Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How are we honouring our veterans? We're not

 This is Remembrance Week.   The days up to and including November 11th were long ago set aside to remember the men and women in military uniform or law enforcement who made the supreme sacrifice --  in wars and police actions that were sometimes justified and most time not.    In the decades since the end of World War II, the ceremonies have taken an additional significance, honouring the living veterans who survived but still deal with physical trauma (amputees in many cases) or mental issues related to post traumatic stress disorder (what the military brass used to dismissively refer to as "shell shock").

Here`s my take on why I think we're not doing well by retired warriors.   Not even by a long shot.   And it certainly isn't enough to award a veterans' license plate as a thank you.  

A number of years back, a certain charity and lobby group who promote themselves mainly through a key chain return program (yes, the War Amps) had stated in some of their literature that they had registered the name "Canadian Amputees Foundation" that looked prospectively to the day when disabled veterans no longer existed.   Of course, that's now going to be at least another sixty or so years because of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the events leading to and after 9/11.   If the Parliamentary budget officer has it right, what was supposed to have been a $9 billion operation has cost about $24 billion (2.5 times more) because of disability payouts.

The principle here should be in a way similar to that of worker's compensation in the civilian world.   In this case, that one should be able to go towards an impartial agency to make his or her case as to why they are entitled to get a partial or total pension; that pension, when awarded, will be not a lump sum settlement but a monthly benefit that along with disability payments from the CPP or RRQ will give the person forced into permanent retirement or a modified service position for life a sense of dignity; that although he or she was injured he or she will feel they served their country for something); and that we the people will thank their service (provided of course it was not dishonourable) with such items as cut rate mortgages and the right of first refusal on the federal or provincial sale of public lands (actually, this is the law in Canada but governments both left and right have always ignored it) and government sponsored scholarships or forgivable loans to retrain for the civilian world.   Not to mention access to free or affordable health care to the best specialists.

If this sounds something like the GI bill in the States, I say hell yes.   But the principles I listed above have something else in mind too.   When we give those who have served overseas a chance to serve here, they set a good example for all of us.   By giving them a chance to return to civilian life as full citizens rather than commodities to be written off, they in turn help to ensure the security of our country.    The saying "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here" should instead be "We're fighting them over there, so that when we come home we can find something productive to do, to really help protect the country."

In other words, when veterans are valued they are less likely to fall into the pratfalls that come with surviving any life altering situation.

What we call honouring veterans right now, comes mainly in the form of a so-called "Veterans Bill of Rights" which mostly means lump sum payments, a hand shake and an eff off.   Sure, the process is more streamlined, but if we're just saying those who have served to get on with their lives, then we're not doing right by them.   And if we're treating them wrong, that means that everyone else is fair game to get shacked off.

I for the life of me cannot figure out why this is something we're not discussing.   Or why we're so afraid to find out the war stories from those who served.   Or why it's not prudent for the powers that be to just realize that how things are now is just not tenable.   Are we going to have to wait until a veteran goes postal?   It's happened in the States, it's just a matter of time before it happens in Canada.

I personally will always oppose the airbrushing of history.   Where Canada did wrong in the battlefield needs to be aired out, even when it comes to details that amount on one end to titillating gossip or at the other end amount to war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians.

But I will also oppose the efforts of the current government to try to move things along in this way.   Photo ops do not suffice.    I support a strong military, but I also support a strong social support network for vets.    It's really a no brainer.

In the meantime, I will always salute a veteran.   And I will wear a poppy to honour the dead and the living -- and support the right of those who wear a white poppy or no poppy at all.   After all, that's what democracy demands.

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