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Ombud flags unfairness in treatment of sexual dysfunctions for female veterans

OTTAWA — Canada’s veterans ombud is warning that women who served in the Canadian Armed Forces are facing unacceptable barriers and bias when it comes to accessing federal assistance for sexual dysfunctions.
A Canadian flag is seen on a Canadian forces uniform at CFB Trenton, in Trenton, Ont., on Oct. 16, 2014. A new report by Canada's veterans' ombudsman says women who served in uniform are at a disadvantage when it comes to applying for federal assistance for sexual dysfunctions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

OTTAWA — Canada’s veterans ombud is warning that women who served in the Canadian Armed Forces are facing unacceptable barriers and bias when it comes to accessing federal assistance for sexual dysfunctions. 

The warning comes four years after Veterans Affairs Canada made it easier for male veterans who experience erectile dysfunction as a result of another psychological injury to get treatment and compensation for the condition.

The move to streamline the process followed clear links between the diagnoses and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental injuries, and sexual dysfunctions.

Yet ombud Nishika Jardine's report noted there has not been a similar streamlining for sexual dysfunction claims from female veterans.

That was despite what the report said was evidence women are as likely to experience sexual dysfunctions from such psychological injuries as men, if not more.

“VAC streamlines applications for male veterans with erectile dysfunction caused by medications to treat psychiatric conditions,” Jardine wrote in her report released Thursday.

“Sexual dysfunction applications for female veterans have no equivalent process. Yet research shows that medications to treat psychiatric conditions like PTSD cause sexual dysfunction in both males and females.”

The result is that women are more likely to have to wait longer for compensation and access to treatment for sexual dysfunctions than their male counterparts, according to the report.

Jardine also took issue with how Veterans Affairs Canada processes sexual dysfunction claims from female veterans as staff have not been given instructions on how to properly assess such conditions, including decreased libido.

“The lack of clarity surrounding the definition and adjudication of decreased libido plagued us for the duration of this investigation,” reads the ombud report.

“The inability to clearly define and explain the adjudication process for decreased libido indicates that decision-makers have been without clear guidance, in stark contrast to the streamlined process for the most common male sexual dysfunctions.”

Jardine also raised concerns about the limited amount of information that Veterans Affairs had when it came to the number of former Armed Forces members who had indicated they were suffering from a sexual dysfunction.

Veterans Affairs reported more than 3,900 male veterans had been approved for treatment and compensation as of March 2021. The vast majority were related to erectile dysfunction. 

However, Jardine's report said, “the number of female clients with an entitled sexual dysfunction condition is unclear because their claims are combined with all claims by female clients for reproductive or urinary conditions.”

This isn’t the first time the veterans’ watchdog has raised concerns about the inequitable treatment of female veterans. The ombud's office in 2018 found women were having to wait far longer for their disability claims to be processed by Veterans Affairs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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