OTTAWA — A Winnipeg veteran is camping steps from the parliamentary precinct, to spread the word about long-standing problems with federal programs for former soldiers.
"I’m tired of people talking and not doing, so I thought I’m going to put up, instead of shutting up," said Trevor Sanderson, who says he trained with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
He arrived Friday from Winnipeg and set up two tents in the archway that connects the Memorial buildings in Ottawa, across from the Supreme Court.
With friends, he’s spending a week outside, building momentum ahead of a Thursday march where veterans will decry problems accessing federal services.
Sanderson said he’s suffered panic and anxiety attacks for years due to PTSD, as well as physical pains, as a result of the intense training he received 25 years ago at CFB Calgary.
"It’s not money that veterans are looking for; it’s services," Sanderson said Monday, as locals braved sidewalks covered by the weekend’s frozen rain, and braced for a -19 C evening.
Sanderson said he got a payout in December, but spent two decades not knowing he qualified for it. He said veterans struggle to get information on services available to them, and then face wait lists, a problem that has persisted through multiple governments.
To him, the government needs to better fund hospitals, community centres and mental-health counsellors "instead of trying to place a Band-Aid on a festering wound."
As Sanderson talks, his smartphone vibrates with messages from former and active veterans, sharing their frustration with accessing support for mental illness. He gives multiple interviews to try breaking stigma around mental health and to let veterans know what services exist.
Sanderson made the trek to Ottawa with two Winnipeg friends and Dick Groot of North Bay, Ont., whom he met through a grassroots veterans’ support retreat.
Groot says the training he received in Saskatchewan prepared him for winter conditions, but not for mental anguish and towering bureaucracy.
"It’s crazy; it’s insane and it has to change," said Groot, who only recently left a two-year period of homelessness.
"I guess I’m used to a tent," he quipped.
The two have been livid with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, based on how he responded this month to criticism about veterans’ lawsuits over a reformed compensation system. The reforms lowered payouts in many cases, and administered them on a monthly basis, instead of a lump sum.
The government claims the drop is meant to account for federal services and that those who are the most injured receive higher payments.
At a town hall in Edmonton, Trudeau said Ottawa was fighting court cases with veterans groups because they are "asking for more than we are able to give right now."
His comments played a big part in convincing Sanderson to drive to Ottawa with a yellow tent and a green tent.
The encampment has caught the eye of multiple passersby — and Parliament. A Conservative MP mentioned them Monday in question period.
The Liberals have claimed their new "pension for life" program will leave veterans with less paperwork and better stability.
Sanderson said he’s dubious about the new program, because he’s heard from few veterans who were actually consulted about the changes. He previously camped out in downtown Ottawa last fall.
Updated on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 7:47 AM CST: Adds photo, fixes headline