Retired Corporal Michael McNeil has been repeatedly denied treatment from Veterans Affairs Canada after a Traumatic Brain Injury. He says, “The stress they’re putting me through is killing me.”
Imagine if your life was changed in a single moment.
Imagine if your brain was injured to the point where at times you even prayed for death.
Now, imagine that you suffered that injury serving your country, having been promised that you would be taken care of.
How would you feel if your injury was denied and minimized at every turn?
How would you feel if you got sent back out into danger, even though you knew something was terribly wrong?
And how would you feel if you were denied the support and medical care that could help you manage your injury?
I bet you would feel angry, and you would be 100% justified in feeling that way.
That’s what happened to Michael Vernor McNeil, and his story needs to be told.
A life changing injury in Afghanistan
I recently interviewed McNeil about the traumatic brain injury he suffered in Afghanistan, and the total lack of support he has received from Veterans Affairs Canada.
McNeil is a retired Corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces. He was enlisted in the military at CFB Gagetown from 2005 – 2014. He served one tour in Afghanistan as a lead Husky Driver.
30 days into his tour, his Husky hit a 300 pound improvised explosive device (IED).
The massive explosion left a 6 foot deep, 10 foot wide hole.
A 6.6 ton solid steel trailer was ripped to pieces.
The tires were vaporized.
In the blast, a 70-pound door panel hit McNeil in the head, damaging his helmet (inside of helmet pictured below).
At the moment of the blast, McNeil suffered a traumatic brain injury, and everything changed.
McNeil – who never had a stuttering problem – began stuttering right after the explosion. He developed massive headaches, and had difficulty walking for days afterwards.
He started feeling angry, getting headaches and migraines.
And yet, McNeil was told there “was nothing wrong with him.”
After a short time, he was sent back out driving his Husky, and had to finish his tour. McNeil told me he could feel that his “thought process was screwed up,” and his level of anger was “unreal.”
McNeil says he felt he was putting lives in danger.
When McNeil returned home, he knew something was clearly wrong.
He felt homicidal tendencies.
He was losing feeling in his body, and has since lost peripheral vision in his left eye.
He shakes violently, and has to use a cane to walk. He says his wife thinks he even has seizures in his sleep.
He gets migraines so bad at times he feels like he is “being beaten with hammers,” and “feels like acid is being poured down” his ears and back.
Remember, McNeil experienced none of these symptoms before the explosion.
Witness Statements, which I’ve included below (names blacked out to protect privacy), clearly show the before & after effect of the explosion on McNeil:
Keep those statements in mind, because they get to the heart of how poorly McNeil has been treated by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).
VAC says injuries “not immediate.”
The statements above show that there was an immediate change in McNeil after the explosion, and that change has not reversed itself. Clearly, McNeil is suffering a long-term traumatic brain injury, rather than a so-called minor TBI.
And yet, the whole time, Veterans Affairs has said McNeil only had a concussion and then called the rest of his symptoms “PTSD.”
Despite the fact that McNeil has never recovered from his concussion, Veteran’s Affairs shamefully denies that he is suffering permanent effects of a TBI.
Because of that denial, McNeil is unable to get the critical injury benefit, and is unable to get treatment that could at least mitigate some of his symptoms.
McNeil had a doctor who wanted to send him to New Orleans – where a clinic specifically focused on Traumatic Brain Injuries could have helped him. However, the trip could not be covered because McNeil was denied the Critical Injury Benefit.
McNeil has shared many documents with me. The ones shown here are only a fraction of what I’ve looked at. The documents paint a clear picture of a man who has been seriously injured and will suffer from lifelong consequences of that injury.
The documents also paint a clear picture of Veterans Affairs throwing up roadblocks and denials every step of the way – purposely downplaying McNeil’s injuries so they can avoid giving him the full help and support he needs.
At times, McNeil says he was told he was just “complaining,” and there was nothing wrong with him.
These doctors reports say otherwise:
Keep in mind, these reports are four years after McNeil’s injury.
It’s clear that McNeil is suffering from more than a temporary concussion, and it clearly is more than PTSD.
Anyone reading these documents can see that McNeil is suffering long-term consequences of a traumatic brain injury.
The report from CFB Gagetown notes a “tour related traumatic brain injury,” “chronic pain,” and “cognitive compromise.”
That leaves no doubt that McNeil’s health issues today stem from the IED explosion, and are ongoing problems.
It’s obvious to all of us, with the exception of Veterans Affairs Canada.
McNeil’s mistreatment by VAC is all the more absurd when you consider that he was given the Sacrifice Medal by the Canadian Government.
