BY MIKE YOUDS
Special to the News
Disabled veterans across Canada will be able to retrain in an emerging field where life experiences could give them a competitive advantage thanks to a Port Alberni-based institution.
Pacific Coast University for Workplace Health Sciences has received a grant through Veterans Affairs Canada to train 25 disabled vets in its continuing education program in return-to-work and disability management.
“It’s really around trying to create better opportunities for veterans to re-integrate into civilian life,” said Wolfgang Zimmerman, president of the Port Alberni-based institution.
PCU is one of 21 projects nationally to be selected from 155 applications through the Veteran and Family Well-Being Fund.
Zimmerman said the training project arrives in step with watershed legislation — Bill C-81, the Accessibility Canada Act — that is widely expected to be life-altering for disabled workers trying to rebuild their lives. Disabled veterans in particular face the compounded challenge of not only re-integrating into civilian life after military service but doing so while adjusting to new physical or mental challenges.
“It’s a function of achieving much better return-to-work outcomes for disabled veterans,” Zimmerman said. “Maintaining an equitable role is something that is absolutely pivotal to their success.”
He described the veterans’ training as a pilot project to be delivered online through 25 one-week modules. Details of the project have yet to be worked out.
“For those who want to go beyond, they can transfer to our degree-granting program.”
The university president acknowledged the support of MP Gord Johns for working across party lines to support the unique opportunity. As part of the application process, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan toured PCU in August during a cabinet retreat in Nanaimo.
“This is fantastic news, and a testament to the vision and tireless work of the Board and Faculty of PCU-WHS,” Johns said. “It was an honour to work with them and the minister of Veterans Affairs to ensure that their important work received the funding it deserves. I trust that this is just the first step towards providing effective return-to-work support for all those Canadians who have been disabled in the service of our country.”
Bill C-81 is at the committee hearing stage after passing second reading in the House of Commons. The legislation would require employers of a certain scale to ensure that workers disabled on the job receive the opportunity to retrain. That will lead to new opportunities in the field of return-to-work and disability management while helping to ensure workers aren’t sentenced to poverty and despair as a result of their disability, Zimmerman said.
Another benchmark achievement took place in Vancouver last month. Through agreement reached at the recent world congress of the International Federation of Disability Management, return-to-work initiatives have gained permanence. Eighteen years after IDFM was founded in Port Alberni, its congress falls under the auspices of the International Labour Organization and the UN.
“We consider it to be a tremendous achievement,” Zimmerman said. “Embedding it within the formal framework of a UN body in a sense gives it perpetuity.”