When Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Steve Orwick lay fighting for his life in hospital with a poisoned pancreas earlier this year, a team of people – beyond the usual doctors and nurses – leapt into action to ensure he and his family were taken care of.
“When I had a military person at my (hospital) bed, there was a huge peace of mind that there was an attention to me, but also there was an attention to the family and those needs, because there’s added expenses to having a person in the hospital,” Orwick said.
The team of administrators that supported him celebrated last Thursday with the opening of CFB Esquimalt’s new Integrated Personnel Support Centre. Though it has been in existence for more than a year, it didn’t have a permanent home.
Now it is one of 24 units across the country providing a one-stop administrative shop to more than 3,500 past and present personnel and families of the fallen.
“We come to the injured person, the injured person doesn’t have to come to us,” said Col. Gerry Blais, Ottawa-based director of Canadian Forces Casualty Support Management, which heads up the units.
Personnel have instant access to Veterans Affairs Canada and the Military Family Resource Centre, among other experts who help them fill out paperwork, access career counselling, financial services, pensions, benefits, and assist them with returning back to work after an injury or illness, or helping them prepare for the civilian world.
“It’s very helpful because the (Department of National Defence) is big, there are many benefits and there are many programs,” said Blais. “And for an individual to try to meander their way through that is not always simple, whereas here they’ve got somebody basically to hold their hand and guide them through the entire process.”
The new centre works as a safety net for injured and mentally or physically sick members preparing for life beyond the military.
Phil Quesnelle remembers a time when “there was nothing we could do and nowhere where we could send (veterans). It was crazy, there were no resources for them.”
The Canadian Army veteran, who works at the centre linking veterans who suffer from operational stress injuries with support services, has found vets in Victoria’s homeless shelters or living in the bush on Vancouver Island.
Today, their numbers are fewer, due in large part to a more integrated approach to care offered by Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence.
“We really have come a long way,” said Quesnelle. “It’s huge. It means the issues are being caught before the person leaves (the military).”