With The Thanks Of A Grateful Nation
War. Nobody likes it, least of all the people who have to go and fight but go they do. Most go because they consider it their duty to serve their country. Some never return from war, some return wounded. All who survive and who do return come home changed by the sheer brutality of the experience.
Canada’s military brass and the government talk a good talk about the courage and dedication of the men and women who serve in our armed forces. They show up to greet returning coffins and even named a stretch of highway for the fallen, calling it the Highway of Heroes.
What they don’t do is treat returning veterans with the respect and gratitude to which they are entitled after having risked their lives in defense of what these same politicians felt was important.
The Department of National Defense (DND) has gone out of its way to dismiss as unproven, the idea that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a real mental illness which entitles returning veterans to benefits under their healthcare and disability plan. Imagine that, these are the same men and women who have spent endless nights and days fearing that their next step might trigger a land mine or that the approaching car might have a bomb in it.
They have been caught in firefights where people they don’t know and can’t see are trying to kill them and they experience this far from their families and the normalcy of life the rest of us take for granted.Of course some of them will come home mentally wounded.
Peter McKay, the Minister of National Defense has chided the Defense Ombudsman for taking a role that was too close to that of advocate rather than mediator in disputes between DND and veterans. It isn’t hard to understand why. It is impossible to mediate when DND refuses to acknowledge a problem and is intransigent in its response to the real suffering of individual veterans and veterans issues as a whole.
Indeed, the government actually fought its veterans in court after being sued for having clawed back some of their benefits. The government has lost the first round. In other words, the courts have determined that the government’s position is quite simply wrong but they have magnanimously offered to settle the court case rather than appeal it. Settle it? That’s just another way of saying that if veterans take less than they are owed, then the government won’t drag the case out through various courts over a few more years at even greater expense.
It reminds me of the foot-dragging the government employed when it came to light that previous governments had surreptitiously used Canadian soldiers as guinea pigs in the testing of the effects of Agent Orange. When it came to light that disproportionate number of those soldiers was contracting cancer in later years and they sought compensation, the government fought the case in court in the cynical knowledge that many of the claimants would die before the case was concluded.
Two years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) took it upon themselves to fight the very veterans they represent to the point that they illegally accessed one particular veteran’s medical records and leaked them publicly in an attempt to embarrass him into silence. No one at DVA was fired for this incredible breach of ethics and the law.
Like many countries, Canada talks the talk but doesn’t walk the talk when it comes to the men and women who serve in our armed forces. A young soldier suffering from PTSD, and who was suicidal, was ordered back into the combat zone after only one month of treatment. The result? He committed suicide and DND dismisses any responsibility but has fought the family tooth and nail over release of documents related to their son’s case.
The Liberal Chretien government ordered support troops to Iraq during the first Gulf War. We didn’t have desert camouflage so the government sent them to a desert country disguised as trees. Fortunately, the Americans provided some desert camouflage uniforms so that our troops wouldn’t look like a forest walking down the dusty road.
The Navy’s Sea King helicopters passed their shelf life thirty years ago. The Conservative government under Brian Mulroney finally ordered replacements in the early 90s. The incoming Liberal government under Jean Chretien cancelled the order at a cost of $500 million and initiated a new procurement for helicopters.
It is now 2012. None of the replacement helicopters have been delivered and nobody in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has a clue when they might arrive. Meanwhile, the Navy continues to repair and fly its Sea Kings which has resulted in more than one crash and the death of at least one pilot.
The situation isn’t any better in the United States.
Officials at Houston’s National Cemetery banned all religious observances at funerals and the Obama Administration was forced to reverse a decision to ban any and all religious symbols and literature in veteran’s hospitals.
Imagine the stupidity of that policy for a moment.
The government banned religious books, like the bible, from people who actually offered their lives to preserve the freedoms of the United States which includes religious freedom. That absurd policy actually meant that a Catholic veteran who was dying in hospital would not be permitted the last rites by his grateful nation.
I spent six weeks in Miami on business two years ago and was overwhelmed by the number of veterans I saw who were missing limbs and needed wheelchairs. Many of them were poorly dressed and living on social assistance in poverty. They were the forgotten, no longer of use to government and so were discarded.
Too many of our veterans find it challenging reintegrating into civilian life. They have difficulty finding meaningful employment but the bureaucrats and the politicians are far too busy to implement programs to assist them. Instead, they waffle, speak honey words while clawing back benefits and fighting in court the very men and women who served with distinction and courage.
Many of the same bureaucrats who deny the legitimacy of the effects of combat on veterans avail themselves of their benefits program to go on stress-related leave because….well….it’s just very stressful pushing paper all day and fighting citizens on behalf of the government. It makes one wonder how quick they would be to deny veterans their benefits if they were veterans returning home after having lived for months in the 24/7 stress of a combat zone. It makes you wonder how well they would hold up in Afghanistan or some other God-forsaken war zone when they can’t handle the stress of a 9-5 job downtown.
My guess is that they wouldn’t come close to meeting the standards of the men and women who have worn the uniform with courage and honour.
It is a disgrace that government doesn’t show them the honour they deserve.
© 2012 Maggie’s Bear
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