Steve Nolan contemplates the still-bare walls of the Kent Street office that houses his new venture.
“Forgive me if I get the colour wrong, but I think it’s, like, a nice light blue,” says Nolan, who’s spent 25 years with the Canadian Armed Forces.
When you leave the forces, it’s a little bit like being pushed off a cliff.– Steve Nolan, DVA Clinics
“It’s really colour-neutral for any of the mental health issues our veterans might be facing.”
Welcome to Dignified Veteran Assistance Clinic — or DVA Clinics as it’s called on the advertising materials.
It’s Nolan’s attempt to provide a “one-stop” service in Ottawa for military members who’ve left the Armed Forces and suddenly find themselves navigating a health-care system that can feel like something out of a foreign country.
“When you leave the forces, it’s a little bit like being pushed off a cliff,” Nolan said. “One day everything is totally done [for you], and the next day, you’re sort of on your own.”
By soldiers, for soldiers
The clinic will offer services that include physiotherapy, massage therapy and chiropractic treatment, and provide access to a dietitian and a general physician, Nolan said.
There will also be mental health counselling for veterans who may be suffering from maladies such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Nolan said one of his goals was to make sure the clinic was staffed by medical professionals who either served in the military themselves or have strong personal connections to the military.
That connection, he believes, will improve the level of care.
“You have a lot of military members who believe that it’s honourable to suffer in silence. And so if you ask some big hulking army guy if he’s OK, he’s going to instantly — without even thinking about it — say, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.'”
“That’s not helpful if he’s going to see a general practitioner who has no experience with the military. But one of our health-care providers would be a little bit more understanding.”
‘A perfect fit’
For Terri Legaarden, the clinic was “a perfect fit.”
Legaarden grew up in a military household and was considering enlisting when, in the fall of 2017, she came across one of DVA Clinics’ job postings.
I think that’s going to lend to a culture of understanding that you won’t find at a regular clinic.– Terri Legaarden, DVA Clinics manager
Now, she’s the clinic’s manager and mental health counsellor.
“It’s a startup, which is something I love. And it’s working with veterans, which is something I understand,” said Legaarden, whose mother was an army nurse and whose father served in the navy.
“The fact that everybody employed at this clinic has some sort of an affiliation — whether it’s their spouse, their parents, or themselves — I think that’s going to lend to a culture of understanding that you won’t find at a regular clinic.”
Made for PTSD sufferers
Many veterans are at a serious disadvantage the day they’re discharged from the military, Nolan said.
“[Imagine] somebody comes from Newfoundland. She joins the forces at 18. She serves 30 years, and retires or is medically released here in Ottawa.”
“The very next day, she has to go out and get an OHIP card, because she’s never accessed public health care in the way that most Ontarians have.”
In addition to those bureaucratic hurdles, both Legaarden and Nolan say they expect many of the clinic’s clients will also be dealing with the long-term effects of PTSD.
So along with the light blue walls, the clinic has other features intended to make calm clients and prevent any triggering events — from an abundance of natural light to a friendly service dog named Duke.
The six service rooms are also multi-purpose, Nolan said, meaning they can be converted into space for additional mental health services if there’s a need.
The Ottawa clinic’s official launch is Wednesday afternoon, and Nolan already has dreams of expanding to Petawawa, Ont. — home to CFB Petawawa — and Kingston, Ont., where the Royal Military College of Canada is located.
“If there’s veterans in Ottawa that are having trouble accessing health-care providers, you can probably understand that it would be even more difficult in a [smaller] place like Petawawa.”