Canadians are used to thinking of their veterans as senior citizens, some in wheelchairs, others marching unsteadily in their regimental caps and medals on Remembrance Day. But these are the veterans of World War II and Korea. There is a whole new generation of veterans with experience in the Balkans and Afghanistan. They are much younger, there are a lot more of them (some 600,000 in total), they are more capable politically — and right now they are at war with the government.
Veterans began protesting their treatment at the hands of the government in 2010, in cities and towns across Canada and eventually in court. They have also had an angry confrontation with the federal minister responsible for looking after them. Canada’s first ombudsman for veterans can’t understand why Ottawa is being so difficult. The commander of the Royal Canadian Legion is shaking his head. All-party committees of both the House of Commons and the Senate have studied the situation and reported there are things that need to be fixed.
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What grieves veterans are changes the government has made in the regime of care which many believe leaves them worse off, and the government’s tin-ear in listening to those pointing out it is not meeting its obligations.
In 2006, a New Veterans Charter came into force which set out a new benefit plan for injured, disabled and deceased veterans and their families. The Charter superseded a previous regime for veterans governed by the Pension Act. It favours lump-sum payments for the disabled rather than the pensions-for-life of the earlier arrangements. Veterans had high expectations for the Charter, but by 2010 these had mostly evaporated.
First, there was mounting evidence they would receive fewer benefits under the new system, particularly the seriously disabled. In 2010, a Queen’s University study calculated that a disabled veteran could receive only two-thirds of what an individual would have been entitled to under the Pension Act. Moreover, the financial disadvantages would grow if a veteran were of a lower rank, had been more severely injured, had a larger family, or lived longer. In 2013, a group of disabled Afghanistan veterans launched a suit against the government in B.C. Superior Court. In their suit, they claim that the disability payments granted soldiers have not just been smaller than they would have been under the Pension Act, but “paltry” compared to the damages which courts and workers’ compensation boards have awarded for analogous personal injuries to civilians. The Charter was amended in 2011, but in the spring of 2014 separate inquiries by both the House and Senate reported there were still problems.
Secondly, the government announced it was reducing the number of Veterans Affairs district offices where veterans have been used to getting the information and help they need. Instead, veterans would have to contact one of the federal government’s all-purpose Service Canada centres. They were assured the government would place a full-time veterans’ case worker at centres where a Veterans Affairs office had been closed, but this wasn’t likely to comfort veterans in a place like Saskatoon where the office to be closed has a staff of 14 and serves 4,500 clients.
Third, many veterans have come to believe the government simply doesn’t care. Not only has it not responded to their concerns or acted on the parliamentary committee recommendations, many veterans believe the government doesn’t see them as anything more than another special interest group to be accommodated at the least possible cost.
In January of this year, when a group of veterans arrived for a scheduled meeting with the Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss the office closures, they learned he was otherwise engaged and they would have to meet instead with his chief of staff and three Conservative MPs. When the group went over to Parliament Hill to hold a press conference, buy tadalafil with dapoxetine. Many veterans found his apology the next day no more believable than the Prime Minister’s promise on the National Day of Honour on May 8 that the government would not forget the 40,000 service members who went to Afghanistan, the 2000 who were wounded, the 158 who died, and the families and communities who supported them.
The social contract
An analysis of what killed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan offers some insight into what the survivors and their families are up against. The leading causes of death were unstoppable hemorrhaging, gross mutilation and burns, and catastrophic brain injuries and severed spinal cords suffered by soldiers inside an armoured vehicle struck by a rocket-propelled grenade or IED (improvised explosive device). Many of those who survived the incidents which killed their buddies were left physically and mentally damaged for life. Several who came home have committed suicide, at least 60 in the last five years.
Not even the hardiest of warriors can remain unaffected by such experiences. Nor should those who sent them to Afghanistan. Veterans’ grievances are a matter for all Canadians. It’s deeply engrained in the Canadian value system to honour those who have fought for their country. And to take care of them and their families when they’ve been injured or killed. But not everyone appears to understand the full implications of this duty of care.
Generations of Canadians – as well as Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders and others – have recognized that there is an unwritten “social contract” between citizens and those they send into harm’s way to protect them. Only soldiers can be ordered to put their lives on the line for their country; neither police nor firefighters, who also volunteer for hazardous duty, can be ordered to carry out tasks with a high probability, sometimes near certainty, of injuring or killing them. So it stands to reason that citizens have a special obligation to provide their soldiers with the best equipment and training possible to keep them safe, and to take special care of them and their families when they come to grief. In other words, the quid pro quo for the unlimited liability of the soldier is the unlimited responsibility of citizens to care for the soldier. Not the usual care expected of any civilized society, but the best care society can possibly offer — without limitation or caveat.
The Government of Canada does not agree. This is new: no previous government has ever held such a view. In B.C. Superior Court, when the veterans’ asserted that Canadians owed their veterans special treatment, the government countered there was no such thing as a “social covenant”. Apparently, Ottawa believes it makes no difference whether an injured person wore a biker helmet or a combat helmet.
Both the House and Senate committees found the absence of a reference to the social contract in the Charter to be responsible for the war between veterans and the government. The Senate report called for the government to “table a document that articulates and promotes the social contract between the people of Canada and their veterans”. The government should do so. It’s what the British did three years ago.