Is it too late for Harper to mend fences with veterans?

To late? After all the headlines without substance, after sticking Minister Exclusion and Denial, “Wheres Julian” Fanitino on us… Of course, if Harper would embrace his Sacred Obligation, restore the equality to the Pension Act, put a minister in charge that actually cares about veterans, not appeasing his lord and master by slashing the budget to the bone and NOT spending allocated money, there might be a chance.

And where could that money have been spent? Why id the ROB thousands of veterans who were on Earnings Loss benefit program from 2006 to 2012 by not according them full retro activity and returning the money’s they unlawfully clawed back from them when the Veterans Affairs award, disgustingly, was considered income replacement. These men and women, seriously wounded, living with the consequences of their service every day, have been abandoned in the harshest sense, the government recognizes, SISIP through the courts, full retro activity for us, denial for t ELB.

This is not fair, it presents yet another lower standard . There is no equality to the compensation that I and tens of thousands of veterans were accorded through the SISIP award, (Thank you Dennis Manuge!!!!!)

So many have suffered, as Tashia notes, those families of suicide can only ask if things would have been different had harper been there for them…. instead of turning his back on us cept for photo op time.

Personally, I think they have given us no reason to trust them anymore. Even Uncle Walt, who participated in Minister Fanitino’s damage control photo op with his chosen group of policy friendly stakeholders is now suspect, How can we not ask ourselves , was he brought in to help those who served and were wounded under his command when he was CDS, or is his role to be Harper’s damage control poster boy, a champion for a government that would equate their national sacrifice on the battlefields to a civilian ward through negligence at an Ontario work site. No wonder they are goving money back, deny, deny deny…. abandon, abandon, abandon

Stand with us as we fight for equality. perhaps we shall raise enough pressure to force Mr harper to defend his voting base, maybe then he will consider embracing, not abandoning, his sacred obligation to those he sends to war. We seek only equality. Stand with us in the new year when we rally on Parliament Hill on Budget day to inform the Canadian public as to how we have been neglected and deliver the message, if the conservatives will do this to the wounded, what chance to you have should become, through disability, another target of slash and burn conservatism.

The time has come to fight for our services. To convince the wayward organizations that do not believe in equality to Pension Act provisions, to do what we can on all levels to attain success.

Write the Prime Minister, Write Fantino, write the Dominion command and the president of the umbrella organizations that support inequality; ANAVETS, National Council of Veterans, CAVUNP and the other UN group, NATO Veterans, if we can convince them to fulfill THEIR SACRED OBLIGATION to the wounded, we will prevail, at this time, they are the Governments trump card. Talk to your friends , share it with your email list, convince them tooo to embrace and assist us in our quest.

Be advised, Fantino will use their position against the wounded to defend the government’s position against the indefensible. He/they have already done so and will continue to do so. We must deal in reality, if we are to prevail, we must convince the wayward organizations to stand with the wounded in their quest for equality, not against.

Is it too late for Harper to mend fences with veterans?

By Tasha Kheiriddin | Nov 20, 2014 8:59 pm | 14 comments |

In September, the Department of National Defense published some shocking statistics. Between 2002 and 2014, 138 soldiers were killed in combat in Afghanistan. During the same period, 160 military personnel committed suicide.

The fact that more servicemen and women were dying of suicide than enemy action prompted outrage across the country, and umbrage on Parliament Hill. Defence Minister Rob Nicholson defended the government’s record, saying that it had increased the military’s mental health budget by $11 million to $50 million a year. Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino exhorted “… everyone … who think(s) someone may be suffering from mental health conditions to seek the professional assistance they need right away.”

Fast forward to November 20 … and some more shocking numbers. During the period 2006-2013, $1.1 billion that had been budgeted for Veterans Affairs was returned by the department to the federal treasury. A third of the money was sent back between 2011-2013, a period when the government was actively reducing the national deficit. That exercise was a success, leaving a healthy surplus which has now been allocated to income-splitting, among other things.

Cue the outrage, part two. Some of the families of vets who committed suicide may well be asking themselves — what if? What if some of that money had been spent on their loved ones? What if more programs to help combat the ravages of PTSD or other injuries had been available?

Other veterans will probably also have their own what-ifs — not on questions of life and death, but of dignity and respect. In January 2014, the government announced the closure of nine Veterans Affairs offices, replacing them with 650 “points of service” at Service Canada centres. Veterans complained that the face-to-face, specialized offices served them far better than the general Service Canada offices, accessible by a 1-800 number, and protests erupted across the country.

