Vets demanding better treatment from feds: 'Remember the living, too'
Published Tuesday, November 11, 2014 10:09PM EST
As the Canadian government honoured its fallen soldiers at the National War Memorial in Ottawa Tuesday, veterans’ affairs advocates continue to say not enough is being done to care for the former soldiers who are still alive on this Remembrance Day.
Michael Blais, president and founder the Canadian Veterans Advocacy group, was in tears during the Canada’s national Remembrance Day ceremony on Tuesday. But they weren’t just tears of mourning, he says. They were tears of frustration.
“I just don’t know what to say,” he told CTV News. “I know we’re supposed to remember the dead, but damn it, we’re supposed to remember the living, too.”
Last Thursday, Blais’s advocacy group joined a coalition of other veterans’ organizations to demand better federal support for injured and retired soldiers and their families. The coalition announced its members would not pose for photo ops or allow themselves to be quoted in federal press releases until Ottawa improved its treatment of its veterans.
That same coalition is expected to target the Royal Canadian Legion in another news conference Wednesday, when it will criticize that organization for failing to push harder for its veterans.
“They’re not being treated well,” Blais said of Canada’s war veterans. “The sacred obligation is not being fulfilled.”
The coalition of veterans’ organizations say the government is not providing adequate health and retirement benefits for injured soldiers and those dealing with mental health issues. They’re also upset over the government’s recent move to close a number of Veterans’ Affairs offices around the country.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and his New Veterans Charter have been roundly criticized by advocacy groups for clawing back benefits once offered to Canadian veterans. Veterans’ advocates have slammed the New Veterans Charter for providing lump sum payments instead of pensions, and for failing to adequately support the families of those killed while serving their country.
They also say Canada needs to do more for those suffering from war-related mental illnesses, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
On Tuesday, Kathy Sadler was in Ottawa to pay tribute to her late father, John Howie Wright, whom she believes suffered from PTSD after he returned home from war.
“He came back from the war and he was never the same, and he ended up committing suicide when my brother and I were very young,” Sadler said. “It’s too bad that our family didn’t get the help that I hope other families are getting today.”
But Blais said the New Veterans Charter continues to leave families behind, and will not provide, for example, for the family of reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was shot and killed while standing guard at the National War Memorial last month.
“I look over there where Cpl. Cirillo was heinously murdered, knowing that his family will not receive the death benefits that I would, or a regular force member would,” Blais said, speaking in front of the National War Memorial. “It’s just hard on me sitting here, watching government officials lay wreaths.”
Fantino was among those officials laying wreaths at the foot of the War Memorial during Tuesday’s Remembrance Day ceremony, but he declined to speak to reporters.
Blais said Fantino and his office have stonewalled his organization’s attempts to get their message across at policy meetings.
“When we reach out to the government, we’re excluded,” he said.
While Fantino has been a lightning rod for criticism from veterans’ advocates, some are hopeful that his just-appointed deputy minister, retired Gen. Walt Natynczyk, might be the right person to improve their situation. Natynczyk given the new role with Veterans Affairs late last month, as the Tories prepare themselves for the 2015 election.
The ministry has also hired more staff to assist current soldiers suffering from PTSD.
“There is a level of commitment on this issue, and they’re moving as fast as they can,” Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne said.
But on Remembrance Day this year, Blais says the still-living soldiers of Canada’s past remain forgotten by the present government.
“They don’t want to hear our stories,” he said. “They don’t want to hear our message.”