Lest we Forget

A brief look at veterans and caregiving

By: Mary Bart

The following is an excerpt from the full article featured in Caregiver Solutions’s Spring 2019 issue.

Spring 2019, Caregiver Solutions Magazine —  Unlike in other caregiving situations, care­givers of veterans often have to deal with and help to manage physical, physiologi­cal and mental health conditions such as operational stress injury. Operational stress injury is a persistent psychological issue caused from operational duties.

Dr. Belinda Seagram from the Veterans Transition Network-the only charity that deliv­ers mental health services specifically for veter­ans [across Canada] suggests that such conditions can stem from single-event trauma or, more often, be the result of repeated exposure to trauma over the course of a person’s duties. Furthermore, operational stress injury can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When a veteran finishes their career with physical or mental health injuries, they will often struggle to come to terms with who they are and where they belong. Often, a person’s core beliefs will have been shattered by the extreme events they have witnessed or experienced, and they may struggle to reconnect when they return.

In fact, research shows that a third of Canadian veterans report difficulty in transitioning to civilian life and feeling isolated. The period right after leaving service has been shown to be a critical point.

Seagram believes, however, that recovery is possible-noting that the end goal of treatment for an individual is not necessarily to return to being the same person they were before injury. Rather, she suggests, it is possible through treatment to discover a new identity that reclaims some of what was lost and to learn to build resiliency.

For veterans, this type of work is time consuming and labour intensive. It usually means visiting the emotional places that they have been most trying to avoid. And doing this work in isolation is difficult, so Seagram advocates recovery within supportive communities.

Beyond the basics

In addition to actually providing care, caregivers and family members are often asked to help veterans complete online applications for benefits and register for programs.

According to Captain Sean Bruyea, although completing online forms sounds like an easy way for veterans to apply for help, it is one of the barriers that actually makes it harder. Despite his university degrees, Bruyea was unable to read a book for 10 years after his service during the first Gulf War. Help filling out forms was certainly needed.

The burden of waiting

Although benefits are available to help veterans, the process of submitting a claim and waiting for its acceptance is often painful and frustrating.

According to a CBC article published in November 2018, more than 3,000 veterans waited over a year for their disability claims to be processed, reassessed or reviewed by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) during the previous budget year. The article quoted Don Leonardo, a former peacekeeping soldier:

“You’re sitting there in limbo.”

For the record, according to VAC, 15,949 applications ( 43 per cent of the total) were completed within the department’s self-assigned target timeline of 16 weeks. A further 17,650 (48.2 per cent) took between four months and a year to be processed, while 3,110 applicants (B.5 per cent) had to wait for more than a year.

Caregivers of veterans serve our country and make personal sacrifices every day. Even with the current government programs, more could be done to help and support them. Our Canadian veterans are heroes, and their caregivers are heroes too. Next time you meet a veteran’s caregiver, please remember to say: “Thank you for your service.”


Mary Bart is the chair of Caregiving Matters, an Internet-based charity that offers education and support to family caregivers.

For the complete article, please visit Caregiver Solutions.

About the Veterans Transition Network
The Veterans Transition Network is the only Canadian charity delivering mental health services to veterans from coast to coast. Their mission is to make sure no Canadian veteran is left suffering in isolation. The VTN’s programs, designed specifically for veterans, are backed by 20 years of research and have a 98% successful transition rate.

About Caregiver Solutions
Caregiver Solutions provides caregiving advice for those caring for seniors. It is full of tips and tools to point seniors themselves, their spouses and adult children in the right direction

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