VETS Canada began in 2010 as a grassroots movement when Jim Lowther, a veteran himself, realized that there were veterans slipping through the cracks. These veterans had lost their families, were living in the streets in high risk situations. Jim and his wife, Debbie, formed a small team in Halifax, Nova Scotia to seek out and help homeless and at-risk veterans with a view to helping reintegrate them into civilian life.
Veterans housed to date
Direct Veteran Support 2019
Veterans Helped to Date
This movement has grown into a federally registered non-profit charity with hundreds of dedicated volunteers across the country, most of who are ex-military/RCMP.
VETS Canada has evolved from mostly assisting homeless veterans to also providing support to those facing difficulties of any kind. That could mean the inability to afford groceries or a power bill, or an emotional or mental health crisis, VETS Canada provides much needed support to veterans across the country.
— Paul, 44 (Canadian Armed Forces)
These are the reasons we do what we do. We provide veterans with the resources needed to give them a new start, and that's what we call a success story.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Debbie Lowther has an extensive background in sales management as well as experience in the health care industry but since 2010 she has been dedicating her time to VETS Canada, the charity that she founded with her husband, Jim, a 15 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. She has a diploma in Business Information Technology.
Debbie has represented VETS Canada at several committee meetings including Veterans Affairs Canada Stakeholder Summits. She was selected to be a member of the working group advising the Mental Health Commission of Canada during the customization of its Mental Health First Aid program to adapt it for members of the Veteran community. She has also testified before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs on division 17 of part 3 of Bill C-59.
Debbie received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 and in July 2016 she was awarded the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chris was born in Halifax, NS but was raised and schooled in Ontario. His early exposure to the sea air on the east coast led him to join the Canadian Navy. During his 25-year career in the Navy, Chris had the pleasure to serve on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships SASKATCHEWAN, COWICHAN, MIRIMACHI, KOOTENAY, REGINA, OTTAWA, PROTECTEUR, WINNIPEG and VANCOUVER.
Highlights of his shipboard service included positions as Navigating Officer, Weapons Officer and Combat Officer as well as two tours as Executive Officer prior to being appointed as the Commanding Officer of HMCS REGINA. As part of his many positions onboard ships at sea, Chris deployed multiple times around the world including three tours in the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean as part of Canada’s commitment to counter global terrorism.
Apart from his more than 15 years of at sea service, Chris held senior naval officer positions ashore in both Victoria and Ottawa. He finished his career in Ottawa serving in two Director level positions, one with Naval Headquarters and the other with the Vice Chief of Defence Staff.
Chris retired from service in 2015 and joined KPMG as a Senior Manager in their strategy and operations consulting practice where he continues to work closely with the Department of National Defence as well as other federal government departments and private industry.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Eric Payne is a 23-year Veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent most of his career with the Royal Canadian Navy but also spent time with Land and Air units. He is a Veteran of the Afghanistan War and did tours with NATO and was posted to Canadian Forces Station Alert in Canada’s North.
Eric was traumatically injured in 2005, and subsequently medically released in 2007. He was one of the early participants of the Soldier On Program and credits the program for the continued success he now experiences. Despite an amputation, Eric learned he could play sport. This was a pivotal moment. He had heard so many cannots to this point. Eric became passionate to find what he could do! The change began.
Eric began getting involved with recreational programs with persons with disability, Sledge Hockey. He has become the team manager for a very successful program on Prince Edward Island. He has also become the point of contact in the Region for Development of the sport. He has been on the Charlottetown Hosting committee for the National Sledge Hockey team’s International tournaments.
He was elected to a provincial board which was dedicated to the promotion of full participation inclusion of people with a disabilities in Island society. Eric was appointed to the Provincial Board advising government on new and existing legislation, policies, programs and services affecting people with disabilities in Prince Edward Island. Eric is a past President of the Council of Health Improvement through Research and Practice International (CHIRPINTL.org). He is a Peer supporter for the Amputee Coalition of Canada. Eric knows the struggle of addiction first hand and is enjoying living life to the fullest as a sober person.
