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Record of Discussion – Mental Health Advisory Group Teleconference

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
1300 – 1400 EDT

Mental Health Advisory Group Members

  • Sapper (Retired) Aaron Bedard
  • Michael Blais, Canadian Veterans Advocacy
  • Dr. Karen Cohen, Canadian Psychological Association
  • Dave Gallson, Mood Disorders Society of Canada
  • Glynne Hines, Royal Canadian Legion (Co-chair)
  • Warrant Officer (Retired) Brian McKenna
  • Kerry Mould, Canadian Association of Veterans in United Nations Peacekeeping
  • Robert Thibeau, Aboriginal Veterans Autochtones

Regrets

  • Joel Fillion, Director, Mental Health (VAC Co-chair)
  • Colonel Colleen Forestier, Director of Mental Health, Canadian Armed Forces
  • Sergeant Brian Harding
  • Ed Mantler, Mental Health Commission of Canada
  • Dr. Ruth Lanius, Western University
  • Dr. Don Richardson, Canadian Psychiatric Association
  • Dr. Patrick Smith, Canadian Mental Health Association

Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs

  • Laurel Chester, Stakeholder Relations
  • Bernard O’Meara, Stakeholder Relations

Veterans Affairs Canada Presenters and Officials

  • Dr. Alexandra Heber, Chief of Psychiatry, Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Sylvie Thibodeau-Sealy, Director, Veterans Priority Programs Secretariat
  • Dr. Jim Thompson, Research Medical Advisor, Research Directorate
  • Katherine Spencer-Ross, Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach
  • Michelle Morrison, Senior Analyst, Stakeholder Engagement and Outreach

Observer

  • Gordon Wishart, Office of the Veterans Ombudsman

Opening Remarks

The member co-chair welcomed the group, and noted the regrets of the Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) co-chair. He introduced the first speaker, Director of Veterans Priority Programs Secretariat.

Debrief on Homelessness Roundtable

The Director of Veterans Priority Programs Secretariat provided an overview of the VAC Roundtable on Homelessness, held on June 7, 2018 in Ottawa, which specifically focused on homeless and at-risk Veterans. The meeting brought together 65 local, regional, and national organizations to exchange and gain valuable information on the current state of homeless Veterans. The following highlights were provided:

  • The Roundtable on Homelessness was an opportunity to share ideas, to build on existing partnerships and create new ones. The two main objectives for the day were to:
    • define the issues around homelessness in order to provide effective crisis response to homeless Veterans and Veterans in crisis.
    • strengthen the capacity of VAC area offices and partner organizations to identify and connect with homeless Veterans and Veterans in crisis.
  • Minister O’Regan provided opening remarks. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing and Urban Affairs), provided an overview of the Government of Canada’s National Housing Strategy, in which Veterans are recognized as a vulnerable population for homelessness. VAC officials also presented on the elements of the departmental approach to address Veteran homelessness.
  • A recurring theme throughout the day was the needed assurance of a seamless transition from military to civilian life, and this is required at all stages of transition, including pre-release, during release and post release.
  • The issue of a Veterans ID Card was brought up repeatedly, with participants noting how this would facilitate service verification, as well as assist in providing a sense of identity and comradery.
  • Agreement was expressed on the notion of collaboration between local, national and grass root organizations as key to preventing and reducing Veterans homelessness.

The approach on preventing and ending veteran homelessness is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018.

Questions/Comments

Q. It was questioned whether the efforts to work on Veteran homelessness from a federal perspective is effective, given that the provinces are ultimately the source of providing services. It was suggested that VAC’s strategy to address Veteran homelessness will be dependent on the provincial governments who determine the outcomes for housing and homelessness locally.

A. The presenter pointed to the federal National Housing Strategy, in which Veterans are recognized as a vulnerable population for homelessness, and through this strategy, there is much collaborative work happening between federal and provincial agreements. She agreed that the issue is complex, and that the Roundtable was held to hear about the roles of the different levels of government and community organizations, where the gaps are, and to share solutions.

Q. Another comment was made regarding the importance of having all levels of government at the planning table, including frontline workers, municipal and provincial and federal levels of government. However, there was a caution from a member that this an issue not specific to Veterans, and should be addressed from the broader Government of Canada perspective.

