Nova Scotia Veteran Awarded Critical Injury Benefit for Trauma from Alleged Military Sexual Assault

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Zandra Pinette, 43, joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a social worker in 2011. She wanted to help soldiers process their trauma but says that less than three years later she was sexually assaulted at CFB Gagetown, N.B., and wound up diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder herself. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

In a landmark case that may be a first in Canada, Zandra Pinette, a Nova Scotia veteran, has received a significant acknowledgment for the trauma she endured following an alleged sexual assault. The Veterans Appeal and Review Board (VARB) has overturned a previous decision by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), granting her a critical injury benefit. This decision, as reported by CBC News, marks a pivotal moment in recognizing the profound impact of military sexual trauma.

The Struggle for Recognition

Pinette, who joined the Canadian Armed Forces as a social worker in 2011, experienced a life-altering event in 2014. She recounts the harrowing incident at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B., where she woke up in horror beside a senior officer, leading to her diagnosis with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Despite her initial report and subsequent medical release from the military, VAC denied her the critical injury benefit in 2016. This denial was recently overturned by the VARB, validating Pinette’s trauma with a tax-free lump sum payment of $84,203.

The Significance of the Benefit

The critical injury benefit, established in 2015 under the Veterans Well-being Act, is designed for Armed Forces members who suffer severe, service-related injuries causing significant quality-of-life impairment. According to CBC News, as of Nov. 10, 238 Canadians have received this benefit. Pinette’s case is significant as it underlines the severity of psychological injuries, a relatively less acknowledged domain compared to physical injuries.

Pinette, a social worker in the Canadian Armed Forces, attended basic training in 2011. She says she feels validated now that the trauma she experienced following an alleged sexual assault has been recognized as a critical injury, and she has been compensated accordingly. (Submitted by Zandra Pinette)

The Evidence and Criteria

VARB’s decision hinged on specific criteria, stipulating that a traumatic event must necessitate physical assistance for daily living activities for a sustained period. In Pinette’s case, her need for substantial support from her mother post-incident played a crucial role in meeting these criteria. The board, examining extensive records, including those from a sexual assault nurse examiner, concluded that Pinette was “completely debilitated by the traumatic event.”

A Precedent for Psychological Injuries

This decision follows another notable case of veteran Fabian Henry, who was awarded the benefit for PTSD sustained during a tour in Afghanistan. These cases collectively signal a broader recognition of psychological injuries in military service.

The Ongoing Review and Call for More Statistics

Despite these advancements, challenges remain. The critical injury benefit is currently under review, with Veterans Affairs Canada focusing on refining the policy language, particularly concerning psychological injuries. Additionally, advocates like Donna Van Leusden Riguidel emphasize the need for more comprehensive statistics in this area to better understand the scope and impact of military sexual trauma.

Personal Impact and a Voice for Change

For Pinette, a Black woman, mother, and social worker, speaking out is crucial for healing and supporting others in similar circumstances. Her story sheds light on the complexities of military sexual trauma and the importance of recognition and support for those affected.