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Veteran's wife wants bureaucrats to pay for sharing medical info

Retired Forces captain Sean Bruyea arrives at a press conference on Parliament Hill, Oct. 7.

Chris Wattie/Reuters/Chris Wattie/Reuters

The bureaucrats responsible for digging through veterans' advocate Sean Bruyea's medical files must be held accountable to stop such breaches of privacy from happening again, his wife said Sunday.

The privacy commissioner is launching a review of Veterans Affairs Canada. However, the government must go a step further, Carolina Bruyea said.

"People need to suffer the consequences of their actions, because it's the only way they would learn and other employees learn as well," Ms. Bruyea said, holding her husband's hand as the couple spoke on CTV's Question Period Sunday.

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Mr. Bruyea, a Persian Gulf war veteran, is suing the federal government for $200,000.

Within days of testifying before the Senate in 2005 against the department's plans to switch to a lump-sum compensation system for wounded veterans - which was ultimately adopted - he had trouble accessing his benefits, Mr. Bruyea said.

He discovered he was no longer approved for visits to a psychologist or couples' counselling under the system, he said, and the department demanded he undergo a psychiatric assessment at a hospital of its choosing.

"Something was being done with my medical file and it was clearly as a result of my advocacy for veterans," he said.

Ms. Bruyea, who struggled to make ends meet while her husband was entangled with the government, said she had tried at times to dissuade him from speaking out, for fear of reprisals.

On more than one occasion, Mr. Bruyea's post-traumatic stress disorder pushed him to suicide, he said, crediting his wife's last-minute interventions with saving his life.

"Carolina had to save me a couple of times from doing myself in," he said. "She actually had to physically stop me."

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For years, he urged the department to help him to little avail. He ultimately filed a Privacy Act request, obtaining 14,000 pages of documents that revealed his files had been shared around.

Most galling was discovering that some of the people with whom he had met in previous years and who feigned ignorance about his case had actually read his files in advance, he said.

The privacy commissioner confirmed his findings, determining that hundreds of Veterans Affairs staff had accessed his medical information and shared it with political staffers. However, it is beyond the purview of the commissioner to fine the officials responsible.

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