Former military man has mixed emotions about Special Service Award
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.”
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.