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Cape Breton veteran awarded first critical injury benefit solely for PTSD

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:الجمعة 9 ديسمبر 2022 06:42 صباحاً A Cape Breton military veteran has won the first critical injury benefit from the federal government specifically for having post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fabian Henry of Scotchtown, N.S., was with the Canadian Forces and developed PTSD after a tour in Afghanistan.

In 2007, he was close by when a bomb went off, killing two soldiers.

Henry now has a full disability pension and other compensation.

When the federal government created the critical injury benefit in 2015, he applied right away. But his claim was denied.

Last month, the Veterans Review and Appeal Board overturned that decision.

Not just a personal victory

Henry doesn't see it as a personal victory, though.

"It's a really big win for everybody, to now have a precedent-setting case for a path forward for mental health only — on the critical injury benefit — that never existed before," Henry said.

Veterans Affairs provides a variety of compensation programs for Canadian Forces members who are injured on the job. But until now, it appeared that the critical injury benefit was solely for physical injuries.

Departmental figures seem to back that up.

As of Dec. 1, they show the program has attracted 2,122 applications.

Veterans Affairs has completed 1,854 claims, allowing 228 and rejecting 1,626.

The department says of the 12 per cent of claims that were approved, nearly half — or 110 — were for veterans admitted to hospital for acute or rehabilitative inpatient care lasting fewer than 84 consecutive days.

Only one listed for psychological injury

Sixty-five were for stays in intensive care for a minimum of five days, and 31 were for an amputation at or above the wrist or ankle.

Others were for injuries meeting a variety of other conditions. But only one is listed as being for psychological reasons and the department says that one was registered last month.

That's when Henry got the appeal board decision that settled the application he started in 2015.

The ruling could help potentially thousands of other former military members just like him who have suffered more than just physical injuries, he said.

Henry says if the criteria had been applied properly, more veterans could have received the benefit and been spared some suffering since the award was created in 2015. (CBC)

"It's a shame that it did take this long," Henry said. "Those seven years of suffering, people could have had this benefit and changed their life seven years ago, or when they first put the benefit in. It didn't need to be this discriminatory. This path should have been in place from the beginning."

When it was created, the critical injury benefit came with a tax-free lump sum of $70,000 that is indexed to inflation. It is now worth $79,000.

To be eligible, a veteran must have a service-related injury or disease as a result of a sudden and single incident occurring after March 31, 2006, and it had to have immediately caused severe impairment and severe interference in quality of life.

Veterans Affairs initially rejected Henry's claim, saying his record did not indicate an immediate need for hospitalization.

Henry says it's discriminatory

The appeal board overruled that, saying that "immediately" was not defined and Henry had shown signs of being immediately impacted.

The board also said the treatment he received later at a facility with doctors, nurses and other allied health-care workers constituted complex care.

Henry said the nature of military training and of PTSD make it difficult to qualify for immediate treatment, which discriminates against those without physical injuries.

It didn't need to be this discriminatory. This path should have been in place from the beginning."- Fabian Henry

"Cape Bretoners and Newfoundlanders, they make up a good portion of the military," he said. "They're hard-working and good values, and they suck it up and get it done and [think] trauma is for weak people.

"Well, we're unwinding that thinking process.

"When you're out and you're released, you can get your benefits and your medical treatment team and a case manager and some peer support. You can actually find wellness in serving yourself first, your own health. Then you can help your family. Then you can help your community. And these benefits are recognition for your sacrifice."

24913f6ef2.jpg
Canadian soldiers patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June 2010. Henry says he's been to 20 funerals since returning from that country, including two for veterans who recently died by suicide. (Anja Niedringhaus/Canadian Press)

Henry said a lot of his compatriots have died since coming back from Afghanistan — including two who recently died by suicide — and he says they might not have if they had received full support.

"We're missing two people that were entitled to this benefit ... and how many more?" he said. "I've been to 20 funerals since getting home from Afghanistan."

Strict set of criteria 

Shawn MacDougall, senior director of disability health-care policy for Veterans Affairs, said it is difficult to know if the recent appeal board decision marks the first critical injury award for a psychological reason.

"There is one that is expressly being stated as psychological," he said.

But of the nearly half of all awards handed out in one category, one or more of those cases may have involved a psychological injury, MacDougall said.

"I have not personally reviewed the 110 files. I can't speak to the exact nature of all of those awards and I also can't say that this is the first one," he said.

However, Veterans Affairs does take note of decisions by the appeal board, MacDougall said.

"When we see files that are being overturned, we always take a look to see if perhaps there's something that we missed in our process. Could our administration or could our operations be improved?" he said.

MacDougall also said the 12 per cent acceptance rate for the critical injury benefit doesn't necessarily indicate a problem with the program.

He said the numbers reflect a large number of applicants for a benefit that was designed for veterans with injuries that meet a strict set of criteria.

Scott Maxwell, executive director of Wounded Warriors Canada, says the decision appears to be the first to recognize psychological reasons for an award under the critical injury benefit. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Scott Maxwell, executive director at mental-health provider Wounded Warriors Canada, said the decision is great news and appears to be the first to recognize psychological reasons for an award under the critical injury benefit.

Veterans often have to wait too long to get benefits of any kind, he said.

"How many times do we say our veterans shouldn't have to come home and fight again?

"I can't imagine the relief that that veteran and his or her family is going through. They deserve the benefit that the board has approved and now they can probably just sit back and say now we can get on with our life."

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