After weeks of frustration and uncertainty, a 100-year-old veteran of the Second World War has been assured she has a spot at Halifax’s veterans hospital.
Joan Robertson is a Canadian citizen who was born in England and served with Britain’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She’s been living in Canada since 1957.
Her family says they got a call on Nov. 2 stating Robertson wasn’t eligible for one of the available beds at Camp Hill Veterans Memorial Hospital because she’d served with the British Army, not the Canadian Army.
They were told her only option was to join a wait list.
“So at 100, what does one do?” Robertson said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.
“But … it’s not just for me, it’s for people coming behind me who have no one to stand up for them.”
Her family had been trying since Oct. 12 to confirm her spot at Camp Hill. Robertson has been staying at a hospital in the Annapolis Valley after becoming ill several weeks ago.
Her daughter, Jennifer Kennedy, said her mom was medically cleared to leave the hospital, but had nowhere to go since she requires more intensive care than she can receive at home.
Kennedy called the process of getting into Camp Hill “convoluted and almost discriminatory.”
“If she had been a World War II service vet, Canadian, who had served in combat, she would be in there tomorrow, so, basically, what they’ve said is there’s a tiered system,” she said last week.
But the family learned from Veterans Affairs on Monday morning that more beds have been opened up for Allied veterans.
The family is overjoyed that their many emails and phone calls worked, but they also hope other veterans won’t be left waiting and wondering if they’ll be accepted.
In 2018, veteran Gordon Smith was also initially told he didn’t have a spot at Camp Hill because he served with the British Navy, and wasn’t considered a Canadian war veteran. Two years earlier, a decorated war hero who was born in Norway was also denied a spot at first.
After Petter Blendheim’s story made headlines in 2016, Veterans Affairs said it would expand access to Camp Hill.
More beds for Allied vets
Veterans Affairs wouldn’t comment on Robertson’s case for privacy reasons but a spokesperson said that dozens more beds were made available to veterans like her on Nov. 4.
Veterans who served with the Allied forces, as well as members of the Canadian Forces who served after the Korean War, are eligible for what the department calls “a preferred admission bed” at Camp Hill.
“Due to consistent increasing demand, in May 2017, November 2018, and on November 4, 2022, the number of preferred admission beds at Camp Hill increased to 25, 50, and 107 respectively,” the department wrote in an email.
The hospital has a total of 175 long-term care beds.
“Over time, changes have been made to regulations and programs to respond to the needs of Veterans, including Allied Veterans living in Canada,” the department said.
Robertson, who turned 100 in August, joined the war effort when she was 17.
Too young to serve in the regular army at first, she volunteered for the Women’s Land Army, a civilian organization that enlisted women to work in agriculture.
In April 1941, she became a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, “in which our late Queen served, too.”
“About everything happened during the war,” said Robertson, who served with a mixed heavy anti-aircraft battery.
“I mean, we were bombed… from the air. We had bombing raids after the Blitz had stopped…. They dropped fire bombs on us.”
She served until 1947 when she got married, and the couple moved to Canada a decade later.
‘We all fought in the same war’
For Robertson, Camp Hill has long been where she envisioned herself. When she lived in Labrador, she tried to get a spot at the hospital but was told it was only available to veterans who lived in Nova Scotia.
When she moved to Nova Scotia in 2019, her daughter said Robertson was assessed by Veterans Affairs and the family believed she’d have a spot at Camp Hill when she needed it.
“I’ve been out here under the impression that when I needed it I could go into Camp Hill and then suddenly finding out, ‘Oh, but it’s a difficulty [because] you’re British.’ British? But I thought we all fought in the same war,” said Robertson.
The family sought help from their MP Kody Blois, who represents Kings-Hants.
“It’s fitting that this week we’re talking about veterans, we’re talking about Remembrance Day … it would have been really a wrong message if Veterans Affairs Canada wasn’t able to sort this issue out,” said Blois.
After the family got the call on Monday from Veterans Affairs, Kennedy said in an email that her mom was thrilled by the news.
“We are all in tears,” she wrote.
Robertson is expecting to move into Camp Hill on Wednesday.