6, 2009 — The
Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs are competing against private clinics
that offer high salaries when trying to recruit mental health professionals,
according to a Vancouver-based psychiatrist.
|The Canadian Forces Health Services Centre in Ottawa
helps soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"There aren't a lot of clinicians experienced in assessing and
treating military members, and low pay leads to a competition for these
limited resources," says Dr. Greg Passey, a post-traumatic stress
disorder specialist who retired from the military in 2000.
private clinics offer more money, the military won't be getting the
superstars of a sports team, but just the regular players."
A private clinic could pay a mental health professional up to $170
per hour - two or three times more than what the Canadian Forces would
pay, Passey says.
This means the military, he says, usually hires clinicians
with limited experience.
"After a few years, some of them
will be lured to private practice or other organizations that are going
to be paying better."
CF officials have recognized their difficulty in hiring mental health
workers. In a report released last December, military ombudswoman Mary
McFadyen wrote that some Canadian military members with PTSD or other
operational stress injuries (OSI) "are strained almost to the breaking
point," because they aren't receiving the care they need.
A struggle to meet a growing demand
At the Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, there is one psychologist and
one psychiatrist serving 5,100 military personnel, according to the
report. Similarly, at CFB Edmonton there are five psychologists and
three psychiatrists for 6,600 people.
|'In a big centre like Edmonton,
for example, where the clinic down the road can pay professionals
$20,000 to $30,000 more per year, it's very hard to even keep the
skilled people that we have, never mind getting others.'
The number of soldiers suffering from PTSD has more than tripled since
Canada's mission in Afghanistan started, according to Veterans Affairs
statistics released last year. Overall, about six per cent of soldiers
have experienced symptoms of PTSD and depression, according to a post-deployment
questionnaire from last November completed by 8,222 personnel, who returned
from Afghanistan three to six months previously.
In 2004, the federal government committed $98 million to the CF Mental
Health Initiative to hire 218 additional mental health workers by this
month. The military is still 71 clinicians shy of that goal, which has
now been extended to 2010, according to the CF website.
"In a big centre like Edmonton, for example, where the clinic
down the road can pay professionals $20,000 to $30,000 more per year,
it's very hard to even keep the skilled people that we have, never mind
getting others," says Lt.-Col. Rakesh Jetly, a psychiatrist at
the CF Health Services Centre in Ottawa.
"It's a recruitment issue,
but also a retention issue."
There are three types of mental health professionals working for the
military: uniformed clinicians, public servants and contractors. Jetly
says the centre has made submissions to the Treasury Board in the past
to increase their salaries.
"I realize we are in tough economic
times, but I don't think there's anyone within our branch that wouldn't
want us to be a little bit more competitive."
But Jetly also points
out that working for the government also means generous benefits, such
as pensions and vacations, which the private sector may not
In a country as big as Canada, geography poses another challenge, Jetly
says. In major centres with universities, like Ottawa or Halifax, hiring
is not a problem.
is few clinicians want
to work in smaller and more isolated places like Petawawa. But to handle
this shortage, major centres also run satellite programs, sending clinicians
to see patients in remote areas.
Show them the money
At the beginning of March, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced
the government will open eight new support centres across the country
in the next few months to offer help to both military members and their
families. Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson also opened two OSI
clinics in Ottawa and Vancouver in February.
In January the first residential
OSI clinic opened near Montreal.
Although the military is expanding its resources, salary is still very
important, says Dr. Susan Brock, a Saskatoon-based psychologist working
at a private clinic and specializing in military PTSD.
and I also looked at these OSI clinics, but we are simply not prepared
to literally walk away from a third or more of our salary."
Brock says there aren't many mental health providers attracted to this
type of job, and this is why there is a national shortage.
One needs to learn the military culture and language to establish effective
communication with the patient, she explains.
Building a good level of doctor-patient trust is another major issue,
"Typically, people who have been attracted to join
the military are not emotionally expressive, and when you have someone
dealing with PTSD, it's even more difficult to get them to open up and
have that trust."
Her thoughts are echoed by Passey, who says some soldiers returning
from Afghanistan are still "programmed" for war.
a war scenario, you often have people trying to kill you, and often
you don't know who those people are. Besides your military mates, everyone
is a potential threat," he explains. "A clinician without
much experience will not understand that type of thinking."
Passey will soon start part-time work as a psychiatrist at the Vancouver
OSI clinic, but admits his pay won't be so bad. Although psychiatrists
are the only ones paid at a more competitive rate, there aren't many
with his type of experience, he says.
This job will also give him the opportunity to train more people.
soldiers put their life and their families on the line with their service
to their country, so they deserve the absolute best when they come back," Passey
says. "I want to look behind me and know there's somebody else
to take my place."
Frontpage photo courtesy of the Department of National Defence, Sgt.
Frank Hudec (Candian Forces Combat Camera)