Afghan vets aren't top of mind on Remembrance Day: Poll
Canadian troops stand atop an observation post in Folad, Afghanistan, Nov. 23, 2010. (Murray Brewster / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Thursday, November 8, 2012 7:00AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 7:56AM EST
When it comes to honouring soldiers on Remembrance Day, most Canadians are more likely to think of aging Second World War veterans than those who fought over the last decade in Afghanistan, according to Nanos poll released this week.
The phone survey of 1,000 people found that 82.1 per cent of Canadians think primarily of veterans of the First and Second world wars on Remembrance Day, and that a majority (61 per cent) believe the importance of the occasion hasn’t changed since the start of the Afghanistan conflict.
The poll -- released by Commissionaires, a non-profit that helps veterans transition to the civilian workforce -- was conducted in early October. It has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The results show Canadians’ impressions of what constitutes a battle-hardened soldier haven’t caught up with the modern reality -- including 158 military deaths in Afghanistan since 2001, more for Canada than in any conflict since the Korean War.
Commissionaires chair Bill Sutherland believes decades of Remembrance Day ceremonies paying tribute to older veterans formed an image in Canadians’ minds that remains hard to dispel.
“The people at the cenotaphs were from World War One, World War Two, the Korean War,” said Sutherland, a veteran himself. “The idea that wars are primarily a purview of the young really left our collective consciousness as a society. The fact that we now have all of those younger veterans, from places like Afghanistan and the Balkans, is making that fact in-your-face again.”
Veterans Affairs statistics show there are more than 700,000 veterans in Canada. About 107,600 fought in the Second World War, but those numbers are rapidly dwindling -- Sutherland said about 17,000 WWII veterans die each month.
“On other end of the spectrum, we know there are more than 39,000 veterans who served in Afghanistan,” Sutherland said, adding that about 5,000 soldiers leave the Canadian Forces each year. About 1,000 of those are temporarily employed by Commissionaires, which staffs security-related positions with its stable of retired soldiers.
The Nanos poll also found that most Canadians believe veterans aren’t being looked after as well as they should be.
Nearly 43 per cent feel modern veterans face more challenges adapting to post-military life than veterans from the past, compared to 28 per cent who believe the transition is easier.
More than half of Canadians (51.8 per cent) believe veterans are receiving inadequate support for conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The survey didn’t ask people to explain the reasons for their perceptions, and Sutherland declined to discuss his opinions on federal programs.
Commissionaires works closely with the federal government and has first-right-of-refusal on certain federal security contracts.
But poll respondents have had more than one recent veteran-related uproar upon which to base their impressions. This week, opposition members in the House of Commons have been lambasting the government’s failure to pay for poor veterans’ burials. In October, a group of Afghanistan vets filed a class action suit against the government, saying its disability payments for injured soldiers are arbitrary and inadequate.
Surprisingly, younger vets tend to end up facing more hardship than their much older colleagues. Most don’t have pensions (only 30 per cent of all veterans do), and few imagine retiring in their prime working years when they join the military.
“We have some employees that are 19 and many in their early twenties,” said Sutherland. “With younger veterans, they have difficulty translating their military skills and experience into language that civilian employers may be looking for.
“They haven’t really thought beyond military service.”