Canadian veterans fight second battle for benefits

Canada’s veterans are getting short-changed with the New Veterans Charter that was released in 2006 by Veterans Affairs Canada.

Canada’s veterans are getting short-changed with the New Veterans Charter that was released in 2006 by Veterans Affairs Canada. Earlier this month, veterans’ ombudsman Guy Parent released his report comparing the new Charter with the old system. The Charter came up woefully lacking, especially for those severely wounded and disabled soldiers.

Two years ago town hall meetings were held across the country when (then) ombudsman Col. Pat Stogran heard harrowing accounts by struggling veterans of post-traumatic stress disorders, night terrors, crippling panic attacks, disabilities from lost limbs, life-threatening illness from past exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange, and their lives and those of their families in upheaval and on hold.

Stogran heard of an injured reservist released from the Canadian Forces due to his disability who couldn’t return to his old job and was unable to do 75 per cent of what he once did for work. Yet Veterans Affairs said he only had a five per cent disability and paid him just $13,000 compensation. Where is there any justice in that?

Currently, according to Parent’s report, there are 1,428 veterans who are totally and permanently incapacitated. His key finding was that, of those wounded vets, over 400 of them are not receiving any impairment benefits. They have difficulty finding work and, when they turn 65, any benefits from the Charter will cease and they will be forced to live well below the poverty line. In fact, Parent identified the insufficiency of financial support after the age of 65 for at-risk, permanently incapacitated veterans the most urgent Charter shortcoming to address. How did Charter scribes ever manage to come up with such a formula?

These incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line in conflict situations abroad are now battling Veterans Affairs for benefits that are fair and appropriate for their condition. And so they should. But they shouldn’t have to.

Compare VAC’s treatment of veterans to the latest development in the U.K.

On Friday, Prince Harry officially opened The Royal British Legion Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College, London. Civilian engineers, scientists and military doctors will undertake research to reduce the effects of roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDS). The goals are to increase understanding of blast injury patterns, improve treatments and recovery, and develop better protection for those serving in conflicts.

Over 400 U.K. military and civilian personnel were killed in Afghanistan. Canada lost 158 soldiers of which 97 were killed by explosive devices. There are over 2,000 veterans in the U.K. that were wounded in action in Afghanistan and, along with our 1,428 injured, many were victims of IEDs.

“In the past I’ve met many service men and women injured in operations, many by IEDs and landmines,” said Prince Harry. “Their stories are harrowing. Watching the IED simulation reminded me of the catastrophic trauma experienced by the human body during IED or mine strikes.”

Blast injuries not only destroy limbs but their shock waves impact victims at the cellular level. The blast force causes nerve damage and affects brain function. The Prince was able to watch a simulator demonstrate how blast shockwaves travel through the air. Exposure to an IED explosion can result in patients suffering a little understood side effect in which bone forms inside muscle tissue.

“Blast injuries afflict far too many armed service personnel and this new Centre offers hope to current and future victims of war,” said Professor James Stirling, provost of Imperial College. “We will be working with some of the world’s finest military personnel. When they are injured in conflict, they deserve the very best treatment.”

Shouldn’t Veterans Affairs Canada be echoing those same sentiments and commitments?