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Record of Discussion – Mental Health Advisory Group

28 April 2021
1400 – 1500 (EDT)
Virtual via MS Teams

Participant List

Mental Health Advisory Group Members (5)

  • Michael Blais, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Dave Gallson, Mood Disorders Society of Canada
  • Glynne Hines, Royal Canadian Legion (Co-chair)
  • Dr. Don Richardson, Canadian Psychiatric Association
  • Col Helen Wright, Director of Mental Health, Canadian Armed Forces

Regrets (5)

  • Dr. Karen Cohen, Canadian Psychological Association
  • WO (Retired) Brian McKenna
  • Ed Mantler, Mental Health Commission of Canada
  • Kerry Mould, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping
  • Robert Thibeau, Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs (3)

  • Joshua Bragg, Senior Advisor
  • Sarah Cozzi, Director of Policy
  • Andrea Waselnuk, Policy Advisor, Stakeholders and Events

Veterans Affairs Canada Presenters and Officials (7)

  • Joel Fillion, Director, Mental Health, Health Professionals (Co-chair)
  • Steven Harris, Assistant Deputy Minister, Service Delivery
  • Faith McIntyre, Director General, Communications 
  • Audrey Jacques, Senior Advisor, Office of the Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Oversight and Communication
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Christina Clorey, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Jean Davis, Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Observer

  • Duane Schippers, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Opening Remarks

The co-chairs welcomed the group.

Renewal of Advisory Group Membership

Director General, Communications thanked the group for their continued dedication, passion and work on behalf of Veterans and their families, and spoke to advisory group renewal:

  • Renewing group membership will allow VAC to learn from new perspectives and consider diverse opinions.
  • The intent is that each group would have approximately 12 members representing a broad cross section of Veterans, Veterans organizations, non-profit, public and private sector associations as well as underrepresented groups and observer status members.
  • For current members, the Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach team will confirm intent to remain and those who are interested in remaining will be asked to provide their resume.
  • New members will be appointed by the Minister through an open and transparent application process where a Notice of Opportunity will be posted to fill positions. Candidates interested in applying will be asked to complete an application form and include a cover letter and resume.
  • The plan is to launch the application process and to post the notice mid-May for four weeks. Applications will be assessed and appointments made, with intent for advisory groups to resume meeting in the fall.
  • A pause on the Advisory group formal engagement would occur once the renewal process is launched until the refresh which would occur likely in early Fall.
  • Members are encouraged to continue to communicate with the department and the Minister’s office as needed at any point in time.

Discussion

Members requested clarification on renewal process when the members are representing professional organizations. Director General, Communications clarified that current members can remain on advisory groups. For new members representing professional organizations, membership will be determined on a case by case basis further to review of applications received.

The member co-chair noted that the presence of healthcare professional bodies on the group is important.

The Director of Policy, Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs spoke to the importance of broad range of voices and building a stronger structure with set meeting times, welcomed the current members who wish to continue to engage to remain, and noted, during the renewal period, that VAC is still available and willing to listen.

Overview of MHAG Recommendations

Member co-chair provided an update of recommendations from 2016-2020.

The compiled recommendations had been discussed, along with their status and timeline, at co-chair meetings in January and February with the Ministerial and departmental staff. It was noted that:

  • certain recommendations have been taken into broader policy discussions, for example, with service delivery;
  • certain recommendations have made some great strides and tracking these is no longer needed, other than periodic briefings (for example, the Centres of Excellence);
  • other complex recommendations may be more longer term but updates on progress would be useful (for example, coordination of provincial mental health care providers); and
  • similarly, certain recommendations would warrant periodic updates, for example,   cannabis research.

Member co-chair suggested future advisory group could continue the work of the recommendations moving forward.

The member co-chair reflected on successful initiatives of the advisory group such as Centres of Excellence, the suicide prevention strategy, and the periodic reporting of suicidality. Conversation was generated about recommendations and direction of MHAG to determine new priorities or future priorities.

Way forward

The Advisory Group members asked what VAC can do, in the short term and post-pandemic, to continue supporting Veterans and their families access to virtual care when it is preferred. The members emphasized that Veterans’ unique challenges must be considered in any mental health solution, including providing more accessible supports and using current community supports (e.g. peer supports). A member spoke to the opportunities, impacts and challenges on the Veteran community such as aligning provincial statistics. Departmental officials updated on what efforts VAC has taken to support Veterans during the pandemic and noted that the Department continues to monitor the situation and look for areas where they can best support.

The VAC co-chair provided some key budget 2021 information:

  • Supporting our Veterans: A program that would cover the mental health care costs of Veterans with PTSD, depression, or anxiety disorders while their disability benefit application is being processed; and
  • Addressing Sexual Misconduct and Gender-based Violence in the Military: An expansion of the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada’s work to eliminate sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military and support survivors; particularly by mean of piloting online and in-person peer support groups for CAF members and Veterans who experienced sexual misconduct during their service.
  • Ending Homelessness: A pilot program aimed at reducing Veteran homelessness.

Members spoke to the need for the advisory group to provide advice and guidance on addressing sexual misconduct and gender-based violence in the military. The Director of Policy with the Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs agreed and welcomes further collaboration.

Closing Remarks

The ADM, Service Delivery thanked group members for their contributions and the co-chairs’ leadership. These sentiments were echoed by both co-chairs to advisory group members and to departmental staff for their continued support.

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