For­mer mil­i­tary man has mixed emo­tions about Spe­cial Ser­vice Award

The Compass - - NEWS - BY DENISE PIKE

When the Spe­cial Ser­vice Medal was pinned to the chest of Kirk Vaters ear­lier this year, he ex­pe­ri­enced a whole range of emo­tions.

“On one hand it rec­og­nized the sac­ri­fice I made while serv­ing in the mil­i­tary to de­fend and serve my coun­try and I felt good about that,” says Vaters. “But on the other hand, it just re­minded me of how un­fair I’ve been treated by the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence. Here they were award­ing me for my com­mit­ment to the mil­i­tary with a pin, but not com­pen­sat­ing me for in­juries I sus­tained when I was in the Navy 20 years ago.”

The Spe­cial Ser­vice Medal (SSM), is­sued by the Queen and pre­sented to Vaters by Se­na­tor Fabian Man­ning, is awarded to Cana­dian Forces mem­bers who have per­formed a ser­vice de­ter­mined to be un­der ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, in a clearly de­fined lo­cal­ity for a spe­cific du­ra­tion. Dis­tinc­tive bars worn on the rib­bon in­di­cate the ser­vice rec­og­nized by the medal.

Lead­ing Seaman Vaters served a to­tal of 216 days with the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( NATO) on­board the HMCSAn­napo­lis, Iro­quois, Mar­ga­ree and Sague­nay.

He joined the Navy in 1982 when he was 19.

“It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I knew when I was young I wanted to join the forces. I wanted to make a ca­reer out of it. In fact some of the of­fi­cers used to re­fer to me as the 25-year man - mean­ing I was go­ing to be there for that long. I had high hopes that I was go­ing to work my way up through the ranks.”

Vaters was in­jured in 1988 while aboard the HMCS An­napo­lis on the Nor­we­gian Sea.

“I was check­ing out a piece of equip­ment, (fire con­trol an­tenna), as or­dered by an of­fi­cer, when it broke,” said Vaters.“I fell any­where from five to 10 feet and landed on my right shoul­der knock­ing it out of socket.”

Ac­cord­ing to Vaters the med­i­cal as­sis­tant on­board the ves­sel shot him full of De­merol and set his shoul­der back in place. He was then sent back to work.

“My shoul­der was com­pletely black and I was in a lot of pain,” he said.

He says the de­nial and point­ing of fin­gers by the Depart­ment of De­fence started al­most im­me­di­ately.

“They didn’t want to ad­mit the equip­ment mal­func­tioned and that’s what caused the ac­ci­dent,” he said. “They tried to put the blame on me.”

In the mean­time Vaters says he tried to carry out his du­ties on the ship. About three weeks later, while in port in Scot­land, he walked to the hospi­tal and had his shoul­der x-rayed. By then he had lost 22 pounds.

“I was in so much pain I couldn’t eat and was di­ag­nosed as be­ing anorexic,” he said.

Sev­eral other health is­sues, stem­ming from the ac­ci­dent, fol­lowed and Vaters was even­tu­ally hos­pi­tal­ized. While there he was told he was be­ing hon­ourably dis­charged from the forces.

“I was dis­charged with a 5-F rat­ing,” said Vaters. “Ba­si­cally I was an ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den. And with less than 10 years of ser­vice I was dis­qual­i­fied from re­ceiv­ing any ser­vice pack­age. I was out with noth­ing.”

Vaters says the of­fi­cer who broke the news to him put it this way.

“You’re gone. Since you are from New­found­land I guess you’ll be go­ing back at the fish.”

Vaters re­turned home to Vic­to­ria and for the past 20 years has been try­ing to ob­tain com­pen­sa­tion for his ac­ci­dent.

“That in­jury changed my life com­pletely,” he said. “I’ve made hun­dreds of phone calls and writ­ten many let­ters to the Depart­ment of De­fence ar­gu­ing my case which is pretty cut and dry - I was in­jured, while on duty, be­cause of a mal­func­tion on a piece of equip­ment.”

Vaters has con­tacted many MHAs and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments over the years, in­clud­ing for­mer MHA Art Reid and MP Fred Mif­flin.

“Both of them stood in my house and said they were go­ing to straighten it out for me, but noth­ing was done.”

Vaters says the in­for­ma­tion and ar­gu­ment pro­vided by the Depart­ment of De­fence keeps chang­ing.

“In one let­ter they said I had too much ini­tia­tive in my duty and in an­other they say I didn’t have enough,” he said. “The bot­tom line is I was in­jured while do­ing my job and I need and should be com­pen­sated for that.”

Vaters and his lawyer are cur­rently await­ing a date to ap­peal his case, once again, to the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence.

Plac­ing his Spe­cial Ser­vice Medal back in its case he adds; “I’m not sure how it will all work out, this has been go­ing on 20 years and I’d like to get it put be­hind me, but who knows? This is the mil­i­tary we are talk­ing and they can do what they want, when­ever they want and can treat peo­ple how­ever they want. That’s the part of the mil­i­tary the me­dia doesn’t want to re­port on or talk about.”

Photo cour­tesy of Dan Clarke

SPE­CIAL AWARD - Se­na­tor Fabian Man­ning, right and Vic­to­ria Mayor Arthur Burke, present Kirk Vaters of Vic­to­ria with the Spe­cial Ser­vice Award. The Spe­cial Ser­vice Medal (SSM), is­sued by the Queen, is given to Cana­dian Forces per­son­nel who have per­formed a ser­vice de­ter­mined to be un­der ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances, in a clearly de­fined lo­cal­ity for a spe­cific du­ra­tion.

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