In April 2010, during the weeks before her husband Dennis Vialls died at the over-crowded emergency department at the Lakeshore General, his wife Sharyn Cadot was “running around” to get petitions signed. She was desperately trying to gain admittance for her husband into full time care to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.
Since he began showing signs of Alzheimer’s, she had written to the federal government, begging it to open the hospital’s doors to all veterans. “For five years before my husband died, I was writing to Prime-Minister Harper and making our story public,” she recalls.
But under rules still in effect, veterans who served in the Canadian Forces may be admitted to long-term care. But Allied veterans like Vialls who served in the Bristish Army or those who were not sent overseas must seek care in a community facility, if it is determined their needs could be met. At the time, Cadot’s choices included a private facility she could not afford, another residence requiring hours of travel by bus and a public facility where the wait could be up to two years.
She recalls that time as harrowing and frustrating because Ste. Anne’s had empty beds that were not being used, while she believed the federally-run institution could provide better care for her husband than any community facility. As proclaimed on the Veterans Affairs website, the hospital “provides its clientele of Veterans with an exceptional environment designed to promote an optimal level of care, and the highest possible quality of life.”
“At the time, I was still working. I was 61, I wanted to get my pension. But between writing to Harper and Veteran’s Affairs and dealing with Alzheimer’s, I got sick. Help was limited, in the end the whole thing became overwhelming. In the four years I was taking care of my husband, I was under the care of two doctors and a therapist, trying to help me help my husband.”
She was stunned by what she calls the government’s lack of compassion, citing letters of rejection, written to her by different Veterans Affairs ministers. The fact that Vialls landed in Normandy on D-Day, who later became a Canadian citizen, who raised five children here and paid taxes working for two Crown corporations, had no influence on their decision.
In November 2009, former Veterans Affairs minister Greg Thompson informed her “there is no legal authority and thus no policy basis on which to admit Mr. Vialls to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.” In March 2010, Thompson’s successor Jean-Pierre Blackburn assured that Dennis Vialls would be receiving “all the benefits he was entitled to for his long-term care expenses in a community facility.” On April 29, a week after his death, Blackburn consoled her with the fact that her husband’s “final resting place will be at the Last Post Fund National Field of Honour in Pointe-Claire, a permanent memorial of gratitude to the brave men and women who fought for peace and freedom.”
In the final weeks, having given up on changing the legislation, Cadot had begged for an exception to be made for her husband on humanitarian grounds, collecting hundreds of names on a petition, to no avail.
Now, four years later, her health has improved even as she swims or walks daily to deal with anxiety. Her priorities have not changed. “I shouldn’t have had to fight to change a legislation that should not exist,” she says. She continues to write to government and media, this time for the sake of the few allied veterans who are still living.
Lac-St-Louis MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who supported Cadot’s efforts and brought her message to parliament says that cases of veterans being denied access to the hospital still crop up every now and then. He says he admires Cadot’s courage and tenacity. Echoing Cadot, he also wonders why an exception was not made. “Why no derogation was made is a good question for the government. Most [Allied veterans] have paid taxes since the 50s.”
He confirms that there is space at the hospital. “It’s not a question of capacity, there are empty beds for sure. That is why it is being turned over to the province. Both governments feel the infrastructure should be made available to the general population.” Scarpaleggia says the transfer, though it has been in the works for years, is imminent. Ironically, this means that a soldier like Vialls, who landed in Normandy on D Day, will finally be eligible for admission to Ste. Anne’s–not as a decorated veteran, but as a civilian.
According to Maggie Michaudville, spokesperson for Ste. Anne’s, there are currently a total of 109 unused beds at the veteran’s hospital, which will be the last one in Canada to be transferred from federal to provincial jurisdiction. “Admission criteria are the same in every hospital in the country for veterans and I don’t think it will change after the transfer,” Michaud says.
In Canada, almost 8,000 veterans reside in long-term care facilities supported by Veterans Affairs Canada, including at Ste Anne’s. Janice Summerby of Veterans Affairs says she does not have the breakdown showing how many Allied veterans live in community facilities.
Cadot is not presently aware of other Allied veterans or their families being denied access to the hospital, but is not slowing down. “As long as that legislation exists, until there is just one veteran who is denied access while the beds lie empty, I am going to continue writing,” she says. “I owe my husband that.”