A letter to FrontLine

Abandoned Veterans

I am a 95-year-old Canadian Army veteran of World War Two, living out my few remaining years, along with about 180 of my comrades at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, located in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, Quebec.

I am going public with this account of our current conditions, in the hope that it will help us to successfully confront the Governments of Canada and Quebec, which have betrayed our trust and allowed our care to be notoriously neglected, and decidedly disintegrated, over the past two years, ranging from disastrously diminishing our service, to, at times, the point of endangering our very existence, let alone demeaning our dignity as humans, and reducing our respect as Veterans.

WW2 Veteran, retired Lieutenant Solkin and wife Louise Langlois have been frustrated by the lack of meaningful action from the federal government on the concerns mentioned in this letter.

Ste. Anne’s was, for almost one hundred years, a truly excellent facility, dedicated exclusively to the long-term care of Canadian military veterans, and operated by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). On April 1, 2016, it was transferred/sold down the river for one dollar (following legal requirements), whereupon it became an operation of the Québec Department of Health, admitting non-veteran patients en masse, under the same roof, with all residents attended by an all-Provincially employed, oriented and directed administrative and service staff.

An integral element in the transfer process (followed by incorporation in the formally enacted and a legally binding Transfer Agreement), was the pledged undertaking by Veterans Affairs Canada to us (its formal charges) that, notwithstanding the change of ownership and operational jurisdiction, the pre-existing (and inarguably high) level of care would be maintained, and would be proffered in the official language of choice.

To that end, VAC has guaranteed to pay the province of Quebec a substantial per diem per veteran subsidy, which, in the over two years since the transfer transpired, has amounted to some 20 million dollars, and counting.

Curiously enough, VAC has never required, let alone received a certified, audited accounting, which could reveal the actual disposition of those funds, to determine whether that money is, indeed, being spent to provide the promised previous level of care for the veterans in Ste. Anne’s, or whether it is being diverted, in whole or in part, in other directions (as the current unacceptable state of affairs might seem to indicate). At the moment, it is a very dodgy, dodged, open and unanswered question.

Largely due to the mass exodus (foreseen, but not forestalled) of some 40% of the Hospital’s (one thousand or so) employees during the first few days following the transfer, and the ensuing and continuing unsuccessful efforts to recruit and retain a sufficient number of qualified and bilingual replacement employees, (primarily nurses and orderlies but also doctors, therapists, technicians, clinicians and even maintenance, kitchen and housekeeping staff), the level of care provided to the veteran portion of the patient population has diminished, degraded and deteriorated daily, to its current unacceptable, egregious and health-endangering state, which can readily be observed, attested to, and verified.

Not only has the severe staff shortage, and its complex of corollary calamities, reached a stage of near-critical mass, but there has also been an increasing replacement of the former and favourable Federal standards by the notoriously less demanding, poorer protocols and procedures practiced by the Province, applicable to its customary long term care facilities for garaging geriatric patients.

The conditions currently extant at Ste. Anne’s have drastically affected the ongoing physical, mental and emotional health of numbers of its very vulnerable veterans, and have created a considerable outcry of complaints and protests, not only by the vets themselves, but by family members, and employees as well.

George Shumko, a single-leg amputee who passed away some months ago, is seen here in front of the “Wall of Honour” at Ste. Anne’s hospital.

My main contention, recorded and reiterated in a plethora of e-mails and letters to various VAC officials, plus public and social media, is that our Federal Government (in concert with that of Quebec) has failed to uphold its pledged commitment to the veterans residing in Ste. Anne’s Hospital, and has not only violated our special rights to proper health care, as publicly promised, but in so doing has also endangered our already fragile health and welfare, even to the point of causing, or certainly hastening, some premature deaths.

I, and others among our body of veterans and their families, have repeatedly entreated all strata of Veterans Affajrs Canada personnel, including the Minister(s), the Deputy Minister, and a vast variety of senior executives, to rectify the wrongs that continue to be wrought against us. Nor have we excluded our  Prime Minister. Nevertheless, VAC prominently places the responsibility for this fiasco/failure upon the Province, blaming it for not living up to Quebec’s end of the Transfer Agreement “bargain”. That may be so, but it is also an incontrovertible fact that VAC, and not Québec, is the party that pronounced, and is therefore obliged to fulfil its solemn vow, to hold us safe from the harm of those sub-standard standards of care, which are, inarguably, inferior to those which we enjoyed prior to the traumatic takeover.

Editor’s note: the response from VAC to FrontLine’s fact-checking request didn’t answer to any of the allegations in this letter but simply offered standard talking points. When asked for details of claimed successes in its handling of the situation, Media Relations Officer Marc Lescoutre reiterated that: a full-time VAC Liaison Officer continues to work on-site; that VAC is in frequent contact with the Veterans’ representative; that VAC meets regularly with provincial officials to ensure the provisions of the Transfer Agreement are being met (no further explanation); that it co-chairs the transition committee whose mandate includes ensuring that the level of care and services for Veterans is maintained. He also confirms that VAC contributes financially “so Veterans can continue to receive specialized programs and an enhanced level of service” beyond what is provincially funded. His email recognized the need to support efforts to recruit and retain staff and says this has resulted in the hiring of new staff, including nurses and orderlies, but declined to share these numbers.

The only visible so-called "improvements" (made after many complaints) are the training school set-up, and the hiring of a motley crew of new, but largely inept orderlies (many of whom cannot operate a wheelchair or a lift and, in one case, could not raise or lower the sides of a hospital bed).

I, and numbers of my fellows and their families, have inevitably concluded that the only possible course of action left to us, would be a class-action, to compel the Federal Government to intervene and/or interact with Québec, to restore and ensure our receipt of the pre-existing level of care, in the official language of our choice. Or, perhaps, failing that, to directly compensate us financially, so that we would be enabled to provide that care on our own behalf, rather than VAC continuing to pay the present per diem subsidy of close to one million dollars per month, in support of the fast-vanishing veterans at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, who are hapless and helpless in the face of their treatment by the very governmental system, for which they once sacrificed so selflessly, to protect and preserve.

Consequently, I, along with my fellow-Veterans and family members of those less cognizant comrades among us, have recently taken the steps necessary to initiate the aforesaid class-action, and trust that it may be launched and successfully realized, while at least some of us are still able to benefit by its bounty.

Lieutenant (retired) Wolf William Solkin can be reached at wolfsolkin@icloud.com