The 2015 Liz Hoffman Memorial Commendation for Complaint Resolution was recently awarded to three individuals who come from different walks of life but have made great strides to benefit the military community and veterans. This year’s recipients are Fred Smith, Paula Ramsay and Dr. Deborah Elliot.
(Retired) Corporal Fred Smith
Smith is recognized as a champion for homeless veteran and a hero to those military members suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues. But it took many years of battling with inner demons before Smith could find his calling in life.
During his deployment to the Golan Heights in the Middle East in 1979, Smith witnessed many traumatic events. He was sent home with a back and neck injury and told there would be help in Canada, unfortunately upon his return home many military members didn’t understand his condition.
“I was basically told I was no good, and I believed them. I wouldn’t amount to anything, and I should get out of the military,” said Smith.
And so he retired from the military and soon started down a path that included drinking, substance abuse and led to 26 years of living on the streets.
After receiving news of the death of his son, Smith decided to end his life in 2005. He said he had it all planned out. However, Smith ended up checking himself into a hospital and after years of unknowingly suffering, he was finally diagnosed with PTSD.
Smith was able to start his life anew towards the road to recovery.
Smith holds not resentment with the CAF, though, saying, “it’s not their fault they didn’t know.”
Today, Smith uses his experiences to help other homeless veterans and veterans suffering from substance abuse. His organization, Veterans Helping Veterans, recently received charity status. Before that, Smith funded the organization himself. Over the years, he’s helped 3,000 people.
“They called me a hero and I never ever thought I’d be described as a hero. I was a humbled by that. The way I think of myself I certainly don’t consider myself a hero. I’ve lived a pretty tough life, I’ve lived on the streets. What I am doing is something I can do, some people call it heroic…yes it’s nice to be recognized and nice to get the award but I’ve got to remember my work is a lot more important than me. It is much bigger than me. The moment it becomes about me, that’s the moment my work doesn’t work,” said Smith.
A military spouse with a partner diagnosed with PTSD, Ramsay united with other military spouses to launch the Caregivers Brigade. The Caregivers Brigade is an informative website with dozens of resources to help families facing the challenges of operational stress injuries (OSI).
After serving two tours in Afghanistan, Ramsay realized her husband returned home each time a little different. Because of his physical symptoms, Ramsay’s husband was easily diagnosed with PTSD.
After realizing there was a communication gap and that many of the programs available through the government and DND weren’t as advertised, Ramsay began digging for information.
“We started doing some digging and we kind of connected on a different level and said it’s not fair to the next people if we know this information it’s not fair to people going through this now for us to not present this to them. We wanted to make sure the information was available to everybody,” said Ramsay.
And so, Ramsay co-founded the Caregivers Brigade.
The website was finally launched last fall starting with 80 resources. It now boasts over 130 resources. The Caregivers Brigade has been recognized by military and government officials.
Because of her work, Ramsay has been invited to be a part of the Military Family Pane Feedback Team and the Military and Veteran Family Leadership Circle. She also submits articles to the Chief Military Personnel newsletter to provide the family perspective of service related mental injuries.
After doing mostly behind the scenes work, Ramsay is surprised to receive the Commendation.
“It came as a surprise, but it was certainly very humbling. The purpose of the work I do is not to receive recognition in any manner,” said Ramsay.
Dr. Deborah Elliot
Dr. Elliot is a psychiatrist at CFB Trenton. The work she carries out has been instrumental in bringing changes and streamlining basic mental health assessments for air crew through changes to the Flight Surgeon Guidelines.
“I think it is important to recognize the number of civilian clinicians, both civil servants and Calian contractors who are providing clinical care to our serving members in many capacities. There are many who do this work, and I am honoured to represent them in accepting this commendation. At times in my career, I have been criticized for raising concerns or just simply ignored by those in authority – it feels good to be commended for what I consider my advocacy work,” said Elliot.
Elliot brought her knowledge and skills in the field of psychiatry to 8 Wing Trenton in 2010 at 24 Health Services, providing mental health assessments and psychiatric care to serving members. She is considered a valuable resource to military and civilians who work within the mental health section.
Elliot also has developed a connection with Queen’s University after working there previously. She has used the connection to establish learning opportunities with the University to develop treatment groups such as Managing Powerful Emotions.
“I truly believe that with timely and appropriate mental health treatment many members – even those with significant Post Traumatic Stress Disorders – can get better and continue on with fulfilling careers, either within the military or within the civilian sector. There is a great deal more work to be done to reduce the stigma concerning mental health issues within the military. This year’s Liz Hoffman’s commendations and focus on mental health highlights the need to continue working on reducing the stigma which prevents members from accessing care,” said Elliot.
The Liz Hoffman Memorial Commendation is an award of the Forces Ombudsman given to those individuals or groups who demonstrate exceptional problem-solving and complaint resolution skills.
First presented in 2002, the award was later renamed after Liz Hoffman in 2006. Hoffman was a key member of the Office of the Ombudsman since its creation and worked hard to create a positive change for the men and women of the CAF. Hoffman passed away in Jan. 2006 after a long battle with cancer.