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National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman December 2008 report entitled: A Long Road to Recovery: Battling Operational Stress Injuries (Second Review of the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces' Action on Operational Stress Injuries)

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Issue

Response to comments/questions raised by the Office of the Veterans Ombudsman regarding the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman December 2008 report entitled: A Long Road to Recovery: Battling Operational Stress Injuries (Second Review of the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces Action on Operational Stress Injuries).

1. “A strategy is needed to make sure former members and their families have the latest information about operational stress injury treatment and services they might be eligible for. Does Veterans Affairs Canada have a strategy to make sure former members know about new developments? Should family programs be based on the family's needs instead of the Veteran's needs?

Facts

Veterans Affairs Canada has developed an outreach strategy to inform Canadian Forces members/Veterans and their families about new developments in the field of mental health. As part of the strategy, standardized briefing materials on New Veterans Charter Programs are produced for a number of key target audiences including military families. The material includes information on mental health supports that are available. Information is also communicated to former members through articles in Salute, VAC's information newsletter, the Maple Leaf a weekly national newspaper of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces, the Legion magazine of the Royal Canadian Legion, and others; through direct contact with Veterans groups; and through the VAC Website.

The Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act (CFMVRCA) and regulations link services for families to the Veterans' eligibility and provide services to the extent that they contribute to the Veteran's rehabilitation. Families may receive services and benefits through the Rehabilitation Program or receive Treatment Benefits. Families may also be assessed or treated through one of VAC's Operational Stress Injuries clinics across the country and receive the support of an Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program Family Peer Support Coordinator. VAC staffed seven (7) Family Peer Support Coordinator positions in 2008 to improve outreach and supports to Canadian Forces families dealing with operational Stress Injuries. Families may also contact and receive counselling through the VAC Assistance Service, a twenty-four hour support telephone service which also provides follow-up counselling. These services and benefits always respond to the specific needs of the individual served, whether the individual is a client or a family member.

Status

Currently the Mental Health pages of the VAC website, which are readily accessed from the home page of the VAC website, are being redesigned for spring release. The redesign will ensure that the content is reviewed and updated, and make important information more accessible.

VAC continues to explore in collaboration with DND opportunities to enhance service to families of Canadian Forces members. DND is also exploring where additional family supports may be required in the following six most pressing areas - health care; education; employment; mental health and social support; deployment and reunion; and child care. VAC is a key participant in this policy work, and is working closely with DND to identify and address any gaps in required support to Canadian Forces families on transition to civilian life.

Work is also underway under the VAC- DND OSISS Partnership to improve the Bereavement Program and support to bereaved families.

VAC through its enhanced case management initiative is developing a family engagement strategy to better meet the needs of families on transition to civilian life and post release.

VAC is also working closely with DND to better integrate and cohesively manage the three (3) key elements of rehabilitation (vocational, psychosocial and medical) so that Canadian Forces members/Veterans and their families achieve the highest level of independence and re-establishment into civilian life as possible.

2. “Veterans Affairs Canada needs to develop programs that will be more helpful to families, including former spouses or partners. How does Veterans Affairs Canada plan to meet the needs of individuals with operational stress injuries, including those situations where there has been a breakdown in family relations?

Facts

As indicated previously, to the extent that they contribute to the veterans rehabilitation and treatment plan, families may receive rehabilitation or treatment program services and benefits. Families may also receive assessment or treatment through one of VAC's Operational Stress Injuries Clinics across the country and receive the support of an OSISS Family Peer Support Coordinator.

The role of the family in promoting recovery and well-being is well recognized and supported through the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program. OSISS is a partnership program between Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and the Department of National Defence. This program has a mandate to provide support to Canadian Forces member, Veterans and families suffering with and impacted by operational stress injuries such as PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. This support is provided through a network of peers who have also ‘lived the experience of operational stress injuries and their impacts'. The OSISS peer support network becomes a partner with Canadian Forces members, Veterans and families on their journey to recovery and wellness.

OSISS support is available to all CF members, Veterans and families who struggle with operational stress injuries and their consequences. The OSISS program is well aware and understands the impacts operational stress injuries can have on the family unit which can sometimes lead to family breakdown.

The OSISS program is there to support all families whether together as a unit or separated. The OSISS program definition of family is very broad and support can mean support for spouses, children, parents, siblings and significant others.

Many factors related to family life can promote and protect mental health and well-being, as well as, assist a family member's journey to recovery. The OSISS program provides family members with information on operational stress injuries and the impacts and information about the services available to families within VAC, DND and the community. The OSISS program assists families in coping with the illness and impacts, including helping them to acquire new skills for problem solving, stress management and conflict resolution; and helping them to recognize the importance of self care and support for them to be able to cope with the challenges and address their own needs. The OSISS program helps families build on their own strengths to meet the challenges and enhance their own quality of life. As well, OSISS can be a conduit into the system for families and help them navigate through the system and continues to support them through the journey to recovery and wellness.

All field staff in the OSISS program come with the ‘lived experience of operational stress injuries and their impacts'. As well, they receive considerable training in the area of operational stress injuries and new developments, as well as updates on new policy and program developments in VAC and DND through the OSISS orientation program for all new staff, and through ongoing conferences and workshops for all staff.

Status

As part of its normal practice, VAC continues to review its programs and services to ensure they meet the needs of clients. VAC is collaborating with DND to identify and address any gaps in support to Canadian Forces families in transition to civilian life.

3. “The field of operational stress injury treatment is dynamic and constantly improving. So, extra care must be taken to make sure staff members are aware of the latest policies and treatment developments. Do Veterans Affairs Canada operational stress injury training programs make it possible for staff to stay up to date on developments in this field?

Facts

The National Centre for Operational Stress Injuries, based at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal, develops and promotes professional competencies and best practices related to mental health, and particularly in the field of operational stress injuries, through training, continuing education, research and partnerships. At the operational level, VAC has established a network of Regional Mental Health Officers (RMHO) across the country to provide direct support to staff providing case management and other supports to clients living with mental health conditions. The RMHOs are supported by the Mental Health Officers of the Mental Health Directorate, which works closely with the National Centre for OSIs. RMHOs keep themselves up to date on developments in mental health, and are kept up to date through regular telephone conferences. RMHOs are available across the country, but VAC is working to expand the number of individuals who can provide practice supervision in mental health issues to front line staff. In addition, case managers consult with inter-disciplinary teams during the case management process; inter-disciplinary teams include health professionals who, keep abreast of developments in the health and mental health fields. VAC also has a variety of intranet tools and communications processes to keep staff up to date on program and policy changes, and carries out ongoing training on a regional and national basis.

Status

As part of VAC's normal operations, staff training needs are continuously reviewed to ensure staff have the necessary knowledge to carry out their roles.

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