Eric is a public speaker and tours to military bases to share his experience and to various community based groups. He is also a touring stand up comedian and has shared the stage with some of Canada’s high profile performers.
Eric accepted a nomination to the Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada as Vice President since 2013. He has been working in PEI to assist his brothers and sisters in arms and to raise the profile of the organization in the community.
Eric resides in Warren Grove PEI with his wife, Seanna. They have two adult children Lindsay and Ryan and Oden the family’s yellow Lab.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Shawn Hambley joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 2013 as a Sea Logistics Officer. He has held staff positions within Canadian Fleet Atlantic Headquarters and ADM(Mat), and deployed in HMCS CHARLOTTETOWN on Operation REASSURANCE and NATO’s Operation SEA GUARDIAN in 2017/18.
Shawn holds a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting from Carleton University.
Shawn has been involved with VETS Canada since 2015 and was the Nova Scotia Field Operations Manager from June 2016 to July 2018. He continues to serve in the military and is posted to Ottawa, ON.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Commander Kelly Williamson, MMM, CD, is a trusted leader and effective communicator who has served Canada with distinction as a Naval Warfare Officer in Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Algonquin and Vancouver, and as a Public Affairs Officer and two-time member of Canada’s Disaster Assistance Response Team.
From Haiti to Nepal, Afghanistan to West Africa, Commander Williamson has demonstrated leadership, strength and resilience while protecting the high seas, supporting Canada’s Expeditionary and Special Forces, and on highly visible humanitarian assistance and global engagement missions.
She has a proven track record of setting ambitious goals and displaying the perseverance to achieve results under demanding conditions.
Williamson has served as the Executive Assistant to the Director General International Security Policy, and as a Senior Public Affairs Officer at Canadian Joint Operations Command; the Strategic Joint Staff; Maritime Forces Atlantic; as Division Public Affairs Officer for the 5th Canadian Division, Canada’s Army in Atlantic Canada, and was promoted to her current rank in March 2018. Williamson has served as Director Navy Public Affairs since January 2018.
Commander Williamson has been recognized for her outstanding leadership of diverse teams at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. In 2017, Kelly was recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. In 2018 she completed the Canadian Armed Forces Joint Command Staff Programme. In 2019 Kelly was invested into the Order of Military Merit; and, in 2020 was awarded a Commander, Royal Canadian Navy, Commander’s Commendation.
Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts in Military and Strategic Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada (2000), a Master of Arts in Communication from the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University (2002) and a Master of Defence Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada (2019).
Kelly is married to John Williamson from St. Andrews, New Brunswick. The couple welcomed their daughter Charlotte Tessa Abbigail Williamson on July 2nd, 2020.
At work and in the community, Kelly is diplomatic, tactful and possesses a determined spirit. She is steadfast in her commitment to serving Canada. Commander Williamson is committed to raising awareness of issues related to diversity and inclusion and is an advocate and volunteer with Veterans Emergency Transition Service Canada.
VETS CANADA BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The Honourable Jane Cordy was appointed to the Senate by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien on June 9th, 2000. She lives in Dartmouth, and prior to becoming a Senator she taught elementary school for 30 years in Nova Scotia, teaching in Sydney, New Glasgow and Halifax.
Jane Cordy has a particular interest in issues related to mental health, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell disease, seniors and aging, NATO and Gender Security, education and children.
Having a family history in service, including her father and brother, the Honourable Jane Cordy is proud to support VETS Canada by serving as an Ambassador.
VETS Canada heard my plea for help and you saved my life with your efforts and ensured my family will continue to have a roof over their heads. You do not get half the recognition you deserve. You work quietly and efficiently to aid vets in distress and don’t ask for any more than a kind word when all is said and done. Any vet who has fallen on hard times should be informed of your outstanding organization and I am sure they would also be amazed at the tireless effort you put forth on their behalf.
Once again I cannot express how much VETS Canada has done to save my family at a time when it appeared that kind words and platitudes were all most other organizations claiming to be there to support veterans in need. Your care and compassion for my situation made it easier for me to plea for help when I am so use to being the one to answer the call of someone in distress.