Here is the description of that medal:
“The Sacrifice Medal was created to provide a tangible and lasting form of recognition for the sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Forces and those who work with them who have been wounded or killed under honourable circumstances as a direct result of a hostile action or action intended for a hostile force.”
It seems Veterans Affairs is able to give McNeil a medal for his injury, but not the treatment his injury requires.
“I feel like I’m a piece of shit to them.”
McNeil didn’t mince words when I asked what he thought about how Veterans Affairs has treated him.
He says “the stress they’re putting me through is killing me,” and added, “They delay, they deny, they watch you die.”
He adds, “I feel like I’m a piece of shit to them.”
McNeil says he is “begging” for help from VAC. He says his doctor wanted to send him for treatment last September, but VAC won’t cover it.
Even worse, in addition to being denied treatment for his traumatic brain injury, the government is taking away one of the few things that has brought McNeil some relief.
Trudeau government cutting Veterans access to Medical Marijuana
One of the rare non-pill treatments that helped McNeil – and many other Veterans – was medical marijuana. Unfortunately, even as they moved to legalize it, the Trudeau government is cutting the amount of medical marijuana veterans can use.
Doctors have told McNeil he needs 10 grams per day, but the government has cut the maximum down to 3 grams a day.
In the video below, watch McNeil explain what impact that would have on him:
Canadian Veterans like Michael McNeil shouldn’t have to fight for their benefits
Even as he struggled with his TBI, McNeil has been fighting Veterans Affairs Canada to get the critical injury benefit.
They have rejected his appeals numerous times, and it seems Veterans Affairs is trying to get him to go away. He says he has faced threats that the benefits he does receive will be taken from him if he keeps appealing.
He even had a VAC appointed lawyer threaten to quit when he tried to appeal. Not an opposing lawyer – his own lawyer. It’s another sign that Veterans Affairs is working for itself, not Canadian Veterans.
Our Veterans are being betrayed
Betrayal is a strong word. But it is fitting to describe what has happened to Corporal Michael McNeil, and the countless Canadian Veterans who are struggling at this very moment.
They volunteered to serve our country. They put themselves in harms way for every man, woman, and child in Canada.
When they get injured in service to Canada, our country and our leaders have a sacred duty to support them with whatever they need.
Instead, as McNeil said about his appeal hearings, “they didn’t even want to listen,” and “there were no doctors, just lawyers.”
That statement about doctors and lawyers sums up the depth of the betrayal. Veterans Affairs has become corrupted. It is more interested in saving money than looking after Canada’s Veterans.
Every day that attitude continues is another day our country is letting our Veterans down.
That must stop.
I asked McNeil what Canadians need to know about him and the struggle of Canada’s Veterans. Here is what he said:
“They need to know what’s really going on. TBI is being swept under the rug and covered up with PTSD. Lots of guys out there are hurting.
There are 4,000 disabled from Afghanistan War, feels like we’re fighting this battle alone, would be nice to have some support, and get Canadians to help Veterans and put pressure on Veterans Affairs for medical marijuana, benefits, and the Critical Injury Benefit.”
McNeil is absolutely right. It’s on all of us as Canadians to put overwhelming pressure on the government to fix the broken Veterans Affairs Department and uphold our duty to Canada’s Veterans.
Veterans Affairs needs a “Housecleaning”
McNeil says Veterans Affairs needs somebody that’s “not government or politically related, somebody that actually has compassion for Veterans.”
It’s a great point.
Who would know better how to care for Canada’s Veterans than someone who has been through it?
That is something we should advocate for: A new rule stating Canadian Veterans must be a part of the top Veterans Affairs leadership. Even better, the Minister of Veterans Affairs should always be a Canadian Veteran. If it takes appointing a Veteran to the Senate and then putting them in cabinet, so be it.
“Now, I’m just waiting for the end.”
Michael McNeil says he wishes Veterans Affairs Canada “took me more seriously at the beginning,” when he told them how bad his injury really was.
It’s been 8 years since it happened, and he says “Now I’m just waiting for the end.”
McNeil is worried about those – like him – who suffered a traumatic brain injury and have seen Veterans Affairs cover it up by calling it PTSD.
It seems there is a systemic cover-up taking place, all in an effort to deny Canadian Veterans the support they need, and have earned through their service.
We must speak out against this injustice.
Corporal Michael McNeil bravely served our country, and he bravely shared his story in order to help others.
The least each of us can do is share his story, and contact our elected representatives to demand justice for Canada’s Veterans.
Photos Courtesy Of Michael McNeil