Former soldier awarded compensation for pain, suffering related to anxiety disorder from harassment and sexual assault

Illustration: Dall-E/HR Law Canada

The Veterans Review and Appeal Board of Canada has awarded compensation for pain and suffering to a Canadian Armed Forces veteran suffering from anxiety disorder, pointing to a sexual assault she endured during basic training and other harassment during her career.

The compensation, set at four-fifths of the full entitlement, will be effective from Jan. 1, 2021, addressing the veteran’s claims of mental health issues linked to their service in the Regular Force.

The soldier’s claim was rejected by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) on June 2, 2022, which argued that her anxiety did not stem from military service but was rather a pre-existing condition unaffected by their service tenure.

Contrary to VAC’s assessment, the veteran contended that their anxiety was significantly influenced by experiences of harassment and sexual trauma during their military service.

Central to the Board’s analysis were three questions:

  • the legitimacy of the anxiety diagnosis
  • its permanence as a disability, and
  • its causation or aggravation by military service.

While the veteran’s diagnosis and disability status were uncontested, the crux of the matter rested on the linkage between military service and the worsening of their condition.

Despite initial findings suggesting non-service factors as the onset of the condition, further examination revealed indications of service-related aggravation.

Mistreatment, isolation and unfair discipline

The veteran detailed instances of mistreatment, isolation, and unfair discipline, alongside a harrowing account of a sexual assault during basic training in September 2013 — a narrative the Panel found credible.

“The sexual assault occurred during the first weekend break during basic training when the platoon went to the local community to celebrate,” the Board said. “Unfortunately, she became separated from her platoon, but another service member offered to assist and ensure she got back to her hotel room. Once at the hotel the other service member assaulted her.”

As result of this sexual assault, the Veteran developed mistrust of the military, it said.

This decision hinged on a comprehensive evaluation of the connection between the veteran’s experiences and their military service, guided by precedents from the Federal Court of Canada and VAC policies. The Board considered various factors, including the nature and location of the incidents, duty status, military control over activities, and the broader context of military-related risk.

The Panel ultimately recognized the service connection, particularly emphasizing the incident of sexual assault by another military member during a basic training celebration. This acknowledgment, supported by a psychiatric assessment linking the veteran’s trauma symptoms to military service, led to the conclusion that the sexual assault and subsequent harassment significantly contributed to the veteran’s anxiety disorder.

Psychiatric assessment

The assessment included the following information: Patient is a 30-year-old Veteran who serviced in military from 2013-2019. She reports being subjected to harassment and sexual assaults in military. She reports her trauma symptoms starting in 2017/2018 time. She reports intrusive memories, nightmares of sexual assault and harassment she underwent during her service. She reports anxiety, feeling on-edge, and panic attacks which occur twice a week. She reports concentration and memory difficulties starting in 2017/2018. Anger has been a main concern. She reports suicidal ideations occurring about twice a week but has had no past attempts. She reports avoiding crowds due to panic attacks. She reports not being able to feel joy, sleep problems, and some hypervigilance.

The decision to grant four-fifths compensation reflects the application of VAC’s Adjudication Manual, which provides for partial entitlement when service-related factors have aggravated a condition.

For more information, see 100004990453 (Re), 2024 CanLII 6656 (CA VRAB).

Author