All I can say is thank God there are people such as VETS Canada as I had all but given up hope until you worked your magic and saved me from taking drastic action.
I would recommend contacting VETS Canada to any of my service comrades who are in trouble and looking for someone who can help in an understanding, compassionate and non-judgemental way.
Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
This Veteran served in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than 35 years before being medically released. He is a married father of four children. Upon retirement, this Veteran experienced a lengthy delay in receiving his military pension which, being a single income family, had a big impact on his ability to keep up with his financial obligations. Before long a foreclosure notice arrived. The Veteran attempted to rectify the situation by obtaining a new mortgage through a high interest, “bad credit” mortgage lender. Unfortunately, this fell through at the last minute.
HOW WE HELPED
By the time VETS Canada was made aware of this Veteran’s situation there were only eight days to spare before the Sheriff arrived on the Veteran’s doorstep to enforce the foreclosure. A conference call was held with VETS Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Joint Personnel Support Unit, a unit of the CAF tasked with providing administrative support and programs to ill or injured CAF members of the Regular and Reserve Force. The purpose of the call was to determine the best course of action to locate new housing for this family and to arrange moving and storage. VETS Canada was set to take the lead and agreed to paying for the move as well as first month’s rent and security deposit. The goal was to make this process as painless as possible for this Veteran and his family with limited disruptions to the children’s schooling. After the teleconference, our Director of Operations, Julie Bibby, expressed concerns that we hadn’t done everything possible to prevent the foreclosure. Not really expecting a favourable outcome but wanting to exhaust all possibilities, Julie contacted the lawyer who was representing the bank in the foreclosure and pleaded the case. Unbelievably, the lawyer’s response was that “not on his watch” would a Veteran who had dedicated his entire adult life to serving his country be on the streets. He did what he had to do on his end and made some arrangements with the Veteran in order to have an extension granted.
With a bit of time on his side, the Veteran began to receive his pension and was able to get his finances back in order and the bank offered to renew his mortgage at a rate he could afford. This Veteran and his family remain in their home.
Before I begin, thank you so much for your help in this confusing and trying time for me.
If it weren’t for your help I’m not sure I would have been able to pull through this. I woke up and went to bed (not sleep) everyday in a state of panic. Because of your help I was able to get it together and focus on what was in front of me.
Now that I can afford gas and the like I can start going to therapy and continue working with Sarah* to get through the [next steps].
Once again, thank you, John*
This Veteran served for just over ten years and had an Afghanistan tour under his belt but unfortunately that tour left him with PTSD and Depression and he was medically released from the military. He was told that it would take 4-6 weeks to receive his DND pension and SISIP top up. This was going to be tough as they were a single income family but they worked with their bank who agreed to defer a mortgage payment so they thought they would be okay. When four weeks and then six weeks came and went the Veteran called to check on the status of his pension and he was told it would probably take another four months, he was also told that until his pension was released, he couldn’t receive SISIP. Now what? Thankfully someone told this family about VETS Canada!
HOW WE HELPED
VETS Canada assisted the Veteran and his family with mortgage payments and grocery cards to alleviate the financial burden so they could focus on advocating for themselves toward a speedy resolution to their problem.
The Veteran finally received his pension and the family is slowly getting back on track. He has stated that VETS Canada was the only organization to help them out and they are extremely grateful. He uses art as therapy for his PTSD and Depression and as an expression of gratitude he painted the above piece of artwork and incorporated our logo.
This Veteran had been struggling and used his last bit of money to relocate to a new area where he had secured employment with Bombardier but just before he could fully get back on his feet, he was the victim of the Bombardier layoffs. He ended up living in his car.
HOW WE HELPED
This Veteran had reached out to “Helmets to Hardhats” who were unable to assist him but thankfully they referred him to VETS Canada. The Veteran was immediately moved from his car into temporary accommodations. We reached out to a company that we had partnered with who was interested in hiring Veterans with experience in avionics and asked them to grant the Veteran an interview. He was successful in getting the job and we assisted him in finding a new apartment close to his new job and paid his first month’s rent and security deposit.
