Joining forces for military health
A new Queen’s-based research institute in partnership with RMC and involving 20 Canadian universities and other health care facilities promises to improve the health and well-being of Canada’s military personnel, 700,000 veterans, and members of their families.
Sgt. Wayne Easterbrook, now serving at Canadian Forces Base Kingston, joined the armed forces in 1988 and has served overseas in Cyprus, the Golan Heights, Bosnia, and Afghanistan (three tours). Each time he left behind his wife Susan and their two children, daughter Bethany, and son Gregory, who recently followed in his dad’s footsteps when he joined the military as an Officer Cadet.
Over his 23 years of military service, Easterbrook has sustained both physical injury and emotional trauma. Seven hundred thousand Canadian military personnel have served since the Korean War and since 1991 the Canadian military has been involved in increasingly complex situations in the Persian Gulf War, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Libya. The result is that the need for military and veterans health services has never been greater.
Though the Department of National Defence does not disclose the nature or severity of injuries and wounds, media reports indicate that during the nine years the Canadian military was in Afghanistan, there were 158 deaths and another 1,859 soldiers were injured or wounded. In addition, recent newspaper articles report that the Canadian military’s own studies show that as many as 13 per cent of all personnel posted to Afghanistan suffered from varying mental and emotional problems within five years of their return.
Being one of the soldiers to return from an overseas posting with injuries, Easterbook says he will benefit personally from the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR), a new Queen’s-led initiative that recently opened its doors, furthering the University’s long, proud role in the arena of public policy and public health and its ties to the Canadian Forces.
CIMVHR, which is based in Botterell Hall, is a partnership project with the Royal Military College and also involves 20 other Canadian universities, Kingston General Hospital, and the Departments of National Defence and Veterans Affairs.
“We’ve seen an exponential increase in the level of health care for military personnel in the past decade, and CIMVHR will help continue that trajectory,” says Easterbrook. “Once upon a time there was a stigma attached to even going to the doctor. Now we’re are benefitting from all kinds of allied health care services from physiotherapists to social workers and psychologists. This new Institute can only be good for all of us, and will undoubtedly provide spill over benefits to the general public as well.”
CIMVHR’s mission is to optimize the health and well-being of Canadian military personnel, veterans, and their families, by harnessing and mobilizing the national capacity for high-impact research and knowledge exchange.
Brigadier General (Ret’d) and School of Policy Studies Adjunct Professor Bill Richard, MPA’04, is one of the founders of CIMVHR. He joined the Canadian military as a private when he was 16 years old and spent 37 years with the Forces before retiring at the rank of Brigadier General. During the course of his career, he served in the U.S., Egypt, Israel, Syria, Belgium, England and Germany. Richard also served as Base Commander of CFB Kingston and, more recently, as Chairman of the Board of Kingston General Hospital. He knows a thing or two about the Canadian Forces, public policy, and health-care delivery.
Richard is excited about what CIMVHR can bring to military personnel and veterans health. “We sent our soldiers into Afghanistan among other places,” he says. “CIMVHR will let us work together to address the consequences.”
“For conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd), we need to examine which treatments are most effective and under what circumstances. We also need to examine the stress on children when parents are deployed – to examine ways we can help minimize the impact and foster resilience,” says Richard. “We all stand to benefit from this hugely collaborative effort. There are implications here for civilian health care and for all first-responders including firefighters, police, and humanitarian workers.”
CIMVHR’s Director is Alice Aiken, MSc’00, PhD’07, a professor in the School of Rehabilitation Therapy, and herself a military veteran, having served from July 1984 to July 1998. Her focus on policy and knowledge translation is about putting research into action. “As Director,” says Aiken, “I want to get research to policy-makers and clinicians in a timely fashion.”
Aiken, former President of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, adds that an estimated 25 per cent of Canadian Forces personnel require physiotherapy services each year, and some of them require long-term sustained rehabilitation for injuries, mobility issues, and limb loss. “We’ve seen unprecedented numbers of complex cases coming back from Afghanistan,” she says.
Already CIMVHR has been instrumental in organizing two hugely successful national forums on military and veterans’ health. The inaugural forum in November 2010 quickly sold out. The second, held this past November, attracted more than 400 attendees and received national media attention. The forum focused on research in mental health, operational and environmental health protection, combat casualty care, physical and mental rehabilitation, the transition from military to civilian life, and health care policies and programs.
Susan Marlin, MSc’94, Associate Vice Principal (Research) and Chair of the CIMVHR Board of Directors was instrumental in bringing on board many of the other partner universities. “It seems like the right time for this to happen in Canada,’’ she says. People have a greater appreciation for the military and want to support it. The support this initiative has received from institutions across the country has been both humbling and encouraging.”