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Ahead of Invictus Games, charity urges Ottawa to support veterans’s families

Prince Harry, right, speaks to an athlete from the United Kingdom during training in the lead-up to the Invictus Games, in Toronto on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Mike Trauner can't put toothpaste on his toothbrush without help from his wife, Leah. "My fingers just don't work," he told a symposium on veterans and their caregivers in Toronto, with Prince Harry looking on.

Mr. Trauner lost parts of both his legs and shattered his left hand after a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan nearly a decade ago. Since then, his wife has done "everything" for him, he said. "She makes sure to plan every little thing I do every morning from when I wake up, to when I go to bed," he said. "Every morning when I wake up, the war is still there."

It's why the head of a charity that supports military families is urging Canada to do more on behalf of people who care for ill and injured soldiers and veterans ahead of the third Invictus Games, Prince Harry's annual sporting event for that group, which begins on Saturday.

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Shaun Francis, executive chair of True Patriot Love, which organized the symposium, said that funding for the families of Canadian veterans was "very minimal" and that the government should do more to cover the unusual costs of family members who have to care for veterans.

He also called on ordinary Canadians to get to know veterans and their families, who often have limited social networks after leaving the military, arguing that civilian and governmental support for the current cohort of Canadian veterans was a "generational commitment."

Since it was founded in 2009, True Patriot Love has raised $22-million for veterans and military families, Mr. Francis said. But the medical industry executive had sharp words for the government's approach to the issue.

"A wounded soldier gets taken care of, but the caregiver and the entire family system doesn't get any real support," he said on Friday.

"We move veterans around the country, and wounded veterans have to travel many, many miles for their care, but what if that family has kids, special-needs kids?" he said. "It's actually not a good situation."

The difficulty that veterans face reintegrating into civilian life has come to national attention amid growing global recognition of post-traumatic stress and, in Canada, a Globe and Mail investigation into military suicides and their tragic aftershocks. In remarks to the symposium, Mr. Francis argued that Canada was unprepared for the long tail of suffering that deployment in the war in Afghanistan could yield.

"One of the things that we hadn't anticipated was the consequences and cost of injury, and the impact on the family," he said.

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At a separate event in Toronto on Friday, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said the government wants to improve the wellness of both veterans and their families. He noted that Canada's new defence policy has committed an additional $6-million a year for improving the military's family support programs.

"Military families, they need support, too," the newly appointed minister told senior military health officials.

We asked members of Team Canada what the games mean to them while en route from Ottawa to Toronto
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