Adding insult to injury, Fantino showed up over an hour late to a meeting with veterans opposed to the closures — and proceeded to get into a verbal brawl with some of them.
The notion of a veterans group engaged in an outright political assault on a Tory government would have been unthinkable just a few years ago — but the accumulated weight of the cuts and the cockups has enraged a constituency that once was Conservative bedrock.

Then there was the Day of Honour for Afghanistan veterans on May 9 in Ottawa. It was a great idea — paying tribute to those who served in Canada’s mission there — undermined once again by God-awful government messaging. In the lead-up to the event, the government sent the families of fallen soldiers an invitation that included this callous line: “Should your schedule allow it, your attendance would be at your own expense.”

So what should have been a tribute to our soldiers’ achievements and courage turned into a sordid dustup over who should pay for plane tickets. The Tories claimed the letter had been sent “in error” and announced the costs would be covered, in part by sponsors such as the True Patriot Love Foundation and Air Canada.

Finally, while this past Remembrance Day was particularly notable for its solemnity, it also saw an escalation of hostilities between many veterans and the Harper government. The Canada Coalition for Veterans plans to actively campaign against the Conservatives in the next election and threatens to protest ribbon-cuttings, ceremonies and the like.

What’s remarkable about all this is how quickly the relationship between veterans and the federal government degenerated. The notion of a veterans group engaged in an outright political assault on a Tory government would have been unthinkable just a few years ago — but the accumulated weight of the cuts and the cockups has enraged a constituency that once was Conservative bedrock.

To be fair, the Tories have been on a deficit-cutting bent since 2011 for several reasons — not all of them political. There’s an expectation that governments balance the books, and they promised to do so by 2015. The government could not bring in other promised measures, such as income-splitting, until the deficit was gone. And nobody wants to run an election campaign with the balance still in the red. They racked up the deficit in the wake of the financial crisis; failing to balance the books would be a failure of economic stewardship, and would damage the image of sound fiscal management.

Now, however, that same frugality is damaging their image among a key constituency. It’s irony of a sort: In pleasing one part of their base with the Family Tax Cut, the Tories have managed to alienate another by pinching pennies in Veterans’ Affairs.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t work if Peter gets wind of it — or if lives are literally on the line.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. In her student days, Tasha was active in youth politics in her hometown of Montreal, eventually serving as national policy director and then president of the Progressive Conservative Youth Federation of Canada. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University. Tasha now lives in Whitby, Ontario with her daughter Zara, born in 2009.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

http://www.ipolitics.ca/2014/11/20/is-it-too-late-for-harper-to-mend-fences-with-veterans/

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Sean Bruyea – Fantino – policy friendly stakeholders photo op

Dear Fellow Veterans and Loving Families
Another troubling photo op appended below from Minister Fantino’s Facebook page raises profound questions. It may be helpful to seek out input as to what is the name and organization of each present.
Please ponder the following:
1) A supposedly independent ombudsman who appears in clearly politically orchestrated photo ops
2) A purported soldier’s general currently appointed as DM doing the same
3) Organizations who refuse to declare their membership numbers claiming to represent you and the rest of the disabled veterans. Not one of the organizations present has publicly disclosed or validated their current CF veteran members, the ones affected by the New Veterans Charter. Dramatically revamping the NVC is the agreed upon priority of most of those present. Were comprehensive repairs to the NVC the main agenda item which at least one participant admitted was not provided to them on the afternoon before the meeting.
Some organizations present reportedly have memberships as low as less than a dozen members. The best case scenario is that all memberships combined of those organizations being represented amount to less than 7% of the serving and retired Canadian Forces population. These few individuals are deciding on behalf of nearly 700,000 serving and retired CF members and their more than 1 million family members. What gives them the right to determine your destiny?
4) One or no family members present for a department mandated to care for veterans and their families (dependants)
5) Organizations whose membership is principally or completely WWII or Korean war veterans speaking on issues related to the New Veterans Charter…the NVC does not apply to them in any manner whatsoever
6) The integrity of all the individuals present who would appear in an unabashed political photo op when it is widely known that photo ops are used by the political class to give an impression of widespread support to avoid fixing longstanding problems
7)A number if not most veterans present have self-declared as not only being unaffected by the New Veterans Charter but many admit not being clients of Veterans Affairs disability or treatment programs. Yet, they are making decisions which impact the lives of those veterans and families not present: injured veterans and their families affected by the New Veterans Charter
8) In Feb 2012, veterans present at the Veterans stakeholder meeting voted in favour to not participate in photo ops. Why the change now? What benefit does it serve veterans to bring about change?  This appears to benefit individual and political agendas only, not those most in need.
Yet, these individuals in the photo appear quite happy to be complicit in shutting out those very disabled veterans who are affected by the NVC and who know intimately what are the problems at Veterans Affairs Canada. Therefore they are the best place to start when looking for the fixes.
One must ask what personal or organizational expertise do the individuals in the photo bring to the table in intimately understanding how these programs function let alone what it means to be disabled.
Once the individuals are identified, please give the widest distribution of this photo. This photo captures one of the principal reasons why 9 years after the creation of the “living charter”, not one substantive legislative change has been made to the New Veterans Charter.
Far too many individuals claiming to represent disabled veterans and their families are complicit with government to present a good political face on a tragically negligent lack of action by government.
Posted in News | Leave a comment

