You can bet our prime minister will proudly stoke the fires of Canadian military achievement when he speaks during Remembrance Day ceremonies this year.
And for every one of his platitudes about Canada being a great military nation, there will be a Canadian veteran long since abandoned by Stephen Harper’s failed government policies.
Vets in this country don’t complain when asked to do more with less, they serve proudly. We didn’t run and hide when we landed in Afghanistan with the wrong coloured uniforms. When the government purchased four second-hand submarines from Britain that needed $200 million worth of repairs, and they still didn’t work, we simply rolled up our sleeves and kept plugging the leaks. When a 50-year-old Sea King helicopter was forced to land in a Nova Scotia golf course last month, we just towed it back to base and fixed it.
Yet, our veterans can’t sit idly by when the government refuses to meet their needs when they return home. It has taken lawsuits, public demonstrations and—tragically—suicides to reinforce just how badly Harper’s Conservatives have handled Veterans’ Affairs. Even then, it’s still not clear if the Cons are getting the message.
“It is beyond my comprehension,” Patrick Stogran, Canada’s first veterans ombudsman, said in 2010, “how the system could knowingly deny so many of our veterans the services and benefits that the people and the Government of Canada recognized a long, long time ago as being their obligation to provide.”
When I retired from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2009, I was lucky. My 20-year military career was filled with personal and professional highs. I did not return from duty with post-traumatic stress like so many Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan. I did not leave behind a widow battling red tape to get the benefits she deserves. I’m not an aging veteran forced to navigate a convoluted website because my local Veterans’ Affairs office has closed.
The Conservatives can tout changes to the Veterans’ Charter all they want, but soldiers that need support are screaming that they aren’t getting the help they need. Harper says caring for seriously injured veterans, supporting their families and improving how it delivers services are the three pillars to improved Veterans’ Affairs.
“I submit publicly and for the record that the Veterans’ Charter failed us on all three counts,” Thomas MacEachern told CTV News last year.
MacEachern knows all too well how badly the Conservatives treat vets. His wife, Leona, committed suicide Christmas Day last year. Suffering from PTSD, the 20-year military veteran drove headlong into a tractor trailer on an Alberta highway.
The Conservatives will tell you they’re listening and improving the Veterans’ Charter. They’ll talk about payment options for wounded vets and improved service delivery. What they don’t like to talk about is class-action lawsuits. A group of six wounded Canadians who served in Afghanistan is suing the government. They say when the government started giving wounded vets lump-sum payments instead of lifetime benefits it robbed them of their future safety and security.
The vets are quick to remind our government of the “social covenant” that dates back 100 years. It was during the First World War that former prime minister Sir Robert Borden pledged to care for Canada’s veterans.
In their legal defence, according to CBC News, the Conservatives say Borden’s political speeches were never meant to create binding contracts. Amazing, isn’t it? Harper loves to wax poetically from his soap box about Conservatives supporting the Canadian military, but ignores everyone else.
There’s an easy way to fix this. Harper and his Conservative government must restore funding to Veterans’ Affairs. There’s no need to study the issue or to appoint anymore expert panels. He just needs to write a cheque and put money where his mouth is.