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Legislation keeps veteran out of Ste. Anne’s

December, 2009

In November 2006, Greg Thompson, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, inaugurated the newly built Remembrance Pavilion at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, the last federally regulated veterans hospital in Canada.

“Canada’s new government stands up for its veterans by making sure they have the state-of-the-art facilities that truly meet their needs,” Thompson said about the structure especially designed for elderly patients with cognitive deficits. “This Modernization Project demonstrates our commitment to provide high quality care to our veterans.”

As well intentioned as these words may have been, they ring hollow to Sharyn Cadot, wife of Allied veteran Dennis Vialls, who at 84 is fighting his last battle, with Alzheimer’s disease.

From her perspective, though her husband landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought for democracy, he can not make a dent in bureaucracy.

“Presently there is legislation that prevents Allied veterans from admittance to Ste. Anne’s hospital,” Cadot said. According to policy, veterans who served with the Canadian forces have immediate access to long-term care at Ste. Anne’s should they require it. But Allied (British) veterans are placed in facilities in the community as long as their needs can be met there.

Cadot feels that Ste. Anne’s hospital is the best possible place for her husband, who is now in urgent need of long-term care. The hospital is in her community, where four of their five children reside. She says the care provided there is the best for her husband who already attends the day centre twice a week and is happy there. The choices she has been offered include a private facility that she can’t afford, another residence available immediately but requiring hours of bus travel, and a public facility where she was told the wait could be up to two years.

To be placed on the waiting list for Ste. Anne’s hospital is not an option at the moment, even though Vialls has been a Canadian citizen for 43 years and has five children born in Canada.

Allied veteran Dennis Vialls last Remembrance Day Photo: Kristine Berey

As primary caregiver, Cadot, 62, is nearing burnout and has had to take sick leave from her job last May. In a letter dated November 20, Thompson informed Cadot that “Department of Justice officials were consulted on this matter and they have confirmed that there is no legal authority, and thus no policy basis on which to admit Mr. Vialls to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.” Cadot asks why – when the number of living veterans is declining so dramatically that the hospital is considering bringing in civilian patients – are all veterans not treated equally?

In one of her many letters to elected officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, she pleads for an amendment to the legislation. She says that Allied veterans should not be sent “to public care when it is not their wish. A better evaluation plan needs to be in place for Allied veterans. Why are benefits different for Allied veterans?”

Lac St. Louis MP Frances Scarpaleggia agrees that Allied veterans should have priority access. “I’ve written to the minister asking that Allied veterans get the same treatment as Canadian Forces veterans. If the government wanted to do that in the first place, it would require regulatory changes that wouldn’t happen overnight.”

Social worker Bonnie Sandler, who works extensively with the elderly, says the policies of Veterans Affairs are complicated. “It’s very hard to understand the different criteria as they apply to different people. They give different amounts of money based on whether you were hurt, not hurt, whether you went overseas. You need a special degree to figure out who gets what. Spouses of veterans are all receiving different services.”

Regarding the care given at St. Anne’s, Sandler is unequivocal in her praise. “The care there is exceptional. It’s very sad that not everybody can go there who deserves to be there.”

Currently there are 14 names on the waiting list at Ste. Anne’s, said communications officer André Bou­dreau. Renovations on the 14th floor of the main building have been recently completed and there are 33 available beds. The Remembrance Pavilion, which features 116 bedrooms, has no empty beds. “They’re all full,” Boudreau said.

Cadot, a formidable fighter in her own right, plans to send a letter to Prime Minister Harper every day until Christmas. She has also started a petition asking for a special derogation for Vialls and has collected “hundreds of names.”

A recent letter to Harper reads: “Our families continue to be very saddened by the silence from your office and are hoping that you will be more lenient toward veteran Dennis Vialls and our families on December 25, 2009, as a gesture of goodwill and grant him his derogation.”

She adds, “Please grant us his derogation, as his health and the health of his wife continue to deteriorate.”

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