Delays undermined Desmond’s care

PORT HAWKESBURY: Retired Cpl. Lionel Desmond received a total of $126,561 in disability compensation from Veterans Affairs for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosis and additional associated conditions, the fatality inquiry heard.

A document presented on April 20 indicates Desmond received the majority of his benefit between January 2012 and February 2013, amounting to a total of $103,977.

Lee Marshall, a senior manager for Veterans Affairs testified upon Desmond’s medical discharge in 2015, he was assessed as a “moderate risk” in difficulty in reintegrating into civilian life.

Evidence proves that Desmond filed paperwork hoping to receive assistance from the Veterans Affairs rehabilitation program, including gaining access to a case manager, however, Marshall confirmed it took them six months to appoint Marie-Paule Doucette into that role.

Doucette was supposed to take the stand last week, but with new information about an internal review she was involved with, her testimony was re-scheduled to allow Judge Warren Zimmer to review the information to see if it falls within the inquiry’s mandate.

On April 21, the inquiry heard there was another delay on Desmond’s road to recovery, this time he waited more than three months after his early discharge from Ste. Anne’s Hospital to be connected with the individual who would be assigned to assist him in his transition back to civilian life.

This subsequent delay took place despite Doucette speaking with the assigned social worker on Aug. 16, 2016, less than 24-hours after Desmond was released from the Montreal-based hospital.

Helen Luedee, a social worker who first saw Desmond on Nov. 30, 2016, testified she only met with him twice as she needed to complete an online training course before she could meet with him.

Because of technical difficulties, Luedee didn’t complete the course, which was supposed to last a few hours.

“I detected some frustration in (Doucette’s) voice with the barrier of the technical aspect getting in the way of the actual work with the client,” she testified.

After their first meeting, in which they quickly gained each other’s trust, Luedee helped him to connect with family and counselling services, and she described him as someone who was deeply motivated to get well and re-create a life with his family.

“He was willing to do whatever to took to make it work,” she said. “He was just so eager to get started.”

Desmond’s motivation continued to gain traction over the next 30-days as he accomplished goals the two of them set out on his road to recovery, but that would all come to a screeching halt on Jan. 2, Luedee testified, when Desmond’s demeanour completely changed.

On two separate occasions on the day of Jan. 2, which is a holiday, Desmond called Luedee on her cellphone, was in distress, and sounded sad, as it appeared his marriage was over.

“He was upset, clearly, about his marriage ending. He still wanted to work on his marriage,” Luedee said. “But he still sounded future-focused and hope-focused because he still wanted to make sure that he was doing well enough to be a father to his child.”

The social worker told the inquiry she completed a risk assessment with Desmond for both homicide and suicide, and felt that while he was at a higher risk, it was not an immediate one.

The two made a plan for him to call his therapist and the Family Services office, which called the next day.

Desmond also made her the promise he would call her back if anything changed and she would answer regardless of the time. Desmond never called back.

On April 22, the fatality inquiry learned that while Desmond was referred to the Occupational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic in Halifax, the facility had been turning veterans away who didn’t have a family doctor.

After returning home to Nova Scotia to be with his family following his stint at an in-patient psychiatric hospital, his care team back in New Brunswick, where the former rifleman was living, wanted their Nova Scotian sister clinic to continue with his care.

Their referral went unsuccessful.

The former operations manager at the Nova Scotia OSI Clinic, Derek Leduc testified that in 2016 the clinic would only accept referral that came directly from a potential client’s Veterans Affairs-appointed case manager.

The inquiry has learned that while Doucette connected with the clinic in October 2016, she was unable to complete the referral, noting she would inquire with Desmond to see if he had a family doctor or not, and would then file for her client’s psychiatry services.

Inquiry Counsel Shane Russell suggested the Nova Scotia OSI Clinic “drew a very hard line in the sand” when it came to access to OSI services.

Leduc explained at the time of Desmond’s referral the clinic only had one psychiatrist on staff that worked four days a week, primarily completed disability assessments, and was dependent on family doctors to do follow-up care.

He acknowledged that soldiers who leave the military may not have a civilian family doctor, and more times than not, there would be a wait to find one. Leduc pointed to provincial data in Nova Scotia with a physician wait list of 51,735 as of Dec. 1, 2020.

With a wait list of approximately 40,000 in 2016, Leduc indicated this led to an operational change at the clinic, when his recommendation was approved on Dec. 13, 2016 and he requested a Veterans Affairs-funded in-house physician.

On April 26, as COVID-19 case counts rise, the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia suspended in-person court proceedings in all areas of the province to help reduce the spread of the virus. The suspension is effective immediately and will remain in place until at least May 21, where it will be re-evaluated.

The fatality inquiry will reconvene at a later date.