On the march again for fair treatment

By Sean Bruyea- THE OTTAWA CITIZEN-November 06, 2010, p. B.7

Serving and retired soldiers know all too well what a wonderful country we have. We know this more than most because we promised to die unquestioningly for Canada and Canadians.

Those of us Canadian Forces veterans who survived the missions to the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Afghanistan, and so many more forgotten deployments, returned having sacrificed our bodies, souls and minds. But we did this proudly and with the reassurance that, while we took care of the world and protected Canada, Canada promised to protect and take care of us. Sadly, the government has failed to do this for far too many. And it is all about money.

We understand that there is a limited pot of money to hand out. So we remained silent as the country prospered, building itself into a beautiful, productive and much-admired nation, mortgaged on our sacrifices and the promises to care for us.

But we are starting to ask questions. For instance, why is it that Australia with half the veteran population of Canada, actively cares for twice the number of veterans and families, and spends three times as much as Canada in caring for its injured soldiers and their families?

We do not want to get rich on our disabilities and we certainly did not want to be disabled. More painfully, we did not want to see our families torn apart, unable to deal with our psychological and physical wounds. But we cannot understand why the same Canadian government which ordered us to sacrifice ourselves refuses to make payments on the debt owed to us.

We have been silent, hoping Canadians would care for and protect us as we cared for and protected Canadians in uniform. Unfortunately, the federal government decision makers earning over $250,000 per year and collecting annual “risk bonuses,” have used our shame and silence against us. They incorrectly tell Canadians that we are all cared for, that we don’t deserve any more and therefore Canada can save money by restricting spending on our disabled veterans.

Prior to April 2006, injured soldiers could rightly and fairly access a lifelong monthly compensation for their injuries and suffering. Why is it that Canada replaced that lifelong dignity with the indignity of a one-time lump sum of up to $276,000? The United Kingdom provides a similar lump sum of up to $920,000 plus tax-free monthly compensation. Is the life of suffering and career-ending sacrifice of a Canadian Forces soldier worth only one year’s salary of a senior civil servant?

Veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War, whether disabled or not, were given access to university, college and apprenticeship education, re-establishment grants and low interest loans to start a business, study or equip a farm, as well as land grants and farm grants. If they were injured, they were also provided a lifelong monthly compensation for their pain and suffering. Canadian Forces veterans were never given access to these same programs and only the disabled veterans are given any access to limited college education. The so-called New Veterans Charter doesn’t provide university education, even though its cornerstone public service priority hiring has targeted a host of positions in the federal government — almost all of which require university education.

Of course this was about saving money as the architect of the new veterans charter bragged to Parliament in 2005 calling this savings Canada’s “wellness dividend.”

Veterans and their families watch as Canada goes into debt for a myriad of reasons, all of which seem to exclude justly compensating military sacrifice. We know that caring for injured soldiers can be expensive if done properly and justly.

Canada budgets extra costs for parts and repairs of its military equipment anticipating loss and failure. No such moneys were or are set aside to care for and compensate the injuries of each military person sent into harm’s way. Of course, if the cost of caring for our wounded and the surviving families is too much, Canadians have the right to decide that. But this would apply to future missions and wars. Now, there are 680,000 Canadian Forces veterans who have already fulfilled their side of the contract, many have suffered what the government calls the obligation of our soldiers for “unlimited liability” up to and including loss of life. Why is it then that the Canadian government has a very limited liability caring for our injured soldiers and their families?

This is why at 11 a.m. today, Canadian veterans will be joined by their families and all those Canadians who believe our sacrifices worthy in a day of dignified protest. We will peacefully march across this great nation, maybe only in small numbers in the smallest of towns and even on Parliament Hill, but each of us holding our heads high for the more than 680,000 serving and retired Canadian Forces members as well as the remaining 160,000 veterans of the Second World War and the Korean War who have given so much so you may live in peace. Please defend us for we cannot defend you anymore.

Sean Bruyea is a retired Canadian Forces intelligence officer and advocate for the rights of veterans and improved government.

Credit: Sean Bruyea; Citizen Special