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Feud over cash leaves soldiers' children waiting for special care

Petawawa families coping with stress, anxiety disorders as Ottawa, Ontario squabble over who's responsible for bill

Alex Dobrota, Globe and Mail, 1 Mar 07


More than 40 children of soldiers serving in Afghanistan who

suffered mental trauma in their parents' absence are being denied

therapists as the provincial and federal governments squabble

over who should pay.


The children must wait as long as four months to receive care

for conditions ranging from attention deficit disorder to anxiety

and suicidal thoughts, Ontario mental health professionals said

yesterday at a news conference.


"I see them as invisible children," said Greg Lubimiv, a therapist

and the executive director of the Phoenix Centre for Children

and Families, which serves Renfrew County, including CFB



"They're invisible to politicians, they're invisible to the

bureaucrats and they're invisible to the community."


Since last year, when Canadian soldiers started fighting and

dying in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan, about

90 military families sought help at the Phoenix Centre, up from

10 in 2005.


The surge has stretched the resources of the already underfinanced

centre and has increased the average wait to see a therapist

to about four months, Mr. Lubimiv said.


He said he petitioned both Queen's Park and Ottawa for more

funds. But so far, his requests have fallen on deaf ears, as

the two governments are pointing at each other.


The Department of National Defence looks after the mental and

physical health care of soldiers only, said Lieutenant-Colonel

Dave Rundle, commander of CFB Petawawa.


"There's no mandate to provide these services to the family

members," Col. Rundle said.


Mary Anne Chambers, Ontario's Minister of Children and Youth

Services, said she is not willing to clean up the damage wrought

by a federal venture. "It's a direct consequence of federal

government initiatives," she said.


Ms. Chambers said she raised the budget for children's mental

health care to $467-million, a $38-million increase since 2004,

when the Liberal government came into office in Ontario.


But Mr. Lubimiv said this translated into only a 3-per-cent

increase in his centre's $1.5-million budget, not nearly enough

to cover the surge in demands for assistance since last



"If they want to squabble, give the money and then fight with

the federal government if you want to get it back," Mr. Lubimiv

said. "The children have been politicized in this and, in the

end, they're not getting the service that they need."


A spokesperson for federal Health Minister Tony Clement said

he is ready to talk to his provincial counterpart, but reiterated

that mental health care is a provincial responsibility.


With no resolution in sight and with more than 500 soldiers

from Petawawa set to deploy in Afghanistan soon, parents on

the base are starting to lose patience.


"We're being told to wait, but with the wait there are more

problems," said Cindy Patry, who lives on the base with her

eight-year-old daughter and her six-year-old twins.


Ms. Patry decided to seek psychological help for her son, Daniel,

as she tucked him into bed last January, days after her husband

returned to Afghanistan to complete his tour of duty.


That night, in a rare moment of respite from the daily bouts

of screaming and crying that had turned the family home into

a battlefield during his father's absence, Daniel looked at

his mother and quietly said: "Mommy, I don't want Daddy to



Within weeks, Ms. Patry was talking to a therapist at the Phoenix

Centre. Her case was judged a "crisis" and was treated faster

than most, as Daniel's aggressiveness and mood swings had reached

a point of no return.


"I didn't know where to go any more," the mother said.


Frank Patry, a corporal with Petawawa's 2 Service Battalion,

had left for Afghanistan in August and served there when Canadian

troops attacked the Taliban in Operation Medusa, suffering heavy



Talk of death and injury trickled into Daniel's classroom.

And Cpl. Patry, who finished his tour of duty unharmed, returned

home last Thursday to discover the damage the war had wrought

on his family.


"It's kind of frustrating," he said yesterday. "I get all the

help I need and it seems that you have to fight to get help

for your family, which is not right."


Military families want federal funds to battle stress

More children in Renfrew County seeking help since troop deployment

Andrew Thomson, Ottawa Citizen, 1 Mar 07


The federal government should pay for the growing costs of

children's mental health care in Renfrew County, where cases

involving military families have skyrocketed since the Afghanistan

deployment began, Ontario's minister of children and youth services

said yesterday.


The Phoenix Centre for Children and Families in Pembroke has seen a

huge increase in referrals for children of soldiers based at CFB

Petawawa, from 11 in November 2005 to about 90 last month. Current

funding allows for about 10 military family cases, the centre said.


A growing number of children with a family connection to Petawawa

and the Afghanistan mission are seeking help for anxiety,

depression, withdrawn behaviour, and poor school performance and

discipline, officials said.


Queen's Park denied two appeals last fall for $220,000 in

additional short-term funding to buttress the Phoenix Centre's

$1.5-million annual budget.


Mary Anne Chambers, the minister responsible, said there's no money

to spare among the province's 300 agencies, which share a

$467-million budget. Instead, she believes the Phoenix Centre should

appeal to the federal government, where Prime Minister Stephen

Harper announced an additional $200-million this week for Afghan



That money is designed to improve government, fight opium

production, remove landmines, and construct a highway between the

Pakistan border and Kandahar. But Ms. Chambers said provisions for

the home front, including the mental health of soldiers' families,

should have been included.


"The federal government needs to understand that the province of

Ontario cannot pick up the tab for the impact of that effort on the

families of military personnel," she said in an interview. "We are

simply not in a position to walk in and pick up that slack."


But the Conservative MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke said the

Mc Guinty government was trying to offload its financial

responsibilities on to its federal counterparts.


"The fact that they are military families is irrelevant," John

Yakabuski said. "There are families living in Renfrew County that

are under a great deal of stress."


The notion of a financial squeeze in the provincial government is

"bogus," said Mr. Yakabuski, pointing to funding announcements from

Ms. Chambers' ministry since the requests were denied.


The Phoenix Centre first asked for funding last September to

bolster the centre's staff and prevent lengthy waiting lists.

Another request, in December, included a supportive letter from

Lt.-Col. Dave Rundle, CFB Petawawa's base commander.


"We have families who are in continual stress, worrying about their

spouse, their father, their uncle, their aunt," executive director

Greg Lubimiv said yesterday after a news conference to publicize the

centre's stretched resources.


"We have children riveted by any news that comes out of

Afghanistan, and the news is pretty constant."


They also took their case to the federal government, but were told

it funds mental health services only for soldiers, not their



Mr. Lubimiv said the Phoenix Centre's funding problems go beyond

this latest surge of military families.


They've received a funding increase beyond the inflation rate only

once in the past 14 years -- a three-per-cent rise in 2004. Three

staff positions are being left unfilled for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

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