Over $1.1 billion in unspent funds at Veterans Affairs since 2006: documents

Over $1.1 billion in unspent funds at Veterans Affairs since 2006: documents

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/over-1-1-billion-unspent-funds-veterans-affairs-230110146.html

OTTAWA – Veterans Affairs Canada has returned $1.13 billion to the federal treasury in unspent funds since the Conservatives came to power in 2006 — cash that critics say should have gone towards improved benefits and services.

The figure, which surfaced this week in the House of Commons, has led to renewed criticism of the Harper government, which is already smarting over its frayed relations with disgruntled former soldiers.

Data tabled in the House in response to a written question shows roughly one-third of the so-called lapsed funds were handed back between the 2011 and 2013 budget years when the government was engaged in a massive deficit-cutting drive.

The Conservatives often trumpet how much the budget for veterans care has gone up under their watch — right now it’s about $3.4 billion a year, up from $2.8 billion when the Tories took office.

What they don’t say is that anywhere between 4.7 per cent and 8.2 per cent of the total allocation has been allowed to lapse because of the department’s inability or reluctance to spend it all, said NDP veterans critic Peter Stoffer.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino met Wednesday in Quebec City with select organizations representing ex-soldiers, but some of the loudest critics of the department’s spending on benefits and services were not invited.

On Tuesday, Stoffer put a pointed question about the lapsed funds to Fantino, who answered by tallying up the government’s total spending on the veteran’s department — roughly $30 billion since 2006.

“It means improved rehabilitation for Canadian veterans,” Fantino said. “It means more counselling for veterans’ families. It means more money for veterans’ higher education and retraining. It means we care deeply about our veterans.”

But that didn’t answer the question of why so much of the budget has been allowed to lapse, said Stoffer, noting that the overall budget of the department is something the government is committed to under the law.

The use of lapsed funding to reduce the federal deficit is an exercise that’s being practised across all departments, he added.

“The deputy ministers … have obviously been told by the higher-ups that, ‘This money has to come back to us in order for us to have our books balanced, and that way we can use that money for other purposes, like income-splitting.'”

Over the last two fiscal years, all federal departments allowed more than $18 billion in budgeted funding to lapse, according public accounts figures released at the end of October.

Frank Valeriote, the Liberal veterans critic, said ex-soldiers who’ve been denied benefits will look at the unspent funds and feel “hoodwinked, completely abandoned” and wonder why they’ve made sacrifices for their country.

“It is reprehensible and unconscionable what they’re doing so that the government can create an image of fiscal responsibility,” he said.

The Quebec City meeting came on Wednesday at a time when multiple Conservative sources say there is concern that the party’s reliable support in the veterans community is bleeding away because of the loud and prolonged battle.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, say there is growing frustration within the party over Fantino’s apparent inability to forge positive relationships with veterans, unlike his predecessor, Steven Blaney.

Beyond veterans, long considered a natural constituency for Conservatives, there are signs the Tories are in trouble with ordinary Canadians on the issue. A newly released internal poll on public perceptions of the Canadian Forces suggests the treatment of veterans was registering strongly with respondents.

“Problems that veterans face (42 per cent) and soldiers returning home (29 per cent) were top of mind for many Canadians when asked what they recalled about the (Canadian Armed Forces),” said the Phoneix Strategies Perspectives survey, conducted last May, but released by National Defence online this week.

The survey of 2,025 people found more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of those asked recalled recently seeing, reading, or hearing about issues faced by returning soldiers or their families.

That’s a significant increase over 48 per cent of respondents to a similar poll conducted in 2012.

Follow @Murray_Brewster on Twitter

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Injured Ottawa military personnel to wait longer for help

Injured Ottawa military personnel to wait longer for help

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: November 5, 2014Last Updated: November 6, 2014 5:47 PM EST

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/injured-ottawa-military-personnel-to-wait-longer-for-help

Injured soldiers in Ottawa will have to wait longer for help because the centre providing them assistance has lost a number of key members, according to a Canadian military document obtained by the Citizen.

