Two more instances of a Veterans Affairs Canada employee discussing medical assistance in dying with a veteran have been discovered during an ongoing investigation into the department, the minister responsible told lawmakers Thursday.
Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay told the House of Commons standing committee on veterans affairs this brings the total number of cases involving a single VAC service agent to four, and that the RCMP has been contacted.
“I have instructed the deputy (minister) to examine all options in this investigation, including referring the matter to the police for investigation if necessary. I can confirm the RCMP have been contacted, and the department has taken steps to formally refer the case,” MacAulay said.
“If any of the veterans are watching right now, I am sorry,” he added, calling any discussion of assisted dying with a veteran seeking care “totally unacceptable.”
The four calls confirmed by the department date back to 2019, MacAulay said.
Global News first reported on Aug. 16 that a VAC employee had discussed medically-assisted dying with a veteran, a case that has brought renewed scrutiny on the department and the ongoing struggle for veterans seeking support.
Sources told Global News a VAC service agent brought up medical assistance in dying, or MAiD, unprompted in a conversation earlier this year with the combat veteran, who was discussing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury.
Global News is not identifying the veteran due to privacy concerns but has spoken directly with the individual, who says the service agent brought up MAiD repeatedly and even after the veteran asked the service agent to stop.
The veteran said he felt pressured as a result.
He also said that the service agent told him in the call about having helped another veteran access resources for medical assistance in dying through Veterans Affairs Canada, including support for that person’s children who were struggling with the impending death.
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The veteran told Global News that the service agent told him that the other veteran went through with a medically-assisted death, and that it had been someone who was determined to end his life.
Both of those cases had previously been confirmed by MacAulay and his deputy minister Paul Ledwell during an appearance at the veterans affairs committee in October.
MacAulay had previously and repeatedly called the situation an “isolated incident.”
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MacAulay told the committee on Thursday that the investigation launched in August was still ongoing, as was training with all VAC employees to ensure MAiD is never raised with a veteran again.
Yet he added, in light of the discovery of the new cases, the investigation has been expanded to look into management and previous employee training to determine how the employee was able to repeatedly raise the procedure with clients.
He said the one of the newly uncovered cases occurred in 2019, while the other took place in May of this year.
Ledwell confirmed the service agent behind the cases has been suspended, but did not say when that suspension began. He had previously said the employee was no longer working directly with veterans and had been reassigned within the department.
MacAulay assured the committee only the one employee was responsible for the multiple cases and that it was not a systemic issue.
“This is not widespread within the department,” Ledwell later added.
Under Canadian law, medically-assisted death can only be discussed between a primary care provider like a physician or psychiatrist and their patient. Violators of the law can face up to 14 years in prison.
VAC has repeatedly confirmed to Global News that staff have no mandate to discuss MAiD with veterans and do not have the ability to provide the necessary resources for assisted dying.
New training being provided to staff since August has made clear that service agents and case managers can only discuss MAiD in the context of impacts on benefits for veterans’ families. Any instance of a veteran raising MAiD with a service agent or case worker must be brought to that employee’s supervisor.
Efforts are ongoing to ensure all staff across the department are given the updated training, MacAulay said Thursday.
The veteran who spoke to Global News said they were worried MAiD had been offered to other veterans. Veterans advocates, meanwhile, have said Veterans Affairs officials have cast doubt during closed-door meetings on whether any assisted dying discussions took place.
Veterans and advocates have said such discussions are an example of the ongoing struggles veterans face in receiving proper care — particularly for mental health concerns.
Those advocates say they are particularly concerned about the ongoing epidemic of veterans dying by suicide, making the discussion of MAiD with someone who wasn’t seeking it all the more painful.
—With files from Mercedes Stephenson
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