‘Burnt out’: Veterans Affairs staff swamped by number of vet cases assigned to them

This previous June, Marie-Paule Doucette was requested if she felt she had sufficient time to assist Lionel Desmond within the months main as much as Jan. 3, 2017 — the night the Afghan warfare veteran shot and killed his spouse, daughter and mom earlier than turning the gun on himself.

The query got here close to the top of two days of testimony earlier than the Nova Scotia inquiry analyzing the circumstances surrounding the tragic occasion. All through, Doucette had laid out the numerous challenges she confronted as a case supervisor at Veterans Affairs Canada.

Particularly, Doucette had shared a long-standing supply of frustration and concern for veterans and their advocates, a difficulty Ottawa has repeatedly promised — and even now failed — to deal with: the sheer variety of veterans assigned to case managers.

“This isn’t me dismissing Lionel Desmond or his issues, however he’s considered one of anyplace from 35 to 40 individuals needing co-ordinated providers,” Doucette advised the inquiry. “I perceive while you say issues like: `May you be extra proactive?’ In fact I might, if I had 10 individuals on my caseload.”

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Case managers assist veterans with extreme disabilities develop plans for his or her profitable re-entry into civilian life after veterans depart the navy for medical causes. They’re chargeable for co-ordinating the totally different medical and monetary assets wanted for that transition. In 2018, a parliamentary committee discovered veterans with out case managers had a more durable time understanding what help is out there.

“They’re your Sherpa,” says Jarrett Cranston, one of many greater than 15,000 veterans with a case supervisor. Cranston was pressured out of the navy final yr as a result of post-traumatic stress dysfunction after 15 years as a pilot. “They’re your main level of contact.”

After they had been first elected to energy in 2015, the Liberals promised case managers wouldn’t be assigned greater than 25 sick and injured veterans. The pledge got here after deep cuts by Stephen Harper’s Conservative authorities had seen the ratio skyrocket to a excessive of 40 to 1.

The Liberals have doubled the variety of case managers, however Veterans Affairs says they nonetheless, on common, have 33 veterans assigned to every of them. Virginia Vaillancourt, nationwide president of the Union of Veterans’ Affairs Workers, says many have much more than that.

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This previous summer season, the union surveyed these case managers about their workloads. The consequence: Whereas a fraction reported having 25 or fewer veterans assigned to them, the bulk had greater than 35. Some had greater than 50.

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“So we all know the caseloads are nonetheless extreme,” Vaillancourt says. Most case managers additionally reported feeling they couldn’t correctly help veterans — and that their workloads or work conditions had negatively affected their very own psychological well being.

In the meantime, an inner overview launched in 2019 discovered case managers spent extra time filling out paperwork than serving to veterans instantly. The identical report discovered most veterans noticed important enhancements of their bodily and psychological well being after they had case managers.

Steve Sykes is a former aviation technician and flight engineer whose 25 years engaged on navy airplanes and helicopters left him with an extended checklist of neck, again and knee accidents. Sykes says he doesn’t blame his first case supervisor for quitting in 2019.

Learn extra:
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“She principally wore herself out,” he says from his residence in Calgary. “She burnt out due to coping with us, which I can perceive. I by no means knew on the time what a case supervisor’s caseload was or what they had been coping with. However I form of received it.”

He added: “I couldn’t even think about having 40 or 50 individuals like me to cope with frequently.”

In the meantime, Sykes says he was unable to get the assistance or therapy that his case supervisor was imagined to arrange. That added to his rigidity and stress. Finally, his relationship together with his girlfriend ended.

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Cranston has related tales about calls not being returned. After they had been, he remembers preventing together with his case supervisor over the character and extent of his accidents _ and the wanted therapies.

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“In order that was a case the place dangerous communication between a case supervisor and a veteran led to delays in providers, denial of providers,” he says. “And if nothing else, rising my PTSD and my anxiousness.”

Cranston now has a brand new case supervisor who’s far more responsive, however he says he needed to wait 4 months to get one.

“I don’t wish to say it’s a slap within the face, but it surely form of is. Such as you’re asking for assist and also you’re being advised: `No, sit down, shut up and wait. We’ll get to you once we get to you.”’

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An inner presentation ready for senior officers final yr and obtained by The Canadian Press by the access-to-information legislation describes the “political dedication” of 25 to 1 as “the elephant within the room” and “considered one of our greatest challenges.”

Not solely has the division failed to attain that concentrate on, added the September 2020 presentation, however the ratio is “not based mostly on true complexity” of instances. In different phrases, two case managers might have the identical variety of veterans however nonetheless have totally different workloads.

Learn extra:
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Veterans Affairs says it stays dedicated to lowering the variety of veterans per case supervisor, with the 25-to-one ratio nonetheless the notional goal.

However when requested what it’s doing to fulfill that concentrate on, the division stated it’s working to raised match veterans to workers based mostly on their stage of want. It additionally stated it’s engaged on methods to ease the executive burden on case managers to allow them to spend extra time with former service members.

“The aim is at all times to make sure veterans are supplied the suitable stage of help to fulfill their wants after they want providers,” Veterans Affairs spokesman Marc Lescoutre stated in an electronic mail.

Again on the Desmond inquiry, Doucette stated she was given the previous soldier’s file six months after he had requested for a case supervisor. She additionally spoke of the challenges of making an attempt to assist dozens of veterans on the similar time earlier than she left in 2018.

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“We had been at all times advised from the start that VAC’s goal was 25 veterans to 1 case supervisor. Sadly, that’s not one thing that I’ve skilled.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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