Taking action: Veterans Affairs Canada

Joint Suicide Prevention Strategy
Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada

Major Actions Taken to Date

A complete list of VAC actions, organized by Lines of Effort, is available online.

VAC has taken important steps to facilitate access to quality care (in person and online), increase our knowledge, and provide funding to build on our successes. All of our programs, benefits and services support the well-being of the Veteran population, decreasing suicide risk and promoting protective factors.

Access to Quality Care - Face-to-Face

Face-to-face service for Veterans and their families matters. VAC has invested in delivering quality service from coast to coast to coast. We have re-opened all nine VAC offices closed previously in 2013-14 (Corner Brook, NL; Brandon, MB; Sydney, NS; Kelowna, BC; Prince George, BC; Saskatoon, SK; Charlottetown, PEI; Thunder Bay, ON; Windsor, ON) and have opened a new office in Surrey, BC.

We’ve also expanded our footprint even where we don’t have offices, through outreach to Veterans in the North. VAC staff, beginning with Yellowknife, NWT; Whitehorse, YT; and Iqaluit, NU, travel to the territories and other northern communities every month to meet with Veterans and their families.

In addition to re-opening the offices, the Department has hired more than 400 new employees to help ensure that Veterans, Canadian Armed Forces members, RCMP personnel, and their families are provided with the best possible services in their own communities. This includes new staff to ensure case managers have a caseload maximum of 25 Veterans.

VAC funds a network of 11 Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinics across the country (10 outpatient and 1 inpatient), as well as additional OSI Clinic satellite service points closer to where Veterans live. The OSI Clinics offer access (through referral) to mental health professionals that provide assessment and treatment services to serving CAF members, Veterans and RCMP members. Each OSI Clinic has a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and other specialized clinicians who understand the experiences and unique needs of Veterans.

Medically released Veterans and their families have access to seven Military Family Resource Centre sites across the country, as well as the Family Information Line and CAFconnection.ca website, as part of the four-year Veteran Family Program pilot project. And the Government has committed, as part of Budget 2017, $147 million over the next six years to expand access to the Veteran Family Program for families of medically released Veterans across all 32 Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs), the Family Information Line and CAFconnection.ca.

VAC delivers a 24 hours a day, seven days a week VAC Assistance Service (1-800-268-7708) or TDD (1-800-567-5803). This is a confidential counselling and referral service delivered through a nation-wide team of mental health professionals. A mental health professional answers the call, night or day, determines the caller’s needs, and matches the Veteran or Veteran family member with a local mental health professional for face-to-face counselling. Up to twenty sessions can be offered per presenting issue depending on the nature, urgency and severity of the problem. There is no eligibility requirement to access this service, and there is no charge to the Veteran or family-member.

Access to Quality Care - Online and by Phone

To further improve accessibility, each Operational Stress Injury Clinic provides services through telehealth (distance health services) to support those living in remote areas. Veterans with OSI also have the option of using provincial and private health services available in the community.

VAC has collaborated with a number of partners to develop a series of free online and mobile applications, which can be used by Veterans and their families:

  • PTSD Coach Canada and OSI Connect are self-assessment tools that provide information about OSIs such as PTSD, where to find support and ways to help manage symptoms and stress. These mobile apps provide valuable information to CAF members, Veterans and their family members impacted by an OSI.
  • The OSI Resource for Caregivers is a self-directed online tool for caregivers and families of CAF members and Veterans living with an OSI. It includes information on OSIs, their impacts on the family, and how to support a CAF member/ Veteran through the treatment and recovery process. It provides self-care, problem-solving and stress management techniques for managing the challenges of being a caregiver.
  • Veterans and Mental Health is an online tutorial designed for anyone wanting to learn about service-related Veteran mental health issues or supporting a loved one with a service–related mental illness.

VAC has implemented a robust social media campaign to build knowledge about mental health, fight the stigma associated with mental health issues, and increase awareness of the supports available to Veterans and their families. Efforts are targeted around key periods, like the winter holiday season.

Increasing our knowledge

The Government of Canada has dedicated $17.5 million, over the next four years, starting April 1, 2018, to the creation of a VAC Centre of Excellence on PTSD and related Mental Health conditions to increase knowledge of CAF members and Veterans’ mental health issues.

VAC has established a partnership with Saint Elizabeth Health Care to design, develop, and deliver an Online Caregiver Training Program to support informal caregivers of Veterans with an OSI.

VAC has also implemented a national system that tracks client progress in VAC-funded OSI clinics. The Client-Reported Outcome Monitoring Information System (CROMIS) uses information technology and session-by-session client feedback to help guide treatment and improve mental health outcomes for Veterans. CROMIS was developed by VAC and is the first system of its kind to be used nationally in Canada.

VAC’s front-line staff who have direct or indirect contact with Veterans and their families receive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), to ensure staff respond appropriately and effectively to a Veteran who is suicidal. VAC has updated the Suicide Awareness & Intervention Protocol to include guidelines for referring Veterans at risk for suicide, as well as resources available to Veterans and their families who have lost a loved one to suicide.

On an ongoing basis, VAC health professionals and researchers lead and contribute to numerous scientific publications on Veterans’ well-being, as well as research specific to suicide.

Funding to build on our successes

New programs and initiatives depend on people to deliver them. VAC has made sure plans can be put into action, through the hiring of more than 400 (full-time equivalent) employees to give Veterans access to the support and services they need.

In addition, VAC is specifically targeting improving the Veteran to Case Manager ratio to an average of 25 to 1. We’ve made progress already and will meet this goal, thereby reducing wait times, increasing one-to-one support, and ensuring the highest quality service.

VAC is also working to establish, by April 1, 2018, two special funds to put new investment dollars where they can make a difference. First, VAC has committed $4 million over four years to establish a Veteran Emergency Fund, that will provide the department the resources and flexibility to respond to unique and urgent Veteran-specific needs, and help those in crisis. We have also committed $13.9 million over four years to establish a Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund to foster the development of innovative programs. The fund will support the promotion of increased knowledge and understanding through the development of community-based and innovative services and research to address new and emerging needs within the Veteran community.

A Whole of Community Commitment to Making a Difference

As the Federal Framework emphasizes, suicide prevention is a responsibility of the whole community. VAC and CAF are doing much to prevent suicide in the military and Veteran communities. They also partner with many different organizations to support the well-being of members and Veterans during service, transition to post-service life, and throughout life after service. Partnerships are especially important for VAC because the Veteran community is so large, diverse, and dispersed across rural and urban Canada.

CAF and VAC will continue their efforts to inform the wider community about serving members and Veterans, but there is much that all Canadians can do to help prevent suicides outside formal partnerships and collaborations. The Federal Framework puts it this way: “Suicide prevention is a public health issue. By focusing on the population or community as a whole, protective factors… will be enhanced. Education, training and resources that are community-driven and culturally appropriate will help ensure that the distinct needs of individuals, families and communities are met.”

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