Soldiers with more urgent cases, including those dealing with post-traumatic stress illnesses, are being told to call 9-1-1 or visit the Montfort Hospital.

The message was issued last week and sent to the Citizen by soldiers concerned that injured military personnel aren’t being provided with the proper treatment.

In his message, Navy Lt. Adam Winchester, platoon commander for Integrated Personnel Support Centre Ottawa, said that there would be changes because of the loss of two of the four section commanders who assist more than 225 injured military personnel.

“Two of our Section Commanders have recently left the IPSC to pursue other opportunities,” he wrote. “To that end, members assigned to these individuals will be re-assigned to our two remaining Section Commanders until we find suitable replacements.”

“As you can imagine, tempo at IPSC(O) has rapidly increased,” Winchester added.

He noted that IPSC Ottawa is one of the busiest such centres in Canada.

The military created the Integrated Personnel Support Centres across the country to offer programs to support and enable mentally and physically injured troops to resume their military careers or, more likely, to be “transitioned out” into the civilian world with sellable skills and jobs to go to.

Staff shortages at such centres have been an ongoing problem, despite the assurances from the military that the system is working fine.

Winchester outlined in his email how the Ottawa centre will operate. He stated that walk-in patients “will be seen eventually, but may not take priority. If you have an emergency or are in distress, please contact 9-1-1 or visit the Montfort Hospital.”

For non-urgent requests, injured military personnel can expect a three- to four-week wait.

“For urgent matters (which is ultimately determined at the Regional Level who handle over 500 members), your requests could take up to two weeks,” Winchester stated.

The Department of National Defence noted in an email to the Citizen that one of the two vacant positions is expected to be filled by a contract worker starting in early December.

The other vacancy will be staffed by a reservist, DND added. “There has been no impact on services to personnel,” according to the DND email.

Soldiers and former soldiers told the Citizen last year that too many IPSC staffers were overloaded, badly trained, ill-suited to the work and often unsympathetic toward the troops they are paid to help.

Injured soldiers posted into such centres complained of being left to their own devices and unsupervised for long periods.

In November 2013, then-Canadian Forces ombudsman Pierre Daigle warned in a report that there were problems at the military’s Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU), the umbrella group overseeing the centres. The ombudsman noted that there were “acute” staff shortages, leaving those tasked with helping the most damaged Afghan war veterans overworked, often inadequately trained, and in danger of burnout.

The ombudsman recommended increased staffing, better training for all staff, “resilience” training for staff and preparing for “emerging trends” – such as an expected increase in mentally injured soldiers needing help.

“It is essential to staff the JPSU with the appropriate number of personnel, to ensure that these personnel possess the necessary experience and competencies and to support them with suitable training,” Daigle said at the time.

dpugliese@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/davidpugliese

CVA would like to hear your story if you are at this JPSU. Please send your info to:info@canadianveteransadvocacy.com

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Veterans Advocate Dale Dirks, MMM, CD, rebuts Ron Cannan MP.

Letter to the Editor….

