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Canada — From Combat Stress to Operational Stress: The CF’s Mental Health Lessons from the “Decade of Darkn ess.”

December 13, 2012 Comments off

From Combat Stress to Operational Stress: The CF’s Mental Health Lessons from the “Decade of Darkness.” (PDF)

Source: Canadian Military Journal

Today, the care provided for members of the Canadian Forces (CF) and veterans who experience mental health problems as a result of military service is arguably as good as it has ever been in our history. This enviable situation came about because of many improvements to the ways the Department of National Defence (DND) and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) treat those with mental health problems, based upon lessons learned from the ‘Decade of Darkness’ – a time in the 1990s when the CF’s reputation in this area was at a historic low. The publication in 2000 of the findings of the Croatia Board of Inquiry (Croatia BOI) was the catalyst for many of these changes. It drew public attention to the shameful way Canada treated its wounded service personnel, suffering from both physical and mental wounds, in economically challenging times. Together, these changes resulted in a paradigm shift in how those suffering from mental health-related problems were dealt with by DND and VAC. The adoption by the CF of the term “Operational Stress Injury” (OSI), to encompass a wide range of mental health issues, and to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, was symbolic of this paradigm shift, and it represents the progress made in addressing these issues.

However, the CF and veterans may be facing a new decade of darkness, as ominous economic circumstances and declining government support for the military have already reduced funding to all government programs, but especially defence – the government’s largest discretionary expenditure.5 This is to be expected, given the cyclical nature of public support for defence spending in Canada and that fact that, “Defence policy will receive, except in emergencies, what funds that are available and not funds white papers and rational strategies and commitments demand…” These cuts have already affected both serving members’ and veterans’ health programs. Furthermore, these cuts only address the current deficit in government spending, and it is widely recognized that, in the face of future efforts to reduce the national debt, current long-range defence spending plans are “unaffordable.”

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