One wounded soldier’s story another example of VA’s shameful treatment of Afghani mission returnees. War’s toll so far: 35,000 VA number of Canadian soldiers including reservists deployed to Afghanistan at least once since 2002, but many average three battlefield rotations. Number of Canadians injured during service in Afghanistan: 1,442. Number killed so far: 152. Average disability award payment paid as a tax-free lump sum under Veterans Charter: $41,411.96. Do you see what’s wrong with this picture?
Full article by Mia Rabson found in the Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 11, 2010. email@example.com
Jayson Nickol, 26, has to battle Veterans Affairs for disability pay owed to him for a severe wound suffered fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nickol’s injury resulted in three bone grafts, two surgeries to implant and then replace a rod in his leg, months of physical therapy, weeks in the hospital, and an end to the lifelong military career he once envisioned. He has developed arthritis in his hip and knee as his body compensates for the injured thigh bone.
“I come home at night and hobble around my house, pop a Tylenol 3 and go to bed,” he said.
Nickol is part of the 20- and 30-something Afghanistan vets who will face health issues at rates far higher than the national average for the rest of his life.
Veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran, a former commander from Afghanistan, says if Canada doesn’t step up its efforts to determine the needs of the modern-day veterans and implement the programs to help them, it could be catastrophic. “It’s a recipe for disaster much the way the Americans treated their Vietnam vets.”
Before April 1, 2006, veterans on disability received a monthly pension based on the extent of their disability. At 2010 rates, that monthly pension for Nickol — who is married and whose injury is currently assessed at a 10 per cent disability — would have been $299.73 a month. Not indexing for inflation, paid monthly until he turns 65, his payments from VAC would have exceeded $140,000. If he and his wife have children, his monthly pension would go up slightly each month for each child, amounting to several thousand dollars more over his lifetime.
But Nickol’s injury occurred after April 1, 2006, meaning he qualified under the New Veterans Charter, not for a monthly pension but for a lump-sum, tax-free, disability award of about $27,000.
Even taking into account the taxes he would pay on the monthly pension, the monthly long-term pension would far exceed the tax-free lump-sum payment he was given.
According to the VAC, 1,718 clients are receiving the earning loss benefit with an average annual payout of $16,500. Uptake on the other programs is small.
Stogran is also incensed that the government has done no research to determine the mental health needs of returning soldiers, or the impacts of traumatic brain injuries. Nor has there been anything done to consider that modern medicine allows more soldiers to survive injuries than in previous wars, meaning the percentage of Afghanistan veterans who will need support is much higher than it would have been for veterans of previous conflicts.
“For every person killed by an (improvised explosive device) there are probably eight to 10 others who were in the vicinity,” said Stogran. “The magnitude of the problem is going to be much bigger than the department (of Veterans Affairs) is prepared to admit.”
Veterans Affairs lists post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the fourth-highest reason for a disability claim since 2006. Anxiety disorders are seventh on the list of the top 10 most common reasons for a disability claim.
In 2008, a U.S. study found one in five soldiers who had served in Afghanistan or Iraq had post-traumatic stress disorder. Other estimates suggest as many as seven per cent of soldiers who have been at war will develop PTSD, 4.5 per cent will develop anxiety disorders and 13 per cent will experience depression.
If those estimates are correct, one in every four of the soldiers who have been in Afghanistan will have a mental health issue that could affect his or her ability to work and live a normal life post-war.
The Departments of National Defence and the VAC don’t cross-check their lists for injured soldiers and soldiers receiving a disability payment. But if 1,442 Canadians were physically injured in Afghanistan but 2,726 are receiving disability benefits, it’s not a stretch to believe more than 1,200 soldiers may have made claims for mental health issues.
Despite an expansion of of operational stress injury clinics and a new in-patient clinic at Ste. Anne’s Hospital outside Montreal, Stogran says the criteria for admission is so steep most of its 10 beds are often empty. Since February 2010, of this possible possible 1,200, only 21 soldiers have been admitted, according to the VAC.