“If a man who wears Canada’s second highest award for bravery gets treated like roadkill by this government, what hope do our rank and file have to be treated fairly and equitably?”
-Medric Cousineau, SC, CD, CAPT Retired RCAF
I’ve been writing for some time about the mistreatment of Canadian Veterans at the hands of the federal government. It is absolutely disgraceful how those who served our country are not given the help and support they need.
During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau and his party pledged to do things differently. They made big promises, but they haven’t delivered. Veterans are still treated as an afterthought, and essential services are denied.
As I wrote more about the mistreatment of Canada’s Veterans, some people within the Veterans community reached out to me, and I was grateful for the opportunity to get in touch with Medric Cousineau – Captain (retired), in the Royal Canadian Airforce.
In an in-depth conversation, Cousineau spoke from first hand experience about how the government is letting Canada’s heroes down.
Here is what we discussed:
Awarded the Star of Courage, Battling PTSD
Medric Cousineau graduated from the Royal Military College in 1983. He earned his Air Navigation wings in October 1983, and was posted to a squadron on the east coast. In 1986, Cousineau was awarded Canada’s second highest award for bravery – The Star of Courage.
Cousineau earned the honour for a daring sea rescue, and that same rescue began his long battle with PTSD.
Describing PTSD, Cousineau said, “What causes a man who voluntarily risks his life to save other people to take his own? Whatever that force is has to be very dark and very powerful – and that is PTSD.”
Cousineau described the “horrible affliction” of PTSD, and said he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. He mentioned that over 40% of Veterans being treated for PTSD are “treatment resistant,” meaning the programs meant to help them simply aren’t working.
Since 1986, Cousineau has battled PTSD, and said that to this day he can’t wear a necktie “because it makes me get sick,” due to how it reminds him of a rope.
“Service Dog Saved My Life”
On his wrist, Cousineau has a Tattoo of a paw print, and the word “Invictus” which is Latin for “Unconquered.”
The tattoo symbolizes how his life was saved by a service dog.
With the help of the Caen Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the NS Nunavut Command, in August of 2012, Cousineau was paired up with Thai, a now almost 6-year-old PTSD Service Dog. Thai helps with Nightmare Intervention, Panic, Hypervigilance work, and Dissociative Recall.
Cousineau credits Thai with saving his life.
Thai made such a change in his life that his youngest daughter said she couldn’t believe the difference. Three weeks later Cousineau was on the golf course with his wife Jocelyn, when she said, “What about the others?” She was referring to all the other Veterans battling PTSD who didn’t have the help of a service dog.
Paws Fur Thought
Upon hearing Jocelyn’s comment, Cousineau was inspired to act. He started Paws Fur Thought, an organization dedicated to connecting Veterans with service dogs.
In August 2013, Cousineau completed a marathon, travelling through Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario, finishing at the National War Museum in Memorial Hall. The marathon raised seed money to get dogs for Veterans and First Responders.
Partnering with Wounded Warriors Canada and the Nova Scotia Royal Canadian Legion, Paws Fur Thought has done amazing work, pairing up 72 Veterans with service dogs, and when I spoke to Cousineau he said four more Veterans were about to get their dogs as well.
Considering the important and lifesaving work being done by Medric Cousineau and Paws Fur Thought, you’d think the government would want to do all it could to support him and make sure every Veteran who needs a service dog can get one.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.
The Liberals Are Hiding Behind Talking Points
Veterans are waiting two years to get service dogs, which Cousineau says can be a “life and death” issue.
A big part of the problem is the fact that psychiatric service dogs (as the PTSD service dogs are classified), are not covered by the medical expense tax credit. Cousineau explained that all other service animals are covered – if someone is severely diabetic, seizure impaired, or suffers from another physical ailment that requires a service dog, they can claim the tax credit. Veterans and First Responders battling PTSD cannot.
The tax credit is a big deal, since service dogs can be very expensive. Many Veterans experience financial struggles, in many cases due to PTSD itself. The tax credit would make service dogs available to many more Veterans who need them – if they could claim it.
But rather than helping speed up the process by getting the tax credit issue fixed, the Trudeau government is hiding behind talking points.
Cousineau said Liberal Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr keeps pushing for an “Efficacy Study,” to see how effective the psychiatric service dogs are before expanding the medical expense tax credit to cover them.
However, no efficacy study has been done for the service dogs that are already covered, which raises questions as to why the government is demanding one in the specific case of Veterans and First Responders needing help.
This is systematic discrimination against those who need psychiatric service dogs, as the government is applying a double standard. Those with physical ailments get their service dogs covered, while those with psychological ailments do not.
Cousineau pointed out the hypocrisy of all the politicians who mention Bell Let’s Talk for mental health awareness, but then apply a discriminatory policy against Veterans and First Responders facing mental health difficulty.
The “efficacy study” the government keeps saying they’re waiting for was pushed for by Cousineau himself, and he placed 10 of the 26 dogs in the study. He knows from first hand experience how helpful the dogs can be, and personally knows the Veterans who have benefitted from – and stayed alive because of psychiatric service dogs.
Cousineau has won numerous awards for his work, and is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost service dog advocates. He is the man to listen to on this issue.
And yet, the government continues to delay, saying they are busy “developing standards.”
As Cousineau said, “They’re either wasting time or they know it will work.”
Plus, those 40% of Veterans who are treatment resistant deserve the chance to see if service dogs could help them where all other methods have failed. The government owes it to them to give them that chance, rather than obstruct and delay.
Keep in mind that Veterans would still have to get the Disability Tax Certificate Done – which would certify a “severe and prolonged disability” – to get the service dog covered. So, there is no excuse for the government to be discriminating against Veterans and First Responders.
