Our veterans deserve better
“Lest we forget.”
Those solemn words will be repeated Nov. 11 during Remembrance Day ceremonies across Canada to remind us not to forget the courageous actions of our men and women who’ve marched into combat for the past almost 100 years.
From the First World War up to the Afghanistan conflict, millions of Canadians engaged in battles for the sake of freedom, some giving the ultimate sacrifice — their lives.
Others have returned home to a heroes’ welcome with their limbs blown apart by bombs or head wounds from bullets ripping through their skulls.
And yet others return with mental wounds inflicted by the horrors of war and turn to substance abuse to heal their pain.
On Nov. 11, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will no doubt deliver a heart-wrenching talk suggesting there’s no way we can put a value on the courageous efforts of our troops.
But lest Harper forgets, his government has put a value on these courageous efforts — a lump sum payment compliments of the 2006 Veterans Charter. It replaced the Veteran’s Act of 1939 which afforded wounded veterans a monthly pension for the rest of their lives. Now, under the revised legislation, the government can wash its hands of maintaining life-long disability payments which it deemed too costly.
But a battle on behalf of the veterans has just begun. The Veterans Charter is now being challenged in a class-action lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court, claiming it discriminates against veterans wounded since 2006 and offers significantly less compensation over their lifetimes.
“We had no inkling,” said Edmonton-area soldier Maj. Mark Campbell, one of six plaintiffs in the suit. “It’s taken years to come to where I understand in great detail exactly what has been done to our new generation of combat veterans, and it is horrific, it’s disgusting.”
Campbell’s legs where blown off in 2008, his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, during an ambush by Taliban fighters. Today, while getting around in a wheelchair and carrying a large box of medications to ease pain and psychological problems, his future is uncertain without a guaranteed, life-long pension.
Campbell says he feels abandoned by a government that has forgotten its troops and is now more concerned with budget cuts. “It’s an abject betrayal for a friggin’ buck. I paid my dues,” he said.
One of the motives behind the Veterans Charter was that under the old system, even a $1,000 a month pension for an expected lifetime of a young soldier could cost the treasury $4.5 million. “We were spending a lot of money (prior to 2006),” said Raymond Lalonde, an official with Veterans Affairs Canada.
Today, the most a wounded veteran can expect is a lump sum payment of around $280,000. “My instinct tells me the last thing you want to do when a young soldier comes back from overseas, perhaps with an operational stress injury, or with a dependency on alcohol or drugs, is give him $250,000 to self-medicate,” said Veterans Ombudsman retired Col. Pat Stogran in a recent interview.
Our veterans deserve more — a whole lot more — a payment system in which the government sustains a life-long relationship with the soldiers.
The lawsuit contends the government has broken a promise to look after soldiers it sends into battle, and that the legal doctrine “The Honour of the Crown” requires it to fulfill its promises despite any laws it passes to the contrary.
“This case will provide a mechanism for us, as citizens of Canada, to do the right thing for these soldiers . . . to be as loyal to them as they are loyal to us,” said lawyer Don Sorochan, whose firm has taken on the case without pay.
It’s our duty as Canadians to salute our troops marching into battle on our behalf. And it’s our government’s unquestionable duty not to forget them.