Royal Canadian Legion rapidly losing its connectivity to veteran community

By Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol-THE HILL TIMES-June 4, 2007

Since its founding 80 years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion has meant many different things to Canadians. This devoted group of men and women are behind a litany of charitable initiatives in our community ranging from wheelchair access for seniors to providing scholarships to youth.

But our most profound image of the Legion remains the elderly veteran standing in front the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Each and every Remembrance Day we take these images home secure in the knowledge that this is an organization of veterans who stand up for fellow veterans.

It’s a façade.

The reality is that the Legion is rapidly losing its connectivity to the veteran community. Worse, on a political level, the Legion has done a complete about-turn on the one fundamental principle that defined its existence–ensuring that returning veterans, and especially disabled veterans and families, receive the best possible support that the nation can offer.

Last spring, the government began implementing a new veterans’ legislation passed by the former Liberal government without any debate by MPs. The national leadership of the Legion is on the record stating that “there should be no doubt whatsoever that the Royal Canadian Legion fully supports this initiative.” Yet to the rapidly-growing number of young, disabled veterans this new legislation represents the biggest single reversal by any Canadian government in caring for disabled veterans and their families.

Gone, forever, under this Legion-backed bill are the security and care that previous generations of disabled veterans enjoyed. Today, instead of a lifelong disability pension, the Canadian soldier limping back from Afghanistan will receive a one-time lump sum payment up to a maximum of $250,000. That may seem like a fair bit until one realizes that this amount only applies to the soldier who is 100 per cent disabled, meaning he or she has likely lost the capacity for self-care.

But, in true Orwellian absurdity, bureaucrats have actually planned for the level of disability to be suffered by those wounded at around 15 per cent which equates to a not-so golden handshake of $35,000.

Also under the Legion-backed legislation those who “took a bullet for Canada” and are disabled must enroll in a government-controlled vocational training and work placement program or risk losing individual benefits as well as healthcare for the family. Not surprisingly, this much-despised program is earning the title in the Canadian Forces and veteran community as “Canadian Forces Workfare.”

Also gone under this Legion-backed bill is the lifetime monthly “survivor” and “orphan” pensions payable to the widows of soldiers lost in combat. Tragically, after age 65, the widows of Canadian Afghan veterans will have to cope on their own in their years of most need.

All of this had the full support of the Royal Canadian Legion.

By such actions the Royal Canadian Legion has conspired with draconian government legislation and has sold out an entire generation of young veterans.

The Legion’s national executive stubbornly stands by the claim that the New Veterans Bill received widespread consultation among Legion membership. If this is true, how could the Legion membership have allowed this to happen?

Simply put, the majority of today’s Legion membership probably did not know any better as most of them are not veterans themselves. More than 60 per cent of Legion membership has never spent a day in a Canadian military uniform. The Legion membership has a myriad of different categories with the bottom line being anyone can potentially don the Legion uniform.

In all fairness, there were some in the Legion who spoke up about the new legislation. At one point, the leadership of the Legion’s Ontario Command astutely pointed out that “the process for introducing this major and very complex legislation was flawed and that it has been misleading to portray extensive and widespread scrutiny.” Ontario Command calls for “public analysis, debate and sober reflection,” something the National Legion leadership, and coincidentally, the bureaucrats, refuse to do.

Why has the Legion national leadership ignored the province which represents more than one-third of the entire Canadian membership? Such arrogance not only alienates the modern veterans but must surely make longstanding members question their loyalty to an out-of-touch national leadership.

Nevertheless, so as long as it can find a way to exist, the Royal Canadian Legion will continue to provide great value and much charitable service to the local community. And, no doubt, the Legion’s remaining branches will continue to serve as popular watering holes for local revelers.

But when it comes to today’s disabled veteran, the current reality is that the Legion’s composition, as well as its national politics, no longer validates its recognition and status as having a monopoly on promoting the welfare of the growing number of young, disabled Canadian veterans and their families.

Sean Bruyea is a disabled veteran who served 14 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He currently works as an advocate for other disabled veterans. Robert Smol served over 20 years as an officer with the Canadian Forces. He is currently a teacher and freelance journalist based in Toronto.

The Hill Times