Kent Hehr’s staffers “literally laughed at me”
Kent Hehr is supposed to be supporting Veterans. His job is not just to impose Trudeau’s policies or try and make the government look good in the media, his real job as Veterans Affairs Minister is to be the advocate for Canada’s Veterans and fight for them every single day.
It seems he is doing the exact opposite.
Cousineau has been treated badly by a member of Hehr’s staff, who not only has a reputation as being rude to Veterans but often seems ignorant of the challenges Veterans face.
Cousineau described one call he had with that staffer: “This guy calls me up, starts conversation by saying ‘you’re not going to like what I have to say, we’re not going to change this [Giving Veterans access to the medical expense tax credit] until we’re done the efficacy study.’”
The staffer didn’t know the difference between therapy dogs – used to provide comfort in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools – and psychiatric service dogs – dogs with specific training to help people with psychological or physical challenges.
Think about that for a moment: Someone in the Veterans Affairs Office is completely ignorant about a program that is saving the lives of Canadian Veterans.
Even worse, Cousineau said the staffer started laughing at him when he tried to explain the situation.
This is disgraceful. Our Veterans must be treated with respect, and the fact that a government staffer feels just fine laughing at a Veteran and being totally ignorant of a key aspect of Veterans healthcare is deeply disturbing.
Despite countless letters that were sent to Kent Hehr’s office from Veterans and their family members, nothing is being done.
It seems the government is trying to ignore the entire situation. Cousineau can no longer get through to the Minister.
Having to fight for fair treatment and support for Veterans has been difficult for Cousineau, who said he “went into a tailspin,” after talking to Hehr’s director of parliamentary communications.
“We are an inconvenient nuisance to Kent Hehr,” Cousineau said. “Now he won’t even talk to me, he got a photo-op so he’s good.”
Trudeau’s broken pledge
Cousineau remembers very clearly when Justin Trudeau pledged in Belleville to support Canada’s Veterans. He laid out his program and promised to do better than the previous government.
Instead, he took Veterans to court to make them return lifelong pensions.
Cousineau was not a big fan of the previous Conservative government. He was even invited by Justin Trudeau to visit with the Liberal Caucus when Trudeau was in opposition. When they met, Trudeau promised Cousineau that he would be there to help him.
But now, Cousineau’s disillusionment with the Trudeau Liberals is even worse than it was towards the Conservatives.
Said Cousineau, “It’s taken me 15 months to get as fed up with the Liberals as I did with the Conservatives after 8 years.”
Cousineau said he had a great working relationship with previous Veterans Affairs Ministers Erin O’Toole and Julian Fantino, and “had respect that we got work done.”
“At least the Harper government knew what they didn’t know and were willing to address it,” Cousineau said. In contrast, the new government “just has talking points. They have their talking points, they won’t move off them, they won’t listen, it’s extremely disingenuous.”
And that efficacy study the Liberals say they’re waiting for? It was started by the Conservatives. The current government has done nothing, or as Cousineau puts it, “They have done the cubed root of jack.”
Cousineau said he could understand inaction when the Liberals were in opposition, but now that they are the government “they are in control and literally they are complicit in their inaction.”
He feels Veterans “were used as political pawns.”
Cousineau was very clear in saying “Trudeau has not kept his word to me,” and said of the government’s attitude towards Canada’s Veterans, “They don’t care because it won’t generate international headlines.”
Where is Veterans Affairs Spending their money?
When our discussion turned to Veterans Affairs itself, Cousineau pointed out that senior bureaucrats at the department have received-at-risk bonuses, while they also returned $1 billion to the treasury. It’s outrageous when you think about it: Veterans are suffering, and yet the government has money to pay more money to top-level bureaucrats, while also leaving a bunch of money unspent – money that could have helped Veterans in need.
And the need is massive. As Cousineau said, “suicide numbers among veterans are horrific.”
Cousineau brought up the tragedy of Corporal Lionel Desmond, who killed his wife, their young daughter, his mother, and then himself. Desmond was seeking treatment for PTSD ever since he left the military in 2015, but never received any help from Veterans Affairs.
A Veteran in Nova Scotia is trying to set up a walk-in-clinic for Veterans who help right away. A place like that could have stopped the Desmond tragedy, and that $1 billion Veterans Affairs left unspent could have gone a long way.
Brown Envelope Syndrome
During our talk, Cousineau brought up something I had never heard of: “Brown Envelope Syndrome.”
It refers to the envelopes that Veterans Affairs sends to Veterans in the mail. Cousineau said there is such a feeling of betrayal associated with the government’s treatment of Veterans, that many Vets become “physically ill” at the sight of the envelopes.
The fact that many Veterans feel that way is an indictment of how our government has treated the bravest among us. Those already battling trauma are re-traumatized by the indifference and callous disregard our government shows to those who served our country.
This should make all of us angry. Every Canadian should be outraged. My freedom to write this, your freedom to read it, and our freedom to even have a democratic government was paid for in blood and suffering by those willing to put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens.
Cousineau is not asking for much. He just wants Canadians to know “how veterans are treated by the government, and those with serious mental health issues are not being treated fairly and equitably.”
We owe the greatest debt possible to people like Medric Cousineau and all Canadian Veterans. How can we live with ourselves as a country if all we do is thank them for their service and just abandon them afterwards?
Canada is supposed to be better than that. Canada must be better than that.
If we have billions of dollars to give away around the world, we have billions to take care of our Canadian Veterans.
Each of us needs to use our voice to send a message to the government. Tell them that the time of mistreating our Veterans is over. Tell them to stop discriminating and to take immediate action to make sure psychiatric service dogs are finally covered under the income tax act.
And tell them that as Canadians, we are 100% behind Medric Cousineau and all Veterans fighting for justice and the fair treatment they have so rightfully earned.