My question is also for the government leader in the Senate. Earlier this year, it was reported that our veterans are waiting longer to access mental health support at the 10 operational stress injury clinics across Canada. These delays predate the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made accessing mental health care even more difficult for many Canadians, not just for our veterans.
The report showed that some veterans have had to wait more than seven months for their first appointment with the psychiatrist or even begin their treatment plans and that the wait time has been increased since 2017.
Leader, why do veterans continue to wait so long for mental health care under this Liberal government?
Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
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Thank you, senator, for raising this. It’s an important question. It raises an important issue about the well-being of those who have served our country and continue to serve our country well.
As per the supplementary mandate letters of the Prime Minister, the government is reviewing all mental health programs and services to ensure that veterans, their families and their primary caregivers receive the best possible mental health supports, including timely access to service.
That said, colleague, we have to keep in mind that while Veteran Affairs Canada funds the operational stress injury clinics, the clinics are operated by the provincial health authorities. To address the wait times at these centres resulting from both increasing demand, regrettably, and a shortage of mental health professionals, which is equally regrettable, in some parts of the country at least, the government has increased funding for recruitment in specialized training.
We continue to hear about these mandate letters. The words are important, but what’s more important is the action that follows. What we know is that it’s a seven-month wait for even the first appointment, leader.
Budget 2021, the first federal budget in over two years, proposed a new program at Veterans Affairs Canada that would cover the mental health care costs of veterans with PTSD, depressive or anxiety disorders, while their disability benefit application is being processed and, of course, there are delays there as well.
Leader, when does your government expect this program to be operational?