment benefits to see what may be covered by VAC once they release. This service is offered by the Federal Health Claims Processing System contractor, Medavie Blue Cross, on behalf of VAC.
  • VAC also continues to honour and remember all those who served in Canada’s military using a suite of commemorative initiatives that engage Veterans and the general public.

II. Budget 2017 Initiatives
(Lines of Effort 1 & 6)

In 2018 and 2019, VAC rolled out the following initiatives from Budget 2017:

  • The Veterans Emergency Fund provides Veterans and their families with quick access to financial help in unique or urgent situations to help them meet their immediate needs.
  • The Education and Training Benefit provides funding to support college, university or technical education, including tuition, books and some living expenses for Veterans.
  • The redesigned Career Transition Services Program offers increased access, service and support to Veterans and spouses or common-law partners to find jobs after military service.
  • The Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund invests $3 million/year to foster innovation across the public, private and academic fields.
  • The Caregiver Recognition Benefit supports caregivers with a tax-free, monthly benefit of $1,000 provided directly to them.
  • To enhance support for survivors, spouses and common-law partners, we have eliminated the one-year application time limit for the Rehabilitation Services and Vocational Assistance Program.
  • A Centre of Excellence on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Related Mental Health Conditions has been established to create and share knowledge on Veteran mental health treatments that work. The new Centre’s mandate includes knowledge development via applied research and the translation of knowledge into clinical practices and tools. The goal is to improve treatment outcomes by increasing expertise on military and Veteran mental health, suicide prevention and substance use disorder. This will be done through collaboration, knowledge transfer and community outreach.

III. Mental Health Treatment and Supports
(Lines of Effort 2 & 4)

We are improving access to mental health treatment and the quality of field support offered to Veterans and families impacted by suicidality:

  • Since 2018, the Network of Operational Stress Injury Clinics expanded their services or facilities to care for more clients (in Quebec City, Vancouver, Victoria, London, Toronto and Calgary). Three satellite service sites also opened in Kingston, Montreal’s South Shore, and Saskatoon. In September 2019, the department also announced funding for the opening of another satellite service site in Stratford, PEI. Moreover, two pilot satellite service sites are offering services to clients located in Red Deer (AB) and Cape Breton (NS).
  • We developed a Postvention Business Process to provide support and assistance to those affected by a recent suicidal gesture or act.
  • A new Caring Contacts Business Process, to reach out to Veterans vulnerable to suicide, has been developed.
  • We created a National VAC Suicide Prevention Coordinator role to support departmental initiatives related to Suicide Prevention including implementation of our Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan.

IV. Partnerships
(Line of Effort 3)

VAC does not function in isolation. In our efforts to meet our Action Plan goals, we collaborate with a variety of partners. For instance:

  • We formed a partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada to deliver Mental Health First Aid for the Veteran Community. The program aims to improve mental health literacy and provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or a Veteran colleague before they become critical.
  • In collaboration with Saint Elizabeth Health Centre, we launched an online resource, the Caregiver Zone, to inform and support caregivers of Veterans. The free resource helps caregivers of ill and injured Veterans learn how to better support themselves and their loved ones through treatment and recovery.
  • In partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and Correctional Services Canada, we assembled a Veterans Homelessness Working Group to increase understanding of the needs of vulnerable Veterans (the homeless, in crisis, experiencing difficulties with the law, incarcerated, etc.). The four federal organizations work together as a consultative body to ensure the successful implementation of a Veteran Homelessness Action Plan.
  • The Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) Program, delivered in partnership with the Department of National Defense, continues its outreach to a vast audience, including serving members, Veterans and their families. In 2019, OSISS reached over 21,000 people through briefings and social media.
  • Veterans and their families have access to mental health professionals for psychological support 24/7, 365 days a year through the VAC Assistance Service, as well as, LifeSpeak, an on-line self-help resource, as a result of an ongoing partnership with Health Canada.

“Suicide prevention remains a priority for the department. We are steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the increased well-being of Canadian Veterans and their families.”

V. Research and Knowledge Sharing
(Line of Effort 7)

To inform VAC policy-making, services and program development, and thus better serve Canadian Veterans, the department has participated in the following research and knowledge sharing initiatives since the inception of the VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy Action Plan:

Research Initiatives

Knowledge Sharing Initiatives

VAC has organized, in collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR), the following CIMVHR-sponsored events:

VAC has also presented at other national conferences on Suicide and Suicide Prevention:

  • What We Share: Culture, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Among Military, Veterans and First Responders. 31 October 2018. Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention Pre-Meeting Workshop. St. John’s, Nfld.
  • Preventing Suicide in Veterans: Highlights from the CAF-VAC Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy. 2 November 2018. Podium Presentation, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. St John’s, Nfld.

VAC has collaborated in initiatives led by our Federal Government colleagues:

  • We collaborated with the Public Health Agency of Canada in the planning and holding of a National Conference on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, held on 9-10 April, 2019.
  • To fulfill the requirements of Canada’s Federal Framework on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Act of 2018 and bring it to fruition, we assisted the Public Health Agency of Canada’s PTSD Secretariat by providing subject matter expertise and chairing committees.

Finally, VAC was involved in international collaborations on Veteran Mental Health and Suicide Prevention:

  • We produced a report on Suicide in Canadian Veterans, entitled: Summary of Publications and Reports on Suicidality and Suicide Prevention for CAF Veterans, submitted to the Five Eyes Mental Health Research and Innovation Collaborative. This report informed the production of the Collaborative’s first report entitled: Risk Assessment and Prevention Strategies for Veterans and Serving Members at Risk of Suicide in the Five Eyes Militaries.
  • We co-authored the first published paper from the Five Eyes Mental Health Research and Innovation Collaborative, entitled: Treatment of Military-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Challenges, Innovations, and the Way Forward.
  • We participated in the International Innovation on Mental Health Leadership Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Match, held in Washington D.C. in September 2019. National government and non-governmental representatives from countries including United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Ireland, among others, shared best practices in suicide prevention.


In 2017, with the publication of the Joint CAF/VAC Suicide Prevention Strategy, Veterans Affairs Canada answered the call to action from Veterans, their families, and the overall community. A comprehensive plan for preventing suicide and suicidality, based on the best available evidence, was established and, in large part, implemented. Suicide prevention will remain an important priority for the department. We are steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the increased well-being of Canadian Veterans and their families and to prevent as many tragedies caused by suicide as possible.

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