October 1, 2022

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The head of a group that supports Canadian veterans says he was horrified to hear medical assistance in dying was brought up with a veteran who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for help recently.

Officials with the federal department confirmed to CBC News that they have issued an apology directly to the veteran, and launched “a thorough internal  investigation.” 

“It’s just horrifying,” said Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada. “A, how is that veteran and the family doing? And then B, what’s the impact this will have on other veterans who might be in a similar state, wanting to pick up a phone, calling an agent or a case manager to seek care?

“If just one veteran does not make that phone call, we have ourselves a significant problem.”

Maxwell said it’s hard to comprehend how medical assistance in dying, or MAID, would have been suggested in a conversation between an employee of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and a veteran in need of help.

He welcomed word that an investigation is underway. 

He said the people involved in that investigation should be “identifying how that’s even possible or remotely thought of — but obviously, above all, making sure that that veteran is receiving every opportunity for support that he or she needs … and then really following up and taking seriously this need for greater occupational awareness and cultural competency training across all VAC staff.” 

Veterans Affairs Canada’s head office has been located in Charlottetown since 1980, after a federal decentralization push in the late 1970s. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

In a statement, officials with Veterans Affairs said the department deeply regrets what transpired in the unnamed veteran’s case, which led to a Global News report earlier this month. 

The statement said no evidence has been found of similar incidents happening, and they believe this to be an isolated event.

Providing advice pertaining to medical assistance in dying is not a VAC service. ​​​​​​— Statement from Veterans Affairs Canada

The statement went on to say: “Providing advice pertaining to medical assistance in dying is not a VAC service. VAC’s case managers, veteran service agents, and veteran service team managers have no mandate or role to recommend medical assistance in dying to veteran clients.”

More training promised

The department also said it would deliver additional training for all its frontline staff. 

Maxwell said the end goal of any such training should be to ensure all Veterans Affairs employees develop a deep understanding of what life is like for ill and injured veterans, serving members of the Canadian Forces, and first responders. 

“We know it could impact care,” Maxwell said of the lack of such understanding. 

“We know at times it could exacerbate someone’s injury further. I mean, this is really complex, real stuff that needs to be treated as such — and as you can see, as we’re talking about today, we still have a long way to go.”

MacAulay calls action ‘unacceptable’

After the story broke, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay posted a statement on social media calling the incident “completely unacceptable,” adding: “I deeply regret the harm caused to this veteran and their family in a time of need.” 

MacAulay is the MP for the Prince Edward Island riding of Cardigan, as well as the minister for Veterans Affairs Canada, which has been headquartered in Charlottetown since 1980. 

Maxwell said Wounded Warriors Canada has not heard directly from the veteran at the heart of the incident. However, he said he wants all veterans to know support is available at any time through groups like his, if the incident has left anyone uneasy about contacting Veterans Affairs staff. 

“Help is available,” he said. 


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