Twenty five days from the day this Veteran reached out to us he was employed, housed and enjoying his new job.
I want to take a minute to thank you for making me aware of this program and helping me with the application process. When we first met, I was unsure of where I was going. I have been on the VOC rehab program and was having a difficult time dealing with PTSD and the stigma attached to it. It was like I was afraid to communicate with anyone and would just avoid people in general. You changed all that for me. You did not judge and made me feel very comfortable to talk about programs available to me through VA. I felt like I was off track with no direction and you changed all that for me.
I am slowly getting all the paperwork completed and the future is looking better. I am seeing my doctor on a more regular basis and most important of all, I am looking after me!! I really don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met you. Your knowledge of the programs available to vets like myself has really changed everything for me and my family. Your passion towards your work has been remarkable in giving me confidence that everything will be okay. I would never have know that all these resources are available to me.
Thanks again so much!!
My name is Paul, and I am 44 years old. I am a grateful and inspired veteran having served in the Canadian Armed Forces. I wasn’t always grateful, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the assistance of programs such as VETS Canada.
When I returned home from Bosnia, I began drinking heavily to the point that alcohol consumed my life and that of my wife and daughter. I began to engage in risky behaviour and started making very poor life choices. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was incapable of resolving any issues from my past and of my time spent in the military and in battle. I was unable to live up to my responsibilities as a husband, a father, or a friend. My nightmares became unbearable, and I began to isolate from my family and friends to the point that death seemed like the only reasonable alternative.
One day I came across VETS Canada and immediately contacted them. They got back to me that same day and thus began my road to recovery. VETS Canada gave me hope, and let me know that I wasn’t alone. VETS Canada has connected me with other veterans through a program called “Guitar for Vets” where we meet once a week and learn how to play the guitar. When I separated from my wife and moved out of the family home, VETS Canada set me up in a hotel while I waited for a new apartment to open up. They contacted me regularly to check on my well-being and progress, for which I was very grateful.
I am clean and sober today, and I am working very hard on my recovery. Some days are still a struggle, but I know that with the assistance and support of programs such as VETS Canada, I can work through my issues one day at a time.
This Veteran spent 37 years in the RCMP. He went through a marriage breakdown and was living with some people who he thought were his friends but as it turned out they were stealing from him, including his pension cheques. After that came to light, sadly, this Veteran found himself living on the streets, in a shelter, where he stayed for two years. Unfortunately, this Veteran also struggled with alcohol abuse but managed to attend a recovery program and remain sober while still living in the shelter. This Veteran was fortunate to have a pension from his service that would help him with his move from the streets, he just needed the right people to guide him and assist him with the process.
HOW WE HELPED
VETS Canada’s Ottawa team, led by Lt-Gen. (Ret’d) Walter Semianiw, was conducting their inaugural walkabout of the streets and shelters when they encountered this Veteran. The Ottawa team volunteers explained who we are and what we do and asked the Veteran if he would like some assistance. He accepted the offer of help and VETS Canada immediately arranged to temporarily house him in a hotel efficiency suite and purchased grocery cards. Over the next nine days, the Ottawa team volunteers met with the Veteran daily and took him for a haircut and a beard trim, shopping for some new clothes and to look at some apartments. Most importantly, they provided him with much needed peer support and reassurance that he was going to get his life back on track.
With the help of VETS Canada’s Ottawa Team volunteers, this Veteran was able to move into a furnished apartment nine days after we initially met him and two days before Christmas. He continues to live in his comfortable little apartment where our volunteers visit him regularly. The dedicated Ottawa Team volunteers also continue to assist this Veteran by taking him to his medical appointments. The Ottawa volunteers were able to connect with this Veteran’s family who are very grateful for VETS Canada’s assistance and very relieved that their family member is safely off of the streets and now has hope for a brighter future.
Our client spent 40 years in the Royal Canadian Navy serving his country. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2) in Ottawa, our nation's capital, but missed the familiar smell of salt water and the great memories he had of his service. Last year, he moved back to Halifax, NS.