Re Assistance for Veterans and CF personnel. – Ron Cannan MP

I would like to address the information  imparted by MP Ron Cannan in regards to the assistance afforded by VAC located here in Kelowna.  Ron is absolutely correct in saying VAC has one service agent located downtown Kelowna in the government building.  The Local Legion also has one staff member provided by the Legion to assist Veterans who need help.  Remember Kelowna did  have 10 personnel in their VAC office before closing  which included five actual trained agents, a medical person on call and cleaners.  Remember this office had over 2200 case files all of which had to be transferred to the closest VAC office in Penticton.  These files belonged to DISABLED VETERANS  now requiring them to contact Penticton office for help when they should have been able to do so in their own community, a community large enough to have a VAC office.  Ron is  now asking DISABLED VETERANS TO TRAVEL TO PENTICTON ESPECIALLY IN WINTER ROAD CONDITIONS  to seek help and thinks this is OK.  After all it was the VETERAN WHO FOUGHT FOR DEMOCRACY ALLOWING THIS GOVERNMENT TO CLOSE THIS VAC OFFICE.  It was not Ron in uniform.  Ron can now say if any Veterans is having problems call his office.  Very admirable, he is the MP, although conservative, is to handle all Veterans problems regardless of political posture and i am only dealing with  veterans issues here.
We Veterans are a proud bunch.  Just look at the largest crowd ever in Ottawa backing Veterans and thank you Ottawa and Canada.  We served so  you have the right to express yourselves and we thank you dearly.  I can speak for myself, i don’t want to go down town to the government office and seek the service agent and ask for help.  I am proud.  I want to go to a place set aside for me and my fellow veterans to discuss my problems  in confidence knowing others around me understand me and i feel comfortable.
Ron speaks of the enormous amount of funding set aside for Veterans yet as sent to me by a Veteran advocate millions of dollars were not spent in some VAC budgets which could have been used  to help veterans, our veterans in Kelowna.
This government and Ron is an MP used millions of dollars fighting a challenge by Cpl Dennis Manuge in the SISSIP CASE where this government said they did not have an obligation to provide assistance under this program, lost and now Veterans are receiving payments which was their right in the first place.  Over 600 million dollars now being paid to some disabled veterans in back pay and i have no idea as to how much as this payment continues.  Another case is before the courts called Equitas similar to SISSIP where soldiers are taking government to court over a sacred obligation to take care of them costing millions of dollars of your money.  Government lawyers in this case and the words of the Minister of Veterans Affairs  THE HONOURABLE  JULIAN FANTINO, stated veterans are not any better than any other citizen of Canada(Equitas) and the Minister stated Veterans are no better than police, fire fighter, and EMS.  Ron on one hand says he backs veterans and how special we are and then on the other hand sides with his government which says we are not special.  PM Harper and remember Ron is an MP under Harper, did not attend one ceremony where our dead military personnel came home in coffins all 158 of them, did not attend one funeral of the fallen until the Cpl was murdered on Parliament Hill.  Why the Hell Not i must ask.
Yes government has instituted many new programs for veterans especially those who suffer with PTSD(last count around 1400 and climbing).  Accessing help is the problem.  I have to wait up to six months to see a specialist for my stomach and this has nothing to do with being a veteran but think how long it might take a veteran who suffers with PTSD to first of all seek help with our one service agent and then seek medical aide and then find a specialist who will then book the veteran an appointment.  We have more Veterans who have committed suicide then we had killed in action in our last war and now we have entered another.  Don’t forget Government and Ron is part of the Government tells you of all the many programs they have to help veterans but not once have they released actual numbers as to how many veterans are actually partaking of the programs.
Cheers
Dale Dirks Veteran   MMM, CD
—————————————————————–
Mike Blais
Write me a letter to the editor, I will publish it on our blog, I am the editor. Every voice counts and you will be published on our social network. michael.blais@canadianveteransadvocacy.com
Posted in News | Leave a comment

Are you a member of the Royal Canadian legion?

Are you a member of the Royal Canadian legion? Do you believe that the standard of respect we have accorded our World War 2, Korean and pre NVC should be accorded to the veterans of Afghanistan? Of Former Yugo? To all generations that will now be treated to the substandard level of respect of the NVC.

I have been critical of the legions position on the LUMP SUM AWARD Sacred Obligation standards, we seek equality to the Pension Act, we do not believe that there is any civilian comparison and have challenged the legion on their position as we feel the government will take the cheap way out, that the obligation will not be fulfilled.

The legion would champion recognition to that of a civilian award. Please listen carefully to Dominion President Eagles response the next day.

Note Mr Eaqles confirmation of my post, note that the believes your national service sacrifice on the battlefield equates to that of a civilian workplace injury/death in Ontario. Thats is what your sacrifice means to the Royal Canadian Legion, ANAVETS, national Council, both United nations organizations, UN Nato veterans… why are we standing alone? We have passed thew torch, do we not, of all Canadians, have the obligation to affect change..

Please, help me help the wounded, Listen to this interview and the one I did the day before, if my words resonate…. Supporting the troops sometimes means more than wearing red on Fridays. Write an email, step up.

Just mention equality to Pension Act on the sacred Obligation and my name, they will understand

CBC As it Happens radio.

First it is an interview I made on the sacred Obligation equality, the need to for pension act equality Each day we are on the second episode, half way through.

http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/episode/2014/11/12/wednesday-winnipeg-arrests-india-sterilization-manuscript-theft-and-more/

http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/episode/2014/11/13/thursday-nova-scotia-sentencing-cbc-sherbrooke-cheezie-photo-art-and-more/

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Canadian military claim that its suicide rates are lower is not true, says expert

Canadian military claim that its suicide rates are lower is not true, says expert

 

Suicide among serving Canadian military and veterans is at epidemic proportions and the leading cause of death in the armed forces, an internationally renowned “suicidologist” told a coalition of veterans in Ottawa.

 

More from the report by my Ottawa Citizen colleague Chris Cobb:

 

Dr. Antoon Leenaars, a Canadian psychologist, dismissed the often-repeated claim by Canada’s military and political leaders that suicide rates in the military are lower than in the general population.

