LGBTQ veterans call for more inclusive access to federal services

When Sgt. Nina Usherwood joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1979, she had a different name and gender.

During her service, the Comox, B.C. resident transitioned and legally changed her name. But she says when she went to apply for a medical discharge last year, it took “several months” for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to update her medical records to show her new identity.

Usherwood, who calls the process potentially “traumatic” for many LGBTQ veterans, is among a group of voices calling for a more streamlined, organized and inclusive process to help veterans leave the armed forces and access services. VAC services.

“I called [VAC] a number of times I sent them secure messages, I uploaded documents that said ‘yes, that’s my legal ID’, but it didn’t seem to change the records,” Usherwood recalled, adding that , in the following months, VAC would still send him papers addressed to his old identity.

“I can’t ask my doctor to say ‘this person has this medical condition’ if they have the wrong name,” she said.

To make matters worse, Usherwood said, every time she called VAC, a new agent answered the phone and she had to explain again that she had transitioned.

She says that for some it might be painful to repeatedly discuss their life experiences, given that she knows people who have been abandoned by family and friends for revealing their true selves.

She said some veterans were so upset with the process that they forfeited access to financial services they might be entitled to, such as illness or injury compensation, scholarships and replacement benefits. income.

Victims of military purge also face obstacles: MP

North Island MP Rachel Blaney raised some of these issues before the House of Commons Veterans Affairs Committee in late March and said she was pushing for the government to make changes – not just to transgender veterans, but for all other LGBTQ members who have been purged from the military. during the Cold War era.

In 1990, a historic legal challenge, led by former officer Michelle Douglas, led the military to reverse its practices in 1992 and allowed the return of these members. The federal government formally apologized in 2017.

Blaney told CBC that voters have said it could be painful for them to be dishonorably discharged because of such a “discriminatory rule” and then be invited back into the military only to find out that they had to explain to “case worker after case worker that this was the story.”

sergeant. Nina Usherwood joined the House of Commons Veterans Affairs Committee virtually in late March to share her experiences trying to access Veterans Affairs Canada services. (Submitted / Nina Usherwood)

Call for sensitivity training, dedicated speakers

She said VAC employees should receive better training and education about the history of the military, and veterans should be given the opportunity to identify as LGBTQ on their records so the military can collect useful data about the community.

Douglas, who attended the committee meetingsaid proper training would help workers “understand what basic human rights are” and “ensure that respect is conveyed every time you deal with a [LGBTQ] veteran.”

Douglas told the committee that she heard from veterans who had second thoughts when their first phone call to VAC didn’t go well. Some “even felt humiliated and ashamed” for who they are, she said.

Usherwood, who also shared his experiences with the committee, said having a dedicated social worker assigned to a diverse veteran from the time they apply to VAC would mean that veterans would only have to explain themselves once, and their social worker could stay on top of their case from start to finish.

In a statement, VAC said it has provided its employees with trauma-informed training sessions and, in 2019, created an “Office of Women and LGBTQ2 Veterans…to identify and address the challenges” these veterans face.

“VAC is evolving its training and services…making our applications for services and benefits more inclusive and reflecting the needs of diverse Veterans,” the statement said.

Blaney said recommendations will be made to the House of Commons in the coming weeks.