As many as five Canadian Armed Forces veterans were offered medically-assisted death (MAID) by a now-suspended Veterans Affairs Canada caseworker, the minister responsible for the department testified on Thursday.
The case has now been turned over to the RCMP for investigation, Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay told members of the House of Commons veterans affairs committee.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once again, what happened was totally unacceptable,” MacAulay told committee members.
“There is no way to justify it, and I will not try to do that today, or ever.”
MacAulay said after learning of the revelations he ordered Deputy Minister Paul Ledwell to conduct an internal investigation, which found a total of four cases where veterans were offered MAID — all allegedly by the same caseworker.
That number, MacAulay confirmed, does not include the case first reported by the National Post on Thursday, where an active-service CAF member calling himself “Bruce” told Tango Romeo podcast host Mark Meincke he was offered MAID out of the blue by a caseworker last November.
MacAulay said his office had just learned of this case via media reports, and urged the veteran — who is afraid of repercussions of coming forward — to contact him personally.
The first case made public over the summer occurred on July 21, where the caseworker repeatedly suggested MAID to an unnamed veteran who had called seeking help with PTSD and other injuries — telling him that VAC had helped other veterans end their lives, telling him it was a better alternative to “blowing your brains out.”
Another Canadian Forces member alleges Veterans Affairs offered assisted death as ‘support’
Veterans Affairs caseworker allegedly admits to helping veterans end their lives, committee hears
Another instance occurred in Dec. 2021, MacAulay said, involving a veteran asking questions about MAID — a case previously disclosed to the committee in October.
The third known case occurred in 2019, where a veteran called VAC specifically asking for information about assistance in taking his own life — a case where MacAulay said MAID was “inappropriately raised” and was the only time the individual had contact with the caseworker.
The fourth time occurred this past May, where the caseworker again provided MAID information to a veteran.
MacAulay offered an apology to veterans for the incidents, explaining they create instances of “sanctuary trauma” and that the department is retraining front-line staff.
“I am sorry you had to endure these appalling interactions, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure this never happens again,” he said.
Upon further questioning by committee vice-chair Blake Richards, MacAulay conceded that the veteran involved in the Dec. 2021 case has since passed away after completing medically-assisted suicide.
Both MacAulay and Ledwell declined to provide details about the caseworker, and weren’t able to confirm if she was involved in the fifth case reported Wednesday by the National Post.
Ledwell confirmed the case was only forwarded to the RCMP on Wednesday, but citing privacy reasons declined to say when the caseworker was suspended.
After some questioning by Richards, MacAulay confirmed the department had completed investigating the caseworker’s previous contact with veterans.
“In that case, either something was missed in that investigation, or there is another employee involved — and now it’s a matter of determining which of those two things it is,” Richards said.
“In either case that’s concerning — obviously in the one case it means your investigation isn’t nearly thorough enough, and that might mean there’s a need for an outside investigation.”
MacAulay said they’d need to get information from Bruce on his case before making that determination.
Both Richards and fellow committee member Luc Desilets expressed surprise at how long this caseworker was permitted to be in a position where she could offer repeatedly offer MAID to veterans.
“You’ve called it inappropriate, it’s potentially criminal because you’ve referred it to the RCMP, there is at least one veteran who has lost their life because of this, and you’re telling me that this isn’t grounds to fire this employee?” Richards asked.
“This employee is still employed at Veterans Affairs? That is completely unacceptable, Minister.”