 

“I don’t think that’s true,” he told the Citizen after his speech. “It seems to me it’s whitewashing. People believe what they prefer to be true — the military believes what they prefer to be true.

 

“There is no question that it is at epidemic proportions,” he added. “Why would there be so many soldiers in the U.S. dying by suicide and not in Canada? (The Canadian military’s) answer is that it’s because of excellent care and excellent leadership but are the Americans so poor that they are not providing adequate care and leadership?”

 

Full article here:

 

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/military-suicides-an-epidemic-says-canadian-expert

 

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Veterans’ complaints a tricky issue for Harper

Veterans’ complaints a tricky issue for Harper

 

CAMPBELL CLARK

 

Ottawa — The Globe and Mail

 

Last updated Sunday, Nov. 09 2014, 10:53 PM EST

 

http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/veterans-complaints-a-tricky-issue-for-harper/article21517673/?service=mobile

 

 

 

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper attends Remembrance Day ceremonies Tuesday, he will have cut short his attendance at an international summit in China to pay tribute. Yet for an increasingly vocal set of this nation’s veterans, he is guilty of paying too little attention to those who served.

 

His government has lionized Canadian military symbols, and sent equipment to troops in Afghanistan. Many Conservative MPs care; many see veterans as part of their natural constituency. So why did Mr. Harper’s government become a target for veterans? How did its image instead become Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino lecturing a medal-wearing vet not to point his finger, or dodging a veteran’s wife?

 

The answer depends on whom you ask – and that’s perhaps how things went wrong.

 

Many veterans say they don’t have big complaints. But a minority, notably among those with serious injuries – often newer veterans clashing with the Veterans Affairs bureaucracy – feel mistreated. And there’s a new crop of vocal advocates, too, who often think the big traditional groups like the Royal Canadian Legion, are not speaking out for seriously injured vets. The new breed are far more blunt.

 

Mike Blais, of Canadian Veterans Advocacy, regularly blasts the government on TV. Injured Afghan vets formed Equitas to sue the government for “arbitrary, substandard, and inadequate” benefits. Mr. Fantino meets many of them, but Don Leonardo, who founded Veterans Canada, doesn’t see much point any more. “It’s nice to talk. But show me some action,” Mr. Leonardo said.

 

Mr. Fantino’s office didn’t act on requests to interview the minister or a government spokesman on the issue. But inside the government, officials suggest the complaints are exaggerated, and promoted by a small group of activists. Budgets have gone up, they note, and in fact, during Mr. Harper’s tenure, spending on Veterans Affairs has increased at about the same rate as overall government spending. But there’s little doubt it has become a tricky issue.

 

This year’s Remembrance Day has become a particularly top-of-mind memorial after the Ottawa shootings and the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo as he guarded the National War Memorial. This government wants it that way, and wants to be associated with the country’s military community.

 

Now, Mr. Harper’s government has appointed a Mr. Fix-It in the form of the country’s former Chief of Defence Staff, retired General Walter Natynczyk. He has stature in Ottawa, credibility with the military community and was part of Afghanistan-war-era efforts to expand support programs for military families.

 

That could be critical, because the experience of injured Afghanistan vets has certainly fuelled current criticism.

 

As troops in 2008 or 2009, many felt support from the public. But those who are injured go from being “members” of the Forces to “clients” of Veterans Affairs. Forces’ members go through a medical board when they’re released because of an injury, then a new one when they apply to Veterans Affairs, Mr. Leonardo said.

 

The case workers at Veterans Affairs Canada care, he said. “It’s not the front line. They’re the most caring people in the world. The problem is the policies, the bureaucracy at the top, the funding.”

 

Much of the anger grew from the New Veterans Charter, put forward by Paul Martin’s Liberals and tweaked by Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. It was supposed to be a new deal, but sparked complaints, particularly about lump-sum settlements injured vets received instead of pensions.

 

Part of the problem for the government is that different veterans advocates propose different prescriptions for change to a complex system. But many say they’re frustrated that oft-repeated consensus recommendations – such as increasing the earning-loss benefits, and paying reservists the same level of injury benefits as regular-force soldiers – have languished.

 

The Commons veterans affairs committee repeated those again this year, but the government’s response doesn’t say what it will do about them or when. The government did promise to phase in several changes, such as ensuring Forces’ members have a Veterans Affairs case manager before they are released, but couched many of their promises to act in thick bafflegab.

