Low­ered ex­pec­ta­tions new norm for Canada’s vet­er­ans

Toronto Sun - - COMMENT - ROBERT SMOL SEAN BRUYEA Bruyea and Smol are both re­tired in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, free­lance jour­nal­ists and fre­quent com­men­ta­tors on mil­i­tary and vet­eran is­sues

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 big­promises 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, word­for-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-onand-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.

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