Conservatives like to raise the flag for our troops when they are at war and they behave as though they are the only patriotic Canadians, yet when these troops come home suffering, they do not receive that same support. The reality for soldiers once they are back home has been that the pay is poor, the housing leaves much to be desired and pensions and care for the sick is appalling.
When our current government in Ottawa says ‘we support our troops’, what do they really mean? Until very recently, the Conservatives’ support has mostly been a nod to the creditable deeds and character of Canadian men and women fighting in Afghanistan who have given their lives in service to this country.
Thankfully, the reality of war in today’s world is something relatively few Canadians will ever come to know. But for those military men and women who have been to the battlefields, done their tours of duty and returned home, life may never be the same.
Yet, those who return to Canada without the dubious honour of being carried in somber military escort along the Highway of Heroes, in other words, those who have returned alive, arrive to face yet another kind of conflict.
Veterans of whom we all profess to be proud are not being treated with the gratitude they deserve. There are those who have been wounded and permanently disabled. By one study, some 15 per cent of the soldiers who have returned from Afghanistan, the Gulf War and Iraq – for Canadian soldiers were there too – return with symptoms of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. And, when soldiers are affected so are their families, especially the children.
But despite the vigour with which the federal Conservative government has maintained its support for the military action in Afghanistan and Canada’s part in it, no such vigour has met returning soldiers needing the help and support of the government.
The fate of returning soldiers and other military who are struggling at home was highlighted this summer by Veterans Affairs Ombudsman, retired Col. Pat Stogran who leaves (is being pushed out?) the post on Remembrance Day, Nov. 11.
Stogran has railed against the sloppy bureaucracy that is nickel and diming the veterans who seek the support that is due them. He recalled one injured veteran who was owed $55,000 in compensation which was not released until after his death. Then the Department of Veterans Affairs went into his daughter’s account and took the money back.
The bureaucratic red tape that veterans must navigate in order to receive compensation for injuries in the line of duty have been a problem even before the Conservatives formed the government. But the Conservatives certainly have not taken up the cause the way they have with more shallow matters like the recent long gun registry debate or changing the parameters of Statistics Canada’s long-form census.
Since Stogran’s passionate presentation, two new funding announcements have come from Defence Minister Peter McKay. We have to question whether McKay would have otherwise been moved this week to come up with $52.5 million over then next five years for the families of injured soldiers and an earlier $200 million in payouts to injured veterans.
‘Support our troops’ has to be more than just a bumper sticker, especially when the government can find billions for fighter jets. Otherwise, as Stogran predicted, “Afghanistan will become our Vietnam in more ways than one.”