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Military facing a shortage in mental health treatment ability

FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)


FEDERAL (Canadian OH&S News)

The military ombudsman slammed the Canadian Forces in his latest report, calling for upgrades to its handling of soldiers with mental health needs.

In his report, entitled Fortitude Under Fatigue, Canadian Forces ombudsman Pierre Daigle determined that the military was not adequately equipped to handle cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or operational stress injuries (OSI).

This latest document was the third follow-up on the progress of recommendations made to the Department of National Defence back in 2002. From those 16, the ombudsman found 12 recommendations were met or in the process of being met, two were inconclusive, one was not met and the final was no longer applicable.

As well, the ombudsman made six more recommendations. Of particular concern is the dwindling number of mental health care workers to adequately handle the needs of soldiers, as well as a system to measure the effectiveness and quality of care. Without the latter, the ombudsman argued, it is almost impossible to gauge the reality of the problem.

“The Canadian Forces cannot, at this point, tell you in any real-time perspective how many cases they have versus how many providers there are in meeting that requirement,” explained Mary Kirby, the ombudsman’s lead investigator. “If you don’t know how many cases you have, you don’t know how well you’re providing a service. Until you get a significant jump in the quality and quantity of the performance measurement tools that you’re using to manage the system, you can’t really tell.”

Of the 447 health care workers that the ombudsman deemed necessary to effectively address the mental health needs of the military, the number of those currently employed by the Canadian Forces sits at 380 — and has not grown since 2010.

“I am troubled that the Canadian Forces still does not have an appropriate system in place to provide a current and consistent portrait of the number of members affected by PTSD and OSIs,” Daigle said in a statement. “How can the institution know if it has in place the most appropriate priorities and resource levels to manage its broader operational stress injury initiative when their data is incomplete and their research is not focused on measuring performance?”

Defence minister Peter MacKay countered that his department has made significant strides recently; most notably pledging $11.4 million to ramping up its recruitment process and bringing more mental health care professionals to the front line, in the same week the ombudsman’s report was released.

“Just like the civilian health care system, it’s challenging in a country of our size, it’s challenging coming out of the high tempo of operations we’ve seen, since the Korean War, so 50 to 60 years,” he explained, a concept hearkened by the ombudsman’s office.

Because it can take years for PTSD and OSIs to manifest, the impact from Afghanistan will be felt most strongly in the next few years — a burden, the ombudsman said, that cannot currently be handled by the current roster of practitioners.

The next step, MacKay said, is to boost their recruiting process to hire more mental health workers.

“There is a shortage currently with mental health professionals, so we’re trying to up our game, just as I would suggest mental health professionals, psychologists, counsellors across the country are very much in need,” said MacKay. “With this $11.4 million, we hope to contract more people to provide more care, it’s that simple — we’re adding quality and quantity to our system of care.”

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