 

Pat Stogran, the retired colonel who served as the first Veterans Ombudsman from 2007 to 2010, said the problem, in his view, stems from the fact that senior bureaucrats run Veterans Affairs like an insurance company, “just trying to write these people off as an industrial accident,” rather than an agency to help vets, he said.

 

And the politicians don’t have a lot of drive to delve through the bureaucracy. Veterans Affairs ministers don’t have much power, he said. They usually don’t argue with their bureaucrats’ assessment, they are concerned mainly with party politics. “They’re really non-players in this. They’re fighting the opposition,” he said.

 

It also seems possible that the fact that complaints come from a minority of veterans with problem cases, the government accepts the idea that, for the most part, things are okay.

 

Mr. Stogran said it’s not all vets who feel unfairly treated. Most leave to go on with their lives. The hard cases, and complaints, come among the disadvantaged after being put in harm’s way. “No, it’s not the majority. It’s the ones who are injured, or have a close affinity to them.”

 

Follow Campbell Clark on Twitter: @camrclark

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Is the Canadian military’s universality of service policy fair?

Is the Canadian military’s universality of service policy fair?

By David Pugliese

Defence Watch

NDP defence critic Jack Harris was trying Thursday to see if he could get Defence Minister Rob Nicholson to speak out about the fairness of the Canadian Forces universality of service policy. Harris noted that “ the Canadian Forces ombudsman has called the universality of service rule for the Canadian military “arbitrary and unfair”. Members across the country have also been saying that the rule makes it harder for them to come forward with mental health issues. They fear being discharged. The number of members who are being forced out for medical reasons before getting enough experience to receive a pension is large and growing. Does the minister still believe that it is a reasonable, fair and effective policy for the Canadian military?”

Nicholson fired back with talking points he has used before. “Our government has made significant investments in the whole area of mental health and reaching out to the men and women in uniform who are suffering from PTSD and other problems. This is why we have approximately 415 full-time medical health care workers. We have one of the highest ratios of mental health professionals for soldiers in NATO. We want to work with the men and women in uniform to make sure they get all the possible care that they need.”

Pressed by another NDP MP, Nicholson went further but didn’t give his opinion on universality of service.

“No member of the armed forces is let go until they are ready to move on,” he explained. “This is why our service and the level of care that is provided by our armed forces is unprecedented. This is why this has continued to be a priority for our government. We want to reach out to those men and women in uniform and give them all the help they need.”

Here is some more background material on this issue that I ran on Defence Watch on Oct. 14:

Almost a year after facing a barrage of bad publicity, National Defence is having another look at a policy that ended the careers of gravely injured soldiers who wanted to remain in uniform, Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press is reporting.

More from his article:

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson has told a House of Commons committee that a working group was set up last summer to study the military’s universality of service rule, which has been used as a pretext to release wounded combat veterans, many of them with post-traumatic stress.

At stake is the delicate balance between an individual’s desire to serve and the need for troops to be fit enough to deploy for operations both at home and abroad, Nicholson said in a seven-page letter to Commons defence committee.

“This working group is examining how the policy can be best applied to retain individuals who are willing and able to serve, while also ensuring the necessary availability of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel to perform their lawful military service,” he said.

“Once this work is complete, the working group will provide recommendations to the chief of military personnel.”

The defence committee conducted a study of care for ill and injured soldiers, and recommended last June that the policy be examined in light of complaints from soldiers who were summarily dismissed after pleading to remain.

Nicholson’s response to the committee’s overall report was quietly tabled in Parliament late last week.

He said the working group carrying out the study will also examine the impact of the policy on the military pension system. Many ex-soldiers told The Canadian Press last year that they were being released before they qualified for an unrestricted pension.

At the time, Nicholson told the Commons that no one was being forced out and that the department worked with every individual to prepare them for the transition to civilian life.

But he was contradicted by troops, who said despite the minister’s assurances, they had been shown the door on a medical release even though they had begged to retrain for other jobs within the military.

Some were let go just shy of hitting the 10-year mark, when they would qualify for a fully-indexed pension. Prior to that, soldiers are only eligible for a return of their contributions.

Many said the medical release, especially with a PTSD designation, limited their career prospects in the civilian world.

Retired corporal David Hawkins, one of the soldiers who took on the government last year, said he was pleased to hear about the review, but wondered what took so long.

Hawkins said the policy needn’t be completely overhauled. Instead, it should be made flexible enough to accommodate individuals, the way the military did following both world wars when the wounded, including amputees, were allowed to keep serving.

“There’s always work and they don’t have to go overseas,” Hawkins said.

“We don’t send 100 per cent of our people overseas at the same time. There’s always people back home who have to do the administrative (work). When they say (the wounded) would be useless, that’s untrue.”

