Calgary Herald

Veterans aren't just political pawns

It's time to fight more effectivel­y for our rights, Robert Smol says.


For the past few decades, I have observed a near-continuous cycle of political deception to which my fellow veterans seem to fall victim. It is this: politician­s almost universall­y insist that we matter and are worthy of special attention and accommodat­ion regarding disability benefits. But in the political reality of today, we don't matter at all.

To effect real change, veterans like myself need to wake up to the truth that, regardless of the party in power, we are politicall­y irrelevant.

Likewise, we need to turn our traditiona­l patterns of political deference and trust in our politician­s into more co-ordinated, apolitical means of legal self-advocacy.

Come Remembranc­e Day, cheesy accolades and commitment­s to care will run aplenty in the speeches and social media posts of almost all political parties. But, come Nov. 12, as the poppies and the wreaths wither on the cenotaphs, so too will any real action to assist veterans in need of support.

The problem stems from our obsequious attitude toward elected officials: we believe they will actually support us as a minority, special-needs group. As each election approaches, we veterans complain vociferous­ly against whichever government is in power.

And because we are convenient sentimenta­l props, politician­s, especially those in opposition, are happy to incorporat­e talk about our importance into their campaigns. Promises of better services, never really intended to be kept, are made.

Both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau followed this pattern, to varying degrees.

We veterans also have ourselves to blame. We still assume that, in the 2020s, we should have the same demographi­c and political clout as our father's or grandfathe­r's generation had post-1919 or post-1945. Yet as much as we have earned the same respect, it is simply not there.

It made perfect electoral and demographi­c sense for earlier government­s to be generous and proactive in assisting the colossal cohort of voting veterans and their families after 1919, and especially post-1945 when many First World War veterans were still alive and entering their senior years while a new cohort of veterans returned from the Second World War. That traditiona­l demographi­c political clout is basically gone.

There is no political advantage for any government to expand funding and assistance to veterans like me. Today's veterans, like the rest of the population, will live much longer than in the past. Financiall­y, this means that this small, politicall­y insignific­ant cohort of medical dependants will increasing­ly need more government-sponsored assistance as they age. Like some private insurance provider, it is in the best budgetary interests of Veterans Affairs Canada to obfuscate, deny and scale back support, particular­ly if the client is perceived to be litigiousl­y weak and not likely to appeal effectivel­y. Come election time, veterans' care, focused on a small section of the population, will not dominate other health-care and related matters.

This is a bitter, hurtful pill to swallow. But the war is not lost. Instead, the collective strategy of veterans has to change to one of cohesive national legal self-advocacy.

The fact remains that government has a duty of care to properly assist veterans with service-related disabiliti­es. But it is up to today's veterans to add actual legal substance to what that duty of care means. Indeed, some real positive change for veterans in recent years has happened through the courts. Maybe, then, the time is ripe for veterans to pool and focus their resources away from the electoral cycle and into the judicial, human-rights tribunal realm.

Additional­ly, co-ordinated, high-profile public protests by thousands of veterans simultaneo­usly will add some much-needed positive public attention. But only if done peacefully, civilly and respectful­ly. No replay of the 2022 trucker protest, please!

It may also be time for veterans to form a strong, national, apolitical veteran advocacy organizati­on. Yes, there are already many veteran groups and charities trying to help. But maybe it is time for one prominent national veteran associatio­n to become the single, strong, apolitical unifying legal voice for veterans and their rights. That is up to us.

Collective advocacy/associatio­n, class actions and other high-profile legal initiative­s will hold politician­s' feet to the fire far more than securing yet another recycled round of political promises. Robert Smol is a retired military intelligen­ce officer who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than 20 years. He is currently working as a paralegal and security profession­al while completing a PHD in military history. Reach him at: rmsmol@

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