The Perley Rideau Veterans' Health Centre is now welcoming a new generation of veterans.
Up until now, the federal government's strict criteria only allowed men and women who were veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War to move into the veterans side of the long term care facility — and many others across the country.
The rules have begun to change, and a limited number of beds are opening up to peacekeepers and other retired Canadian Forces members. They can now apply to live and receive care with other former soldiers and officers.
The Perley Rideau currently has 250 beds reserved for veterans. Now, 25 of those beds will be for so-called modern vets — people like retired colonel John Gardam, 85, who moved in last week.
Gardam had served in the Canadian military for 42 years and was on the first peacekeeping mission to the Middle East.
He was also chair of Perley Rideau's foundation for years but he didn't qualify to live at the veterans' residence until this month.
"I watched this place grow from the beginning," said Gardam, who now suffers the effects of a traumatic brain injury and uses a wheelchair, making it difficult to continue living at home. "It sort of gives you a warm feeling when you see all the guys."
David Gardam, John's son, said the timing of the new rules at the Perley Rideau was perfect for his dad.
"Our family is ecstatic. Dad served for 42 years and to now be surrounded by fellow comrades-in-arms is just something that is incredible," said David Gardam, who, like his father, also served in the Canadian military for decades.
Broader access across Canada
Among the 17 veterans facilities across the country, several have started to negotiate new partnership arrangements between provincial ministries of health, local health networks and Veterans Affairs Canada to change the criteria for who can reside at a veterans health centre.
Toronto's Sunnybrook Veterans Centre now has 30 beds for so-called modern veterans, Halifax's Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital has 15 beds and Parkwood Institute in London, Ont., has five spaces.
But there are concerns from veterans' families that new funding arrangements at health centres mean modern veterans won't be given the specialized, higher level of care veterans have enjoyed in the past.
Daryl Dods, whose father lives at the Perley Rideau, said less money from government means cuts to nursing and other staff are expected later this spring.
"They may as well put the veterans in any old age home," said Dods. "There should be a better level of care for the vets."
Akos Hoffer, CEO of the Perley Rideau, says this new partnership arrangement between Ontario's Ministry of Health and the federal government gives his health facility a new mandate.
"The category of veterans has been broadened significantly," said Hoffer. "You have to be in receipt of benefits from Veterans Affairs.… There are some allied veterans who would qualify too. And then, of course, those who served in the forces after the Korean War would be eligible."
Over the past week, Perley Rideau has admitted seven new modern veterans and is in the process of determining the eligibility of several others.
Wait list expected
Hoffer predicts the beds to be filled quickly. In fact, he expects there will soon be a waiting list.
"If you look at the demographics and the projections, there are a big number of veterans after World War II and the Korean War, and because there's more of an equal access policy emerging from Veterans Affairs, we need to work with them to make sure we have adequate number of beds.
"We don't want to have an extended waiting list for the those veterans," said Hoffer. "It's taken years of lobbying by veterans groups, including the Royal Canadian Legion, to get modern veterans the right to share these long-term care benefits."
David Gardam, who served in the Canadian navy for 38 years, hopes specialized veterans' care is available to him when the time comes, but the number of beds are currently so limited, that may not be the case.
"We've had a number of people who, throughout their careers have served their country in very, very challenging and difficult missions," said Gardam. "It's nice if they can be recognized and placed in a facility where they're surrounded by friends."