Veterans Affairs Update September 2021


In this edition:

  • Support for Veterans struggling with events in Afghanistan
  • Shortening processing times for benefits decisions
  • You are not alone: World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10
  • The Shining Light of HOPE marks 15 years
  • Online engagement: 2,700 Veterans have their say
  • Virtual discussion series on military sexual trauma
  • Anniversary of the Battle of Britain
  • Merchant Navy Veterans Day
  • A celebration of life: BGen (Ret) Sheila Anne Hellstrom

Programs and services

Veterans struggling with events in Afghanistan

The current situation in Afghanistan is distressing for many Canadians, Veterans and their families, especially for those who served there. During this time, Veterans may be asking themselves difficult questions or revisiting experiences and relationships formed during their service or deployments. Their families may be struggling along with them.

In reaction to current events in the region, Veterans may:

  • feel frustrated, sad, and helpless
  • feel distressed and preoccupied
  • feel angry or betrayed
  • experience moral distress
  • struggle with questions of the meaning of our time in Afghanistan
  • experience an increase in symptoms of operational stress injuries like PTSD or depression
  • sleep poorly
  • increase alcohol or drug use, or participation in other addictive behaviors
  • overconsume or try to avoid media
  • isolate themselves
  • have more disturbing memories and nightmares about military service
  • worry about those left behind.

All of these reactions are understandable in this distressing context. If you are a Veteran or a family member struggling in reaction to current events, please know that you are not alone. Talk to your friends and family members, connect with your Veteran network and peer support resources, or contact a mental health professional.

Resources available right now:

  • Crisis Services Canada: If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call 1‑833-456-4566 to talk safely and judgement-free. If this is an emergency, call 911.
  • The VAC Assistance Service: Call 1-800-268-7708 to speak to a mental health professional for psychological support. Available 24/7 at no cost to Veterans and their family members.
  • OSI Clinics and Satellite Service Sites: Services include in-person and virtual mental health assessment and treatment to address mental health issues related to service, or that interfere with your rehabilitation. To request a referral, send a secure message via your My VAC Account, or call 1-866-522-2122.
  • Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS): Talk to a peer support worker who understands operational stress injuries and can offer support.
  • HOPE program: Helping Our Peers by providing Empathy provides you and your family with peer support if you have experienced the loss of a loved one.
  • Wellness Together Canada: This online mental health and substance-use support portal provides 24/7 access to free evidence-based tools and resources.
  • PTSD Coach Canada: This mobile app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that can occur after trauma.

Some positive strategies:

  • Stay connected. Spend time with people who best understand what you are going through, and who give you a sense of security, calm, hope and happiness.
  • Contact the various resources available to you
  • Practise good self-care. Look for positive strategies that help you manage your emotions. Listening to music, exercising, practising breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, or journaling are some common ways to help manage overwhelming or distressing emotions.
  • Be patient with yourself. Understand that it takes time to recuperate.
  • Stick to your routines. It can be helpful to stick to a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
  • Limit media exposure. Limit how much news you take in if media coverage increases your distress.

Shortening processing times for benefits decisions

To make decisions on your application for disability benefits, VAC decision makers need access to your health information. We are working with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to allow select VAC decision makers access to health information on the Canadian Forces Health Information System (CFHIS). This gives them more direct access to the specific information they need to make decisions. The goal is to speed up delivery of benefits.

The CFHIS houses most of the health information for serving CAF members as well as Veterans who served since 2012. In 2018, we began working with the CAF on a solution that would provide up to 50 VAC decision makers with direct access to view and extract key information from the CFHIS.

Protecting your personal information and privacy is paramount. That is why decision makers access the CFHIS information only with Department of National Defence (DND)-issued laptops connected to the DND secure network.

Visit the Disability benefits page to find out how you can apply and our efforts to reduce wait times.

World Suicide Prevention Day: September 10

Asking for help can be hard, but connecting with someone who cares can make all the difference in the world. Please know that you are never alone.

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, Crisis Services Canada provides a safe and judgement-free place to listen and talk. Please call 1-833-456-4566 anytime, or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and midnight ET. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call 911.

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness of suicide and to promote action to reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts through proven means.

Do a buddy check. Reach out to a friend or loved one today and let them know that you’re there for them.

The Shining Light of HOPE marks 15 years

Losing a loved one is one of life’s most difficult experiences. For family members of Canadian Armed Forces members and Veterans living this reality, their grief isn’t always fully addressed by bereavement programs.

The Helping Our Peers by Providing Empathy (HOPE) program offers compassionate understanding and confidential support by pairing volunteers who have lost a loved one in the military with a bereaved military family newly coping with a loss. In this peer-to-peer model, HOPE helps both those who volunteer and those they mentor as they work through their grief together. Peer support has shown to have a significant impact on emotional healing and family well-being.

The program seeks to demystify grief and provides family members with realistic and honest expectations so they can learn how to cope with their loss. It is available to adult family members in the military and Veteran community. The loss doesn’t have to be as a direct result of military service and it doesn’t have to be recent.

If you or someone you know is grieving the loss of a military loved one and needs support, please contact HOPE at 1-800-883-6094, or email [email protected].

Learn more at HOPE.

Let’s Talk Veterans: Online Engagement at VAC

2,700 Veterans have their say

Thank you to all who participated in the first two online consultations, on the future of remembrance in Canada, and on the application process for disability benefits. The Let’s Talk Veterans platform provided Veterans, families, organizations and stakeholders with the opportunity to make suggestions and provide feedback.

Stay connected at Let’s Talk Veterans and stay tuned for upcoming consultations. Your voice matters—and we want to hear from you!

Save the date: Virtual discussion series on military sexual trauma

Military sexual trauma (MST) has impacted the lives of many still-serving and former CAF members. Join the Canadian Military Sexual Trauma Community of Practice, McMaster University’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and the Centre of Excellence on PTSD for two live symposiums on military sexual trauma.

Clinicians, academics and people with lived experience will discuss such topics as: supports, treatments and resources for those affected by MST, creating a common definition for military sexual trauma and culture change in the CAF.

If you are a researcher, clinician, policy-maker or frontline worker, or if you have been impacted by MST, please tune in to these free events:

Services and Supports for People affected by Military Sexual Trauma: Thursday, 16 September 2021 from 1:00 – 3:30 Eastern Time

A Path Forward: Thursday, 23 September 2021 from 1:00 – 3:30 Eastern Time

To find out more or to register, check out the Centre of Excellence on PTSD’s website.


Commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Britain

This year marks the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Britain during the Second World War. From July to October 1940, a small group of Allied fighter pilots took to the skies against the much larger German Luftwaffe. The first major battle was fought exclusively in the air.

More than 100 Canadian pilots served in the skies over the United Kingdom during the four months of aerial combat. Twenty-three died in the battle, which was a key turning point in the war. The Allied victory in the Battle of Britain thwarted the planned German invasion of Great Britain.

In Canada, we commemorate the Battle of Britain on the third Sunday of every September. Listen about the battle from Gilbert John Hyde who was there.

Remember Canada’s Merchant Navy

Merchant Navy Veterans Day was September 3, when we pay homage to the sailors who put themselves in harm’s way to ensure vital supplies reached Europe during the Second World War.

More than 12,000 people served in Canada’s Merchant Navy during the war. They played an important role in supplying Allied forces in Europe with equipment, fuel, supplies and personnel needed to achieve victory.

The casualty rate amongst merchant mariners was high as they sailed across the frigid and perilous North Atlantic. The heavily-laden, slow cargo vessels offered tempting targets for enemy U-boats. Some 1,600 members of the Canada’s Merchant Navy were killed, and 59 Canadian-registered merchant ships lost.

Celebration of life for Canada’s first female general, BGen Sheila Hellstrom

Brigadier-General (Retired) Sheila Anne Hellstrom CD, BSc, LLD, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Veteran and the first Canadian woman to reach the military rank of Brigadier-General, passed away in Ottawa, Ontario on 7 December 2020.

BGen Hellstrom was born in Lunenburg, NS, in 1935. Her military aspirations were kindled during the Second World War after hearing many stories about military life from the Norwegian sailors located at Camp Norway, a military training base in Lunenburg.

In 1954, Hellstrom joined the RCAF University Reserve Officer Training Plan at Mount Allison University. She was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer in 1956 and began her RCAF career in Manitoba as Gimli Station Services Officer.

In 1973, then Major Hellstrom became the first military woman to attend the Canadian Forces Staff College in Toronto. In 1980, she became the Deputy Director Women Personnel and supported and monitored the Service Women in Non-Traditional Employment and Roles (SWINTER) trials.

On 19 June 1987, she became the first woman to achieve the rank of Brigadier-General and assumed the role of Director General Military Personnel. Brigadier-General Hellstrom’s career culminated in 1989 with an assignment as Chair of the Committee on Women in the NATO Forces. After her military retirement in 1990, Sheila continued to champion the recruitment and full integration of military women by serving on the Minister of National Defence’s Monitoring Committee on Change.

You can learn more about BGen Sheila Hellstrom on VAC website: Brigadier-General Sheila Hellstrom.

SOURCE: Newsletter September 2021

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