It was during a firefighting training exercise at sea that Richard Brown had his first experience with anxiety. He passed out in his gear, ended up in the sick bay, and was flown off the ship when it was obvious his recovery was not imminent.
That was in 2006. It wasn't until 2011, years after his discharge from the service, that the young Able Seaman would receive full compensation for his mental injuries including anxiety and major depression.
Even the process of obtaining medical help at a clinic funded by Veterans Affairs has been a challenge. Mr. Brown filed for compensation shortly after he left the military in 2007 and was awarded 30 per cent of the maximum allowed, which meant a single payment of about $64,000. But his mental injuries continued to plague him. In April, 2011, he was admitted to hospital under suicide watch for a week. Later he became an inpatient at St. Anne's Hospital for veterans in Montreal.
The one-time payment he had received four years earlier was inadequate to compensate him for his inability to hold down a full-time job. It was clear, he said, that "I didn't get the amount that I should have got."
So he appealed the initial decision. "It took a little bit of work but I did get approved. I got bumped up from 30 per cent to 50 per cent," said Mr. Brown, who now lives in Perth, Ont.
After he left the hospital, things seemed to get better. But then something snapped and he needed a prescription for anti-anxiety medication, which his family doctor felt unqualified to approve. Mr. Brown asked to see one of the specialists at the Veterans Affairs Operational Stress Injury clinic in Ottawa where his injury was originally diagnosed. They refused to give him an appointment. It took an appeal process lasting a year, including petitions from his doctor, to get him through the door.
"Many things need to be more accessible for our needs, services are not easily obtained and forms are too complicated to fill out by ourselves," he said. "Of all our brothers and sisters that have suffered in silence, how many could have been helped? All of them."
Jordie Yeo's life changed forever in 1993 in the Bosnian hills southwest of Srebrenica.
The Master Corporal and another Canadian peacekeeper were ambushed by sniper fire. Mr. Yeo's right leg was broken in two places and his left foot was shattered. In the following weeks, it became clear he also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mr. Yeo applied for compensation for his mental issues shortly after being injured. In those days, it was paid as a monthly pension. His claim was rejected. Only after he appealed did the department acknowledge his disorder. But that was just the beginning of his battle.
"Over the years, I kept having to fight because, the thing is, my standard of life and the way that I was had greatly changed and I was having major problems," said Mr. Yeo, an Ottawa resident.
His life fell apart completely in 2002, he said, and a caseworker urged him to ask the department to increase the amount of compensation. Veterans Affairs first turned him down, then eventually relented. As recently as 2009, he applied for another increase. "I was unable to go to work full-time. I was having a really miserable time," Mr. Yeo explained.
That time the department did not reject his claim out of hand. But Mr. Yeo said that, even with the corroboration of experts recognized by Veterans Affairs, it took more than a year for the compensation to be bumped up.
Veterans are learning that, after every decision, they must go back to the department and say they want more, Mr. Yeo said. "They are either being denied outright," he said, "or they are given such small claims that people are saying, 'No, look, this is ridiculous.'"