By Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol, Special to Postmedia Network
All week long, Canadians have been putting a loonie or two in the poppy donation box, reflecting a growing awareness that veterans, at the very least, need to be honoured, even if by small deeds such as pinning on a poppy.
Sadly, government seems bound by the same small-change-supporting big-promises philosophy. This thinly veiled hypocrisy will fuel veteran disaffection in the coming years.
We hear ad nauseam “debt of gratitude,” “eternal debt,” and “debts owed,” but the willingness to actually incur a debt to tangibly repay our modern veterans has been a bureaucratic and political hot potato for decades.
Tens of thousands of Canadians who lost limbs and severed souls after serving in the Persian Gulf War, Rwanda, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia and dozens of other so-called peacekeeping missions, suffered similarly or greater than many Second World War veterans.
While previous “war” veterans came home to universal re-establishment programs, no parades or universal programs awaited our Canadian Forces veterans. It wasn’t until the outcry and need became so acute, that in 2005 government acted by attempting to diminish its obligation to care for veterans.
So, with younger veterans asking for more help, they received less. Claiming it was acting on the vague recommendations of a government advisory group, Ottawa surreptitiously replaced lifetime pensions for pain and suffering with one-time lump sums paying a fraction of lifetime pensions. Accompanying the lump sum, government duplicated, in some cases, word-for-word, a military insurance policy for injured soldiers, claiming the program was completely new.
It was the lump sum for pain and suffering that became the flashpoint for seething veteran alienation and suffering. It sparked an attempted class-action lawsuit and the first nationwide protests since the First World War. But, it also led to the 2015 election being the first in more than seven decades that all parties had a veterans’ platform.
Apart from saving money in the long term, what might have been motivating government to diminish its duty of care to veterans? Behind the mask of cheesy accolades is the belief that a universal, ongoing commitment to care for veterans for life will encourage a culture of dependency. In its 2014 legal response to a veteran class action lawsuit, the government claimed that, in enacting the New Veterans Charter, they “made a deliberate policy choice to move from an approach which encouraged dependence and focused upon illness to a regime which was intended to foster independence and wellness.”
That’s a highly academic legal way of saying disabled veterans are at risk of becoming “welfare bums” and need to learn how to put in a hard day’s work and learn to earn a living on their own.
FYI to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: veterans know the meaning of hard work!
Sadly, the Liberal promise to “reinstate lifetime pensions” is a whitewash. Government is merely converting the lump sum into an annuity that pays out as long as the veteran lives but leaves nothing for surviving family members once the equivalent of the lump sum is collected.
The previous pension paid out during the life of the veteran and the full life of survivors. To offset any extra costs for the younger veterans living long lives under the new Liberal program, Ottawa quietly cancelled that benefit for most seriously disabled veterans.
Veterans know when they are not receiving the right help in the right way. No amount of government rhetoric can twist that reality. It is a tragic pattern — veterans overcome their deeply ingrained reluctance to criticize the democratic institutions for which they were willing to die. Government then implements changes through secretive deceptions and bureaucratic gimmicks, changes that pay less than the program veterans were complaining about.
“Thank you for your service” should never be reduced to a demeaning move-on-and-suck-it-up approach.
As Canadians, we may not glorify war like other nations, but we certainly have to stop allowing our government to humiliate those willing to die for our right to let others wear a uniform in our defence.
Sean Bruyea and Robert Smol are both retired intelligence officers, freelance journalists and frequent commentators on military and veteran issues.