A. The presenter noted that VAC does recognize that addressing homelessness requires a whole of Government approach, and that homelessness itself is also a very complex issue, with different interventions required depending on geographic location, urban versus rural homelessness, climate, etc. She noted that the Roundtable was not the end of the discussion, but rather continues the dialogue and understanding about how local partners work together to support the Veteran homeless population, which has a unique profile within the general homeless population.

Suicide Prevention Presentation

The Chief of Psychiatry at VAC was introduced by the member co-chair. She provided an overview of the recently-held knowledge exchange roundtable event on suicide prevention in May 2018 in Ottawa, entitled: “What Can We Do? Working Together to Prevent Suicide Among Veterans, Serving Members and First Responders”. The workshop was convened by the Canadian Institute of Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR), and brought together researchers, academics, clinicians, case managers, Veterans, peer supporters, frontline workers, public and private agencies, and those with lived experience of mental health issues. The goal was to have a “whole-of-community” approach to suicide prevention, and to share what is known among all participants. The discussion was guided by the PowerPoint presentation provided to group members (link). The following are highlights noted about the workshop:

  • The planning committee expanded the “whole-of-community” to include active Canadian Armed Forces members and First Responders, based on their interest in becoming involved in the workshop.
  • A goal of the workshop was to develop a common framework and understanding among the participants about suicide and suicide prevention, and to network and learn through both formal and informal exchanges. Following morning presentations, in the afternoon participants participated in more in-depth facilitated roundtable discussions.
  • There was information presented about the domains of well-being, and how they are affected by the life course transitions of joining and leaving the military.
  • The workshop included information on risk indicators that could influence Veterans and others onto or off of suicide pathways, and how these factors can be targets for intervening to prevent suicide. It was emphasized that causes of suicide are complex, with many interacting factors that can contribute to suicide and suicidal ideation, and these factors vary from person to person – no two pathways are exactly the same.
  • It was explained that suicide prevention activities can be divided into three distinct phases: prevention, intervention and postvention.
  • Suicide prevention requires access to mental health care for the assessment and treatment of mental illness and acute suicidality, but also support in all the domains of well-being, over the life course.
  • Workshop participants were pleased with the workshop and the discussions that took place. A report will be posted to the CIMVHR website at a later date.

Questions/Comments

  • A few of the Advisory Group members indicated they had participated in the workshop, and had positive reflections about the experience, noting that it would have been preferable to have had all of the Mental Health Advisory Group members present.
  • One member noted that his role is to do more peer support, as his own way to become involved in suicide prevention, and wondered if VAC should look more internally about what specific activities are actually actionable by VAC to prevent suicide. The group member suggested that VAC’s key role in suicide prevention is to ensure timely, predictable, and effective delivery of service.
  • One member spoke to how much peer support he is doing, with more demand than he can meet. He expressed the wish that the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) program could expand. He noted that there is a gap in available peer support in order to reach Veterans who are living in more isolated areas. He recommended that there should be a more expansive and organized peer support network to better reach Veterans who are struggling.
  • The presenter asked the group to consider if it would be useful to connect them with more formal peer support workers, like OSISS, and to consider some of the online and electronic resources to help Veterans learn more about mental health.
  • The member co-chair described the application he is working on in conjunction with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), to receive funding through the Veteran and Family Well-being Fund to develop a Veteran-specific online application that links Veterans to professional and peer services.
  • Following the discussion about the need for online applications and e-therapies, one member cautioned that accessibility on cell phones and computers is still limited in certain geographic areas, so face-to-face work is still required as well.
  • One group member also noted that he had heard that the Veterans ID card was no longer being considered by VAC, but rather being passed back to Department of National Defence to address.
  • A member reminded the group to encourage Veterans known to them to attend the Regional Summits if possible. The representative from the Minister’s office also encouraged participation in these Summits.

Closing Remarks

The member co-chair concluded the meeting by thanking the presenters and group members for their engagement and participation. He noted that peer support had been emphasized during the meeting, and recognized that many of the group members are actively providing peer support and this is so important for Veterans’ mental health.

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