A lot has happened over the last year—some good, some bad. Our client found himself couch surfing and visiting shelters like a number of other Canadian Veterans. During this challenging period, he visited CFB Halifax. The old Chief decided to check himself into a room at Juno Tower on the Base. To him, it felt good to be around familiar surroundings. He spent the next week living like he did when he was in the Navy, going to the mess hall to eat and being around people that understood him.
He was still in a bad way, crying out for help in his own way by going to events he wasn’t invited to. He was trying to get the attention and help he needed. He even hung around the Base Commander's residence (Stadacona), and that’s where this story gets started.
The Base Commander's wife noticed the old Chief and was concerned, she called the MPs to check up on him. They went to the call and talked to him to make sure everything was OK. The MPs respected the old Chief and only left when they new he wasn’t in harm's way.
HOW WE HELPED
VETS Canada president, Jim Lowther, received a call from an old friend who was still serving at CFB Halifax. He advised Jim of the situation at Juno Towers hoping that VETS Canada might be in a position to assist. Jim went to meet with the old Chief to do an assessment and devise a care plan.
Jim engaged members of the Nova Scotia team of VETS Canada who immediately set to work finding our client a safe place to stay. He was initially housed temporarily before being moved into a furnished studio apartment. VETS Canada provided first month’s rent and damage deposit and connected him to some other community resources. VETS Canada also provided him with a donated cell phone that they loaded with “pay as you go” minutes so that they could stay connected with him.
Our client remains in his apartment where he is very content with its wonderful view of the Halifax Harbour. VETS Canada volunteers continue to check in on him.
Our client served six years in Canada’s Armed Forces, including a deployment to frontline combat operations in Afghanistan. After his return to Canada, he developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which led to self-medication, and eventually the issues and complications of substance abuse. Our client did seek out help, and attended an in-patient addictions treatment program. Sadly, he had nowhere to go upon release. When we found him, he was barely existing in a tent city in the Downtown East Side (DTES) of Vancouver’s mean streets. His only belongings were the clothes on his back, a thin blanket, and a mouldy tent.
HOW WE HELPED
VETS Canada immediately removed our client from his precarious situation, and temporarily housed him in a motel efficiency suite. A VETS Canada volunteer assisted our client to get settled into the temporary accommodation, and then helped him to obtain a Provincial ID card. Next, we connected the client with Veterans Affairs Canada to apply for emergency funds, and with the BC Ministry of Social Development to apply for Income Assistance benefits. Once this was in place, our VETS Canada volunteer assisted the client to find a suitable apartment and fill out the application, VETS Canada paid his first month’s rent and the required damage deposit. Through our agreement with CFMWS (Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services), we also provided furniture, bedding, dishes, and all of the essentials required to outfit his new home.
While our client still struggles with the lasting effects of PTSD, he is living in a safe and clean environment, he’s now on the radar of organizations who can offer ongoing support, and he is optimistic about his future.
Our client served five years in Canada’s military, including overseas deployments to Bosnia and Cambodia. While he initially had a somewhat successful transition from military to civilian life, he eventually had a psychotic episode which, sadly, cost him his job. Without stable employment, he was unable to maintain housing for himself, his wife, and their three children. They were forced to relocate to a tiny bachelor apartment but were evicted once the landlord realized it was home to a family of five. The situation deteriorated to the point where the family took refuge in a commercial storage unit until they were evicted by law enforcement. This caused our client and his wife to send the children to live with friends, while he and his wife were forced to live on the street, where he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia.
HOW WE HELPED
VETS Canada was contacted by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to provide emergency assistance and shelter. We also assisted our client with applications to secure a disability pension and provincial social service assistance. In the meantime our client’s wife secured employment, and the family was able to locate a suitable an apartment, where VETS Canada assisted by paying the first month’s rent and damage deposit. VETS Canada also purchased new mattresses for the family.
Our client still struggles with his mental health issues, but having a stable environment, a financial safety net, and a living situation with his family altogether under one roof gives them hope for a brighter future.