The threat of being kicked out is preventing some of his friends with post-traumatic stress from coming forward to seek treatment, he added.

That backs up observations from former military ombudsman Pierre Daigle, who warned that the inflexibility of the policy may actually be causing harm.

Given the exceptions made following previous, much larger wars, it’s difficult to fathom why the policy is so strict and unforgiving, said NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

“There’s a rigidity there that just seems unnecessary and they can’t accept the fact that not everybody is necessary to be put into battle,” he said.

Harris said he’s skeptical the working group will actually recommend changes.

Source: Is the Canadian military’s universality of service policy fair?

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Soldiers, veterans worried about Cirillo’s benefits

Soldiers, veterans worried about Cirillo’s benefits

David Pugliese More from David Pugliese
Published on: October 31, 2014Last Updated: October 31, 2014 6:09 PM EDT

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/soldiers-veterans-worried-about-cirillos-benefits

Some veterans and serving soldiers are worried that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo may not receive the same medals and his family may not get the same death benefits as regular force military personnel or those who die fighting overseas.

They say that Cirillo died in the defence of his country, but unlike a regular force soldier, his status as a reservist on duty in Canada could mean fewer benefits for his family.

Cirillo, from Hamilton, was gunned down at the National War Memorial in Ottawa while serving as an honour guard. The attacker then rushed to Parliament Hill, where he was killed by security.

Days before that attack, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, a regular force soldier, died after being deliberately struck by a vehicle in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. The driver, a known supporter of extreme Islamist causes, was shot to death by police.

“We’ve had concerns a long time now about the second-class treatment of reservists,” said Mike Blais, a retired army member who helps run Canadian Veterans Advocacy. “(Cirillo) and his family should be accorded the full rights and entitlements, as if he were killed in a war zone.”

Serving soldiers, who asked that their names not be published, have sent emails to the Citizen raising concerns that Cirillo and his family may be treated differently in terms of benefits because he is a reserve soldier.

Ottawa lawyer Michel Drapeau said he doesn’t know about Cirillo’s specific case but noted that part-time soldiers in positions such as honour guards at the war memorial are usually considered “Class A” reservists. Because of that, they and their survivors receive significantly fewer benefits than a regular force soldier, he added.

The family of regular force personnel who die are eligible for a supplementary death benefit, whether in Canada or overseas, said Drapeau, a retired colonel.

Reservists operating in what is known as a Class C position, such as those who went to Afghanistan, also qualify for that benefit, which is equal to twice the military member’s salary.

Reservists who are not Class C can be eligible for a “death gratuity,” according to Canadian Forces regulations. “In the case of a member who dies or is presumed dead, a one time payment shall be made based on a period of 20 months at the basic rate for a member of the Regular Force of the same rank and classification or trade group,” the regulations note.

Johanna Quinney, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, said the thoughts and prayers of the government are with the family and friends of Vincent and Cirillo.

“The Departments of National Defence and Veterans Affairs have been directed to make the entire suite of benefits and programs available to ensure the Veteran and the Veterans dependent family are supported during this difficult time and in the years to come,” Quinney stated in an email. “Due to privacy we cannot speak about specific benefits or services that will be provided.”

In her email, she also included website links to the overall benefits available to veterans and soldiers. It is unclear from those websites what, exactly, Cirillo would qualify for.

Blais said it is bizarre that the government is claiming it can’t release details of compensation or benefits.

“We have Prime Minister Harper at the (Cirillo) funeral saying he is going to recognize the sacrifice. Well, let’s see it,” said Blais. “Cirillo should be accorded full benefits.”

Some veterans have also raised concerns that neither Cirillo or Vincent would qualify for a Sacrifice Medal.

The Sacrifice Medal was created because of increased casualties in overseas operations and is meant to recognize those who die as a result of military service or are wounded by hostile action. The medal may be awarded to members of the Canadian Forces and civilian government employees “on the condition that they were deployed as part of a military mission” and have “died or been wounded under honourable circumstances as a direct result of hostile action,” the military has noted in its criteria for the medal.

The medal may also be awarded to regular and reserve force members who died “as a result of an injury or disease related to military service.”

Drapeau said the military could easily make the decision to award Sacrifice Medals to Cirillo and Vincent. In the past, such medals have been awarded to families of Afghan veterans, suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but who committed suicide in Canada.

“It is a policy written by some bureaucrat somewhere,” he explained. “It can be changed at a moment’s notice.”

dpugliese@ottawacitizen.com

Twitter.com/davidpugliese

Posted in News | Leave a comment