Opinion

Total health and resilience for the military community

It's only now as a country that we are starting to understand the powerful links between trauma, PTSD, mental health, and addiction—and the efforts that will be required to tackle these challenges.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Services and Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough, pictured recently at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

PUBLISHED :Monday, Dec. 18, 2017 8:24 AM

OTTAWA—When the Department of National Defence announced a total health and wellness strategy earlier this year, as part of the new defence policy, it embarked on its most ambitious and important program yet for the health of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members.

We hear the stories but we don’t see the scars. Soldiers return from conflicts with deep, invisible wounds—injuries our society once sadly mischaracterized as “shell shock.” The government’s life after service studies have found that veterans report chronic conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD at higher rates than average Canadians of the same age and sex. Few know the effects of conflict like the men and women who have served in one.

It’s only now as a country that we are starting to understand the powerful links between trauma, PTSD, mental health, and addiction—and the efforts that will be required to tackle these challenges. DND’s approach recognizes the toll that combat takes on health, no doubt an evolution from the tough lessons learned through our combat mission in Afghanistan. Canada’s military community needs this forward-thinking, total health strategy.

We support a health strategy that accounts for the physical, mental, spiritual, and familial health of CAF members. Soldiers and transitioning veterans need access to physical and mental health professionals and specialists, regardless of where they live in the country. Access to health care is vital. We need to avoid gaps in care based on a person’s specific health needs or location.

  

Calian’s role in this, for more than 12 years, has been to provide health support services to CAF members. Most Canadians probably do not know that CAF members are not covered by provincial health insurance. Under the Constitution Act, the federal government is responsible—meaning it is incumbent upon Ottawa to provide access to a wide range of highly trained specialists in physical and mental health.

But delivering the high-quality care that our military members deserve is not as simple as hiring thousands of specialists. While the health-care needs of CAF members are complex, wide-ranging, and frequently in rural or remote locations—health-care specialists are in high demand. There can be huge challenges for the government in trying to ensure it has the right services available in the right place at the right time.

Calian’s national health network helps with difficult-to-fill positions like those that are part-time, short-term, for hard-to-find specialists, in remote locations, or all of the above. For the past 12 years, Calian Health, one of Canada’s largest health services organizations, has been working with the federal government to help ensure the CAF is meeting its health care requirements—and then some. DND has consistently rated our services as “superior.”

Calian Health operates a national network of more than 180 clinic locations and is comprised of over 1,800 professionals across more than 60 different categories of health practitioners. We can scale our services up or down in ways the government cannot. We have a roster of specialists who work on flexible terms while offering world-class services to CAF members.

  

Some work for Calian part-time while running their own specialized medical practices. For instance one of our contract doctors at CFB Petawawa has a private practice in the Ottawa area that offers neurofeedback, a cutting-edge mental health tool. At her own practice, she can offer this innovative tool to CAF members.

On Dec. 7 at Hôpital Montfort in Ottawa, I had the honour of joining Carla Qualtrough, minister of Public Services and Procurement, to announce a contract to renew our health support services for DND. The government also announced the award of additional health support contracts to Calian for the RCMP and Veterans Affairs Canada, whose people face similar challenges in care. To deliver these expanded services, we are partnering with Bayshore HealthCare, another well-known Canadian health service provider.

This country owes an immeasurable debt to CAF members, veterans, and their families, and we are honoured to contribute. For instance, we have leveraged our national health network to create the Calian Military Family Doctor Network. Established in partnership with Military Family Services in 2015, the initiative has already matched more than 1,000 patients, from more than 400 military families, with a community family doctor.

The government has acknowledged a sacred obligation to veterans and their families – that they receive the respect, support, care, and economic opportunities they deserve. For us, the transition from serving life to civilian life starts with health. Calian is proud not only to improve health care access for CAF members and veterans, but also to help serving members transition to civilian life. For the past three consecutive years, we have received Canada Company’s awards as a top employer of former military personnel.

  

Calian is one of many organizations such as the Vanier Institute and True Patriot Love that are playing a role in this collective effort. Working together, we should take pride in knowing that our work can help to advance laudable policy goals of the Veterans Affairs minister, such as preventing suicides or taking homeless veterans off the streets.

Working with DND, we have taken steps to make a difference in the lives of CAF members and veterans, but we know there is much more work to be done. Recognizing these challenges, and talking openly about issues such as mental health, is half the battle. We will continue to be passionate about making a positive contribution to the health and wellness of military families, veterans, and our men and women in the CAF.

Kevin Ford is president and CEO of Calian Group, a diversified professional services firm headquartered in Ottawa whose health team is one of Canada’s largest health